Find out how Russell Voice turned a lifelong passion for weather into Canterbury Weather Updates, providing specialised forecasts for locals.
From Childhood Passion to Full-Time Business
“Even in those early years from about the age of five or six I was interested in the weather and I think Kaikoura played a role in that,” recalls Russell Voice, director of Canterbury Weather Updates.
Growing up near the sea and mountains in the changeable climate of Kaikoura fostered a lifelong fascination with weather.
As a child, Russ would bike up to the lookout point at the top of Kaikoura peninsula before an incoming southerly and report back to his parents with a forecast.
“It’s a bit geeky and a bit different to most kids, especially at that age,” he admits.
Watching passionate weather presenters like Jim Hickey on the news further fuelled Russell’s interest.
Though he kept his hobby hidden through high school and university, Russ started taking on paid weather forecasting clients while earning his physical education degree.
After graduating and working as a high school teacher, Russ slowly grew his side business into a full-time occupation.
“I was still taking on weather forecasting clients and building up Canterbury Weather Updates at the same time as doing full-time teaching. It was really, really tough,” he recalls of those early years juggling both jobs.
But the hard work paid off, allowing Russ to eventually focus on Canterbury Weather Updates full-time.
Customised Forecasts for Locals
Russell emphasises that his business aims to complement, not compete with, larger forecasting entities like MetService.
“We’re not trying to be MetService, we’re just doing our thing and giving people that extra information to give them more confidence, more coverage, more detail and more intensity.”
This means taking raw data and generic forecasts and transforming them into localised, specialised outlooks.
“You’re going to get a more specialised forecast that’s tailored for your area because we are moderating the information,” Russ explains.
For instance, while MetService may provide one forecast for the entire Canterbury high country region, Russ and his team will break that down into customised forecasts for individual towns and microclimates.
Engaging a Diverse Community
Given the diversity of Canterbury’s landscape and weather, Russ has been surprised at the wide range of audience members attracted to Canterbury Weather Updates across multiple platforms like their website, Facebook page, and subscription service.
“It’s so many different types of people, it’s really varied,” he notes, contrary to assumptions that their audience is mostly farmers.
Everyone from agriculture and construction businesses to event organisers, outdoor enthusiasts, and stay-at-home parents subscribe for the detailed, localised weather updates.
Russell also keeps followers engaged through friendly interactions, answering questions in the comments and featuring awesome photos sent in by the passionate amateur weather photographer community.
“Facebook provides such a great platform for sharing and being interactive and people like that we reply to comments on the posts,” he says. “If you can do that it just becomes more personalised and genuine and real.”
Providing Extra Confidence for Weather-Dependent Operations
Subscribers to Canterbury Weather Updates range from people simply wanting to know how to dress for the day to operations highly dependent on accurate, granular forecasting.
Russell provides intensive personalised forecasting services for concrete contractors, vineyards, and flower exporters among many, many others.
“Every operation has different ways of using the information to try and make the best decisions, and cut costs or prevent losses,” he explains.
An unexpected hailstorm could destroy an entire crop right before harvest. Accurate timing on a temperature drop can save thousands on frost prevention operations.
“Some of our clients grow flowers and export them to China and that business is really weather dependent,” describes Russ. Aside from hail, factors like high winds or heavy rain at the wrong time can also ruin crops.
Advanced notice allows weather-sensitive businesses to plan everything from resource allocation to inventory management.
“It might affect when they pick the grapes, when they harvest, to when they need the workers and how many workers they need,” Russ illustrates.
Balancing Technology and Local Knowledge
To provide such specialised services, Russ leverages the power of modern forecasting technology paired with deep local knowledge.
“We keep striving to be better too. It’s just doing extra, it’s the ability to be able to change content, to be first in issuing weather updates, whether it’s warnings or just doing updates as the weather evolves through the day.”
But Russ emphasises that technology alone isn’t enough. “We’re really lucky too because we’ve got some awesome photographers in Canterbury and that makes my job easy. I’m never struggling for content.”
Combining data-driven forecasting with real-time local reports creates the full picture.
“We’re always thinking about how we can help people in our forecasts, giving them that little extra – whether it’s rainfall totals, snowfall accumulations or timing of fronts,” says Russ. “Our extra effort is what people love and engage in daily.”
Turning a Digital Business into a Local Brand
As an online-only business, Russ makes an effort to connect with people face-to-face as well.
“I make a real effort to get out across Canterbury and people love knowing that you’re in their neck of the woods.”
His branded Ford Ranger acts as a mobile billboard. “It’s our mobile presence in these different areas. It’s our mobile billboard and people recognise the name and logo.”
Russell also covers major weather events on location. “If there’s going to be a really big weather event like a big snow event, then I’ll get down there and cover it.”
This local presence has helped turn Canterbury Weather Updates into a household name.
Partnership with Driveline
When it came time to replace his ute, Russ discovered Driveline’s transparent, responsive customer service stood out from other options.
“I found working with Driveline, it was just bang. All the communication was super fast. It was really, really good.”
South Island manager David Yardley’s passion for weather proved the perfect match. When Russ Googled companies that lease utes and found Driveline at the top of the search results, he discovered David Yardley was the South Island manager.
“I know that name,” thought Russ. “David loves his weather and for a number of years he’s been posting comments on our Facebook.”
Russ appreciated Driveline’s clarity around all aspects of the leasing process.
“It was really good communication. And the whole process from David giving me some quotes on the different vehicles and getting that speed of response and transparency.”
In Russell’s experience, Driveline’s personalised service and flexibility makes them ideal partners for small businesses like his own.
Through a decade growing Canterbury Weather Updates, Russell has learned:
- Specialised, localised forecasts build trust and loyalty with community members. Go the extra mile and keep thinking about what people want and need and how to help them.
- Use multiple platforms to engage different types of audiences, from social media fans to serious business users.
- Solve key pain points for weather-dependent organisations with customisable forecasting and alerts.
- Back up technology with local human insight and presence. Weather is experienced, not just analysed.
- Develop a range of revenue streams and business models, and adapt as technology changes.
- Choose partners that understand small business needs, like Driveline’s responsive, transparent customer service.
Canterbury Weather Updates is one of the most popular subscriptions in the country, but they also provide advertising and sponsored content opportunities for local businesses, event forecasts, personalised forecasts for large operators, and much more.
Russell’s passion for Canterbury’s ever-changing weather continues driving growth. While the business has evolved, Russ’ commitment to helping the community stays constant.