Anthony (Tony) Bone Interview

This is Jim Newbigin – the 8th of March 2015. I’m talking today with Mr Tony Bone about their family’s settlement in Hawke’s Bay since the early 1800s.

Good, Jim.  All right, well our family history seems to come back to my grandfather, Frank Leonard Bone who was born in England and came out as a six month old baby to, I think Waipawa and then Patangata, and eventually shifted up to here.  There was three sons there, with Henry Hancock Bone, Charles De Nyst Bone, Mary Ellen Bone that I don’t know much about in actual …   And then Annie Mary married Thomas Arrow in the Waipawa area.

Frank [music in background] took over a hardware store that was originally established by Boylan & Company in Napier, then became Ruddock & Fryer in Napier and they bought out a business in Hastings which eventually I think, Frank Bone was apprenticed to the ironmongery trade with Ruddick & Pryor.  Then W F Burnett bought out the business.  Burnett served as Mayor of Hastings from 1890 to ’91 and had a room at the Carlton Hotel, but he committed suicide and Frank Bone found him one morning there after he’d shot himself.  So that was a sort of a rough start, and then Frank joined up with Bennett, so it was Bennett & Bone for a while and that was in November 1893.  In 1898 Bennett retired and Frank was joined by a Mr Holroyd, known as Charles.  The firm became Bone & Holroyd, and then that partnership was dissolved due to a dispute obviously, of some kind, and Frank took over the business on his own account at the start of 1900.  So that’s probably more like the beginning of our family control of the business at any rate.   And it’s been in the family ever since.

Was the business always in Hastings, in Heretaunga Street or elsewhere?

Yeah – yeah, no it’s always been in the same place as far as we’re aware and the pictures seem to show that.  So then further on my father, Bill, joined in about 1921, I think it was. The building … the shop was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake.


Yes.  But one of the sort of traditions that’s come through with our business was that the earthquake was at eleven o’clock in the morning, and Frank had builders on the job by two o’clock in the afternoon, to build what’s now our store and where we are currently operating from – yeah, while the new main shop was built.  And that new shop was built in 1934 at a cost of £2,995.  [Chuckle]  And they got cracking on rebuilding the store like that because all the stock was exposed. It was all just spread out and all exposed, and so they got that in.  And when I first started it was still laid out as they’d operated in those post-earthquake times, so there was a dark room where they kept wallpaper that we used to keep our spades and forks in my time.  But then later on my father and I sat down and worked right through the store and re-organised it totally and put new shelving and things in there that updated it, but that was probably in the 1960s, so it stayed as it was post-earthquake until about mid-1960s.

You were virtually a general store were you not, with hardware?

Yes, I think originally they might have had timber and coal and all that sort of stuff.  I don’t know too much about that information but we’ve tended to just specialise more and more.  Rather than expand, we’ve tended to narrow our position and drop lines out and specialise more.  When I started we had … we were very strong in hand tools – very strong in that hand tool business, general hardware, glass, wallpaper, paint.  We dropped the glass and then when they brought import licensing in and made wallpaper in New Zealand it was … everybody had the same, there was not much selection and you had no individuality or character or anything else, so eventually we dropped the wallpaper, just kept concentrating on our hand tool trade and our general hardware.

And then in the early 1990s when New Zealand restructured and Hastings got very low, we were forced like many other businesses to restructure.  We went from a staff of twenty-one I think at that point – we had been up as high as thirty-two at one point, but we went down to … twenty-one – twenty-two was our sort of base number, but we went from that down to five for a couple of years and just sat it out.  And at that point we got rid of all our retail hardware as such and our general hardware. We kept our good quality architectural hardware and our Rayburn stoves at that point, that we’d got from England.

And you’ve still got those have you?

Yeah.  The Rayburns gradually developed.  The oil crisis had given them a boost and we did well in the early 1970s with Rayburns.  But then the Rayburn company … well it was Aga Rayburn – we eventually took on an Aga. They wouldn’t sell that to us until we’d had some training, and I did a couple of days’ training in England on the assembly of an Aga.  And we sat back on that for a while but eventually we brought one out and assembled it in our showroom where we’d restructured to in the early 1990s.  And gradually we sold a few more of those and then one of the fellows that was in Aga that we had a good relationship with, said to us – oh, he transferred, sorry, over to the sister company of Rangemaster – and said to us “they make some pretty good stuff, you should have a look at that.”  So we brought one of those out and sold a few.

And then that was probably the incentive for us to open our Auckland showroom in Manukau Road.  Prior to that we’d taken over a family business that was closing, B W Herberts in Auckland, which had been a good hardware store.  And we thought we could run it like our store, and we took some of the staff but they had a different background, different training and different outlook, and we really struggled with that and eventually gave it up totally.  But in the interim we’d opened our own store under the F L Bone name.  We carried on the Herbert thing under Herbert’s Builders’ Hardware, but eventually we opened up a store under the F L Bone name with our good quality hardware and our Rangemaster cookers as they were at that point.  So that was a step and we sold quite a few at the retail level and got them established on the New Zealand market through that scene.

Then we sat down one day and looked at where we were with everything we were doing.  It was a little general meeting on what we could do to make the business go better, ’cause it was quite hard work as it was at that point.

Stagnating was it, a bit?

Yes, oh yes.  Hardware was, and still is, quite hard work – builders’ hardware.  There’s a lot of detail in it and a lot of work in it. We looked at whether we could expand the market in Fiji which we established at that point as an export market.  That was in 1980 we first went to Fiji – I’ll come back on the export probably – and looked at whether we could expand our hardware marketing in New Zealand.  But we needed trained people, and the only people we’ve ever had wthat’ve been any good on selling hardware to our level, we trained ourselves.  In my time we’d never have been able to hire somebody that had good enough hardware training to be a good marketing person for us, which is quite limiting in actual fact.

So, in the end we decided we’d give it a go to put the Rangemaster cookers out through resellers, and we went to quite a range of resellers. Kitchen Things mainly were the ones that took it up, and we gradually built it up from there ’til Kim came on board, and he came on board in 2005.  And he took a hold of the cooker side of the business and gave it a real push … a real push, set it up well.  He’s good on personal relationships and those sorts of things, could talk to people.  And we set it up so it was attractive to others to sell, rather than let it be cut to pieces and sold on price alone.  We tried to promote it on its quality and its competitiveness, which has worked pretty well for us in actual fact, ’til now we bring in at least a container load a month of those cookers.  They re-branded them at one stage from Rangemaster to Falcon.  All their export markets were branded Falcon, or – English market are still Rangemaster.  So, that’s that part of it.  They’ve became an important – very important part of the business – where cookers overall now are much greater than the hardware – I’ve forgotten the actual proportion – but for a long time hardware was the mainstay, but now its the cookers.  And within the last couple of years we’ve taken on an agency for Hoover dryers and washing machines and that’s starting to go pretty well.  We’ve distributed those out through the Noel Leeming Group and there’s some more and newer models of those things coming out right now.

Pretty smart move.

Yes, yes.  Yes, it was.  Kim has been very good on some of that, very good.  He’s much better on public relations and that sort of thing than I am, but he’s not very interested in the hardware and … saying it’s too hard a work and he’s right on that.  We would do – if we compare it to selling one of the Falcon cookers which sells at about $7,000 – to get $7,000 worth of hardware we would do four or five times the work, at least – more sometimes.  But at times we also get some very good work out of it, and we’re quite strong in it in that we’ve got some good agencies and we’ve got some quite loyal architects that support us with that scene, because we can do a better job on it.

And we’ve picked up some good work in Fiji.  We did the … years ago we did the Sheraton of Fiji – did the whole hardware set up for that.  I wrote the whole hardware specification and we went right through to supply, which was a pretty good job in those days, other than we had supplied more than a quarter of a million dollars worth of hardware in 1987, which was a fair bit of money in those days, and hadn’t been paid.  And the Rabuka coup occurred, and the money was still outstanding but we came right on that fortunately, but it was a bit scary.  [Chuckle]  It would be like a million dollars today I would think, in reality.  However, that worked all right.

If I go back a step – in 1980 when there were quite strong export incentives, the Hawke’s Bay Export Institute set up a trade delegation to go round the Islands, and they came to me and said “what about joining it?”  We’d printed a very good catalogue … full colour catalogue … which was well ahead of its time in actual fact, and took advantage of the colour printing that was developing at that point.  It tended to become a hardware reference catalogue rather than an F L Bone catalogue, so we probably missed on the marketing in there a little bit, but it still did us a lot of good.

But one of the Wattie’s reps at that time got hold of one of those catalogues and took it to the Trade Commissioner in Fiji and said “is there a market for this sort of product in Fiji?” And they said “yes”.  And they came back to me and said “there’s a market there for it – what about joining the trade delegation?”  And I hesitated on it for fair bit and I tried to find out for myself what was there, and couldn’t find out much.  And I’d thought about what they did with architectural hardware in those places … or sort of wondered about it in any rate.  So in the end I joined that trade delegation at quite a late stage in actual fact, and tried to sell general hardware like castors that were made in New Zealand, or shovels that were made in New Zealand and those sorts of things, and some of our hand tools that we imported.  But with – certainly with the product that was made in New Zealand, the factories got more benefit from the export incentives than we did, in that they could write down machinery and do marginal costings to up their productions, and I found that I was trying to sell to Indian merchants in Fiji at their retail price. [Chuckle]  And they didn’t see the joke.

However, one of the things that became very obvious there was when we had the meetings for the trade delegations, they said “Fiji is a price market, and you’ve got to have your price, and it’s … everything’s on price”.  And the thing that became obvious to me was that because there was so much concentration on price, that the hole in the market was for quality.  And we talked to the Education Board there, and I’m not sure how I made that contact, but we made a good contact with them, and they wanted good quality hand tools.  [Wind noise]  And we got some pretty good orders for just hand tools for their schools – like orders for fifty thousand at a time in those days, which again is probably worth $100,000 these days.  And you then got eleven per cent of your sales written off your tax … directly off your tax bill.  So that was pretty attractive, because as a long established business and not many external sort of costs, tax was hitting us pretty hard.  In fact … come back on that one for the farm too.   But that was attractive, and we had three or four years of quite good sales with those hand tools.

But in the interim we were able to establish a bit of a market for the architectural door hardware, and in the end that became our main item.   The hand tools gradually faded out – the Government and the bureaucracy if you like, up there gradually killed the marketing that we had, ’cause they wanted it purchased on price.  Which was exactly what the education people up there didn’t want, ’cause they wanted the quality good brands.  So that faded but the hardware gradually picked up and eventually we did pretty well out of that – as I said we got that Sheraton job.

And after that Rabuka coup the Assistant Trade Commissioner transferred to Papua New Guinea, as they do in that sort of scene.  She was a lady – she came back to New Zealand and came round some of her contacts, and came to us and said “there’s a market for you in Papua New Guinea, if you want to have a go at it?”  So we said to them, “well, if you can establish some credibility we’ll have a go at it.”  I mean I go into Papua New Guinea – nobody’s heard of us,, or believes you, or anything else – it’s real cold market calling.  And you can easily spend three years just establishing your credibility before you get any sales in that situation.  So the Trade Commissioners did a very good job on that in actual fact, and established some credibility for us, and we went in there and were doing pretty well with it.

But then their market gradually faded – the economy faded, not the market – the economy faded, and then the Speight coup came – this is about the 2000 period – Speight coup came and PNG almost stopped in its economy at that time.  The British pound went down to as low as .27 in the exchange rate, which meant that our British products like our Rayburns at that point, and our British hardware that we were relying on, increased in cost dramatically … dramatically – like thirty and forty per cent sort of price rises.  And that, as well as costing you more money to replace your stock, in most cases you didn’t get enough profit out of what you’d sold previously to replace your stock in actual fact.  It also slowed your market because people sat back on buying at those price increases.

So with those three things happening – we’d got our exports up to twenty-five per cent of our business – and then it virtually cut off overnight.  And the exchange rate went against us and we went through a very rough patch … a very rough patch, in actual fact.  We only just survived that.  We were four months late with our payments, which I always regret ’cause it was on my watch, but up until then we had never missed payments in the history of the company, and so that hurt.  But we did gradually pull ourselves out of that and come right.  And then we started to pick up a fair bit and gradually get going. We pulled out of PNG at that point with that quiet market, but I did sort of set it up by sending letters to our clients and saying it wasn’t practical for us to keep going.  In those sort of markets if you just ignore them they feel let down, and you’ve got to be careful of that so I think we were all right on that.  And eventually as it started to pick up, one or two of them started to come back to us and say “it’s time you came back into the market”.  So we carefully went back into the market there, and then we actually got some very good support at that point from the architects.   And then they started that LNG gas plant up there, which eventually was $19 billion US dollars spent over four years.  If you break that down that’s roughly $100 million a day they had to spend to keep the project up to … [chuckle]   So the economy really started to buzz and we started to get some good work.  We picked up some dormitory blocks for the University of Goroka up in Goroka in the highlands with an architect up there that’s been very loyal to us.

Have you met him?

Oh yes, I used to call on him.  Yes, I used to specifically go and call on him.  It really took me … I’d work it over a weekend, or a Friday and a Saturday and Sunday, but I did a special trip up there, and it probably cost $1,000 to just make one call in actual fact.

But the dormitory blocks were three seven-storey buildings and we put $600,000 worth of hardware onto those three buildings, with Chinese contractors.  We did Stage 1 to start with and learnt a bit from that, in particular that the Chinese needed more information.  So for the 2, 3 and 4 Stages we did little diagrams of where stuff was to go on the doors and even got some of it translated into Chinese for them.  So just provide a service.  Packed it all up in – we used fruit packing cases, export packing cases and packed it all door by door and floor by floor.  So every floor was in one of these packs -palletised sort of things.  There was a container load of hardware which is … when you’re talking about locks and door closers and small fittings like that … lot of hardware.

So that was pretty successful.  And very recently we’ve been supplying three buildings for the South Pacific Games building.  One’s the Aquatic Centre which has got an Olympic size pool and six basketball courts all under one roof, so it’s quite a massive building.  And then two stadium … grandstand-type buildings which … got a lot of hardware in those I think, and all up in those three projects there’s about $400,000 worth of hardware that’s gone in those.

So some of our exports have been quite successful but the PNG thing has been quite hard work, and still is quite hard work.  I think we’ll probably phase out of that in actual fact, in that degree.

And do you get competition from the Australian market?

Yep.  Yes.  And we’ve lost a job recently up there where there were Australian builders who worked hard against us ’cause they wanted to use Australian product ’cause they could get it cheaper.  It was inferior product, but they worked very hard against us in actual fact, for that job, which is a bit discouraging.

That’s your export field, but you kept going the FL Bone on Heretaunga Street.  When did you close that part?

Early 1990s.  [Reads from diary]  ‘May 1990 – decision made to close the retail shop in Heretaunga Street’.

Was it that long ago?

Yes.  We were starting to show losses in actual fact.  The market had totally gone for lots of our things.  Then the freezing works had closed, or reduced.  And if you take that as an example, the freezing works people would be in most days to pick up bits and pieces from us, and if you sort of think about … they would spend up to $20,000 a month with us. Then there’s all the ancillary industries that they supported which would come to us also, and then the wages that they spent meant that lots of those people were quite good handymen – they would come and buy from us.  And we reckon they cost us $100,000 a month when they closed.  So we were struggling with that. I mean, Watties even shifted their head office out at that stage, so there was nobody in this area that wanted good hardware for good houses.

The decision to close on an economic basis wasn’t hard in actual fact, it was pretty obvious.  That made it easier emotionally as far as I was concerned, but it did cause a fair it of comment. I couldn’t walk down the main street without somebody saying “what are you doing to us?”  And it was even mentioned in Parliament at one point, because we were so much a part of Hastings at that stage.

And … yeah, I regret that sort of scene, that we couldn’t go on contributing to the lifestyle.  But Hastings was a good shopping area when there was about six big shops.  And we were one of those, and there was Blackmores and Christies and Harveys and Farmers’ grocery … were all places with their own character and individuality, and that’s what we had.  We had a wider range of hand tools.   We had tradesmen from Wellington would come and buy their hand tools from us at Christmas time.  And then we had a reputation for having stock, ’cause we used to import our own product and so we would carry big stocks which … our accountants were always onto us about stock turns ’cause they were low.   But we got a wholesale and a retail markup at that point, so that paid for it to some degree, so …  Most of our imported products we’d buy once a year, so that was quite a stockholding, and quite a job in buying correctly.  And my father and I used to do that, we’d sit down and go through it and buy carefully, and try and get it right and not run out.  So if somebody came in and wanted a quantity of an item, generally we would have it.

And then we would carry a slightly wider range of products, so there’d be a mid-range that would be the popular sort of scope of a range of products and is what everybody normally would carry.  But then we would go one smaller and one bigger in lots of cases.  So … and we wouldn’t have many of those items, but we had them.  So if somebody said “well I just want a special item” and we’d have it.  So we had a real reputation for … I’d often hear people would come to the counter and say “if you can’t get it at Bones, you can’t get it, and if you get it at Bones it’ll be good”.  And those weren’t things that we said, they were things customers said, and we were quite proud of that history, and we try and maintain that.

And it comes from evaluation of product which if you go into the big stores now and look at them, you can see they’re all bought on price and nobody’s really looked at it and said “will that do the job well?” And there’s a couple of stories in there that I’ve told a thousand times I guess;  the first one was when F L – Frank – when they first brought out stainless cutlery, he took a knife home and stuck in a lemon and left it overnight to see whether it would rust.  [Chuckle]  So that was part of it.

But the story I really like, and it goes back actually before I started, so its a long time ago.  It was when Japan was starting to get into making tools and sort of competing on the market.  And a rep came round to my father and showed him some pliers that were an exact copy of a pair of crescent electrician’s pliers, and we used to sell those to the Power Board and those sorts of people.  And we had quite a stock of crescent pliers – blued handles and polished head, and looked just like a pair of crescent pliers, and a fraction of the price of course – fraction of the price.  And my father used to … the grandfather, Frank had stud Jersey cattle but he wouldn’t have machines milking them, so he had to milk them by hand, and that was my father’s job, and he had big strong hands from doing that.  And we had these pliers – he whipped down and got a three inch nail and – crunch – and the handles broke.  [Chuckle]  But the real crunch in the story is, the rep said to him “I’ve been all around the country and you’re my second to last call – what am I going to do?”  And I don’t know how well he knew my father, but in those sorts of situations you could pick exactly what he’d say … “I don’t care, but we don’t want them”.  [Chuckle]  But that’s the point – you know, he’d been all round the country and nobody tried them – nobody tried them.  And they bought them ’cause they looked pretty and they were cheap.  And they were no good.

And we still do that.  I mean recently we got hydraulic door closers and cut them open to see what’s inside them, and how big the springs are, and how big the piston is, and what the bearings are, and all those sorts of things, so that when we sell a door closer we believe we’ve sold the best one, and for good reason.

And I’ve picked up that knowledge ’cause … 1976 I started – I went to the Chicago Hardware Fair.  I’ll go back a step – 1965 I did a young person’s OE trip with a mate.  But I based it round the people that we dealt with.  And nobody from our firm had been overseas to visit those sorts of people.  We relied on agents coming and talking to us and seeing us.  So I based my OE trip around those factories, and you know, I went to Nicholson Files in Canada, and Crescent Wrench Company in America, and Disston Saws in Canada, and then onto England and all the well-known toolmakers – Marquis Chisels, and Record Vices & Bolt Cutters and those sorts of things – Stanley in America and England.  Yeah, I did all those sort of visits – Union Locks, and it really stood us in very good stead.  I had a week with Henderson on sliding and folding door gear, and Bernard Henderson himself set that up for me – so that when I came back here and I went to architects and they were talking folding door gear or sliding door gear, we just picked it up because we had the knowledge.  It was very useful.

On your OE did you … was it a cold call, or had you been in touch with them prior?

Oh yeah – no, I’d been in touch.  Yes, I started a year beforehand, and it was quite hard to do because it was all air letter sort of thing there.  It took real time to set it up. Yeah, but I spent a lot of time and set it up quite carefully actually.  So that was useful.

So then in 1976 I went overseas again, and again I went to factories that we dealt with.  But my main impetus to go to start with was to go to the Chicago Hardware Fair, and I did that ’76 … I think ’79 and ’83.  I did it about six times all up.  I didn’t get a lot out of the first trip because I didn’t know what to expect of course, and you almost need to go to see what was there.  It was a massive fair.  The last time I went to that Fair there were three thousand three hundred exhibitors, and I did a little calculation on a big layout map they had, and I reckon there was ten miles of exhibits, and I walked the lot.  [Chuckle]  It was hard work – I’d go back to the hotel and lie on my bed before I went down for a meal. [Chuckle]  But it was real knowledge.  We picked up some quite good agencies out of that eventually – simple agencies in reality, that were quite helpful to us.  Things like screw eyes and screw hooks and … a little company south of Chicago that made a whole range of those products that were quite a bit better than anybody else had.  And while the rest of the country were going to China for those sorts of things, or Japan, we went to America and got these which were better – a wider range and a better product.  And they weren’t that much dearer – they were dearer, but they were better, and that enhanced our reputation again of course.  There was those … we even picked up a line of some tacks, like ordinary carpet tacks that were well packaged, and we were able to put those out through resellers.  We used to buy axes from True Timber Company – Rocket hammers and Kelly axes from True Timber Corporation in Charleston, Virginia, and I went there and saw all that manufacturing.  I saw in there a – what’s now known as a splitting axe, which was a sledgehammer but with an axe face on one face and a hammer head on the other – so it was a big heavy splitting axe, so six and eight pounds, where an ordinary splitting axe was four or five pounds.  So it would split wood well, and we brought a few of those in at one point.

I’m going off my track a little bit, but let’s go on that one.  We brought four eight-pounders – they were bundled in fours, so we bought four eight-pounders and eight six-pounders and tried them ourselves, and they obviously worked well.  And then we sold a few of them and the guys’d be coming in and getting them, so next time I think we got eighty-four all up, in a mixture of them – I’ve forgotten the proportion – and that was a reasonable sort of shipment. And that was for the next winter.  Guys would come in and buy them and on Monday their mates’d be in to buy one.  [Chuckle]  And so Neil Ferguson and I … Neil was my co-director at that time … we decided that we had a good line;  nobody else had them;  nobody had sort of picked them up, and we decided we’d do a TV ad with them.  So I had to front the ad and we did it down at the Showground, and made that little ad with me splitting the timber – the firewood – and we bought a thousand of the things in.  My father was quite nervous about it, [laughter] but they sold – we sold the lot.  The TV ad went through the centre of the North Island so we went out and set up other people, like distributors in New Plymouth and Palmerston and those sorts of places so that we got the spread.  And the next year we bought in two thousand four hundred of them.

And we brought in some … when we brought that … must have been at the same time, Atlas Shovels had gone … had collapsed in New Zealand.  They were our standard hoe and rake supplier and were protected by import licence at that point, but then they collapsed, and again, everybody went to China.  But we went back to America and went to the True Timber Corporation and bought our hoes and rakes, and shovels.  Odd items didn’t go, but most of it was really good. I’ve still got a rake here myself that I really like.  And we thought we were filling a twenty-foot container with these, but it was more than a twenty-foot container.  We tried to say to the suppliers “cut it down until it fits a twenty”, but they wouldn’t do that – they put it in a forty.  [Chuckle]  And we had a forty-foot container in the days where there was no taking them off the truck and putting them down on the ground.  We had to take them off a truck that was five feet off the ground and unload it from there.  [Chuckle]  I can remember my father putting … we had a case that was full of hoes and rakes, so it was about six foot square, and he slid it down a plank off this truck, and the plank smoked as it came down. [Chuckle]  Yeah.

But yeah, again we had some individual products and good stuff and we did pretty well out of it.  As I said, odd items we missed on, but that’s the risk you take when you do those sorts of things.  But overall it was good.  I think we did another shipment.

But then a very interesting marketing thing happened there, where the agent for the factory changed and went to another crowd.  And they saw we’d bought in all this product and they stepped in and did the importing themselves, and said “you’ve got to buy it from us”.  And of course we’re not interested in that.  I mean, we lost our individuality, we lost our extra profit for getting the quantities of stuff.  And what they didn’t pick up was that it needed a business like ours with the character of ours to sell that level of product.  The average hardware store wasn’t going to sell it, and it just killed it … it just killed that thing, which was a shame in actual fact, at that point.  But it was a very bad marketing move on their part very bad.  They were coming to us and saying “can you sell some of this stuff for us” in the end, but “no – we’re not interested.”

So – I diversified in that sort of scene, but if I go back to the factory set up – I used to go to the factories and if I could get a quality control person rather than a salesman to go through the factory that’s what I liked.  And they would tell you how things were made, or why they did it, and that’s part of the ability we’ve got of being able to evaluate our products.  When we cut a door closer open we know what we’re looking at. I wouldn’t say that we’re capable of manufacturing it with that knowledge, but we’re capable of assessing it for our marketing side of it, and saying we can see the difference and why.  So, I got some really good knowledge out of that, just base understanding of manufacturing and it’s helped us substantially in all that we do, and we’ve maintained that careful evaluation of product.  We buy a little bit of stuff from China now, not a lot, but when we do we get a sample and have a look at it and say “it looks okay”, we get a little shipment and try it;  if necessary we cut it open and have a look at it.  If we can see from the surface what’s it made of, well then fine.  Then we probably get a bigger shipment and try it, and see that it goes into the market and that we don’t get faults or don’t get complaints about it, and then we’re right to go.  And that process probably takes two years, but if you just go to China and buy the cheapest you’ve [they’ve] got, you’re drowning.  So it’s a matter of being strong and sticking to the philosophy of it, yeah.

And keeping those contacts – and you’ve got those contacts still …


… that you had from years ago, although you may not use them …


… but you’ve still got them?

Well yes, they’re fading now with sheer time at this point, which is a bit of a shame.  When we restructured I kept all our catalogues ’cause I felt it was so much part of our history and our character I guess.  But even those are starting to get pretty useless I guess, now.   But it’s the strength of character that’s an important ingredient in our business, I believe, even in the marketing of our architectural hardware, we stick to our guns and say “that’s what we supply, and that’s it”. We’re forever battling people who will substitute a product and say “this is an equivalent”.  Ninety per cent of the time it’s not an equivalent if you really look at it – looks the same.  It’ll be cheaper, but if you really evaluate it it’s not equivalent, so that gives us a fairly hard marketing job and a constant marketing job, where you’ll kind of always be doing it.

Yeah, The Warehouse must be hard to come up against as well …


… you know, people go to The Warehouse expecting a rake to break anyway …


… and just go back and get another one.

Yes, yes. Yes, there’s a bit of that these days, but there are people that want something good.  You know, we still get the odd person that comes in and says “do you know where I can buy a good spade?” [Chuckle]  Most cases the answer’s “no, I don’t know”. [Chuckle]  But again, there’s things like spades and forks we used to bring – before containers we’d bring spades and forks out in a four hundred gallon galvanised tank – a square galvanised tank – that we could sell to the farmers.  We sold it at cost but we got our transport and our packaging free, and we probably charged a freighting into the tank, so we got an advantage on that. But one of those tanks would hold four hundred spades or forks, and we bought in those sorts of quantities.

Now you talked about farming a little while ago.

Yes.  Right.  In early seventies … yeah, probably early seventies I guess, when the oil crisis hit, and later when England got North Sea Oil, that put the exchange up – or did that come later?  That might have come later when that exchange rate went way down low and put our products out of proportion.  But when we had high inflation – late sixties I think, roughly – I might be wrong on that, but in that sort of vicinity, we were hit with high tax because we were taxed on the profit that we made, but inflation was such that by the time you made your gross profit and paid the tax on that, you didn’t have enough money to replace your stock.  And they were taking tax on inflation, which was not a real profit as far as we were concerned, and not producing money to run the business.  And about that time … one of those years … we paid $135,000 in tax which was killing us – physically killing us.  I mean it would be like a million or a million and a half these days.

For a small firm.

Yes, yes.  And so we were starting to look around to see what we could do.  And our accountants … I used to keep saying to our accountants at the time, or before that even – “for the work that we put in we don’t get enough profit out of the business”.  And they would say “oh, with taxation the way it is you’ve got no option”.   But in the end we went and had a meeting with Selwyn Cushing.   He was going pretty well at that time in looking after the Mayfair Hotel, and that was the sort of … incentive … for us to go there.  And he said “well, there’s three things you can do – if you’ve got surplus cash you can invest in the share market, you can go into manufacturing, or you can buy a farm”.  And we said “well, we haven’t got surplus cash;  we don’t know manufacturing, and that’s changing our set up and to take a risk”.  Certainly Dave was keen on farming and my father had a farming bent, because he was brought up with the Jersey cattle that FL had, and he used to run … he had all the land that is now the Havelock High School – and all the sections … the houses that front onto that road – that was the cow farm really, along with a little bit of land up the top alongside the house that FL built, which is where Peter Dunkerley is now.

Now Dave was your brother?

Yes, yes, and he was keen on farming – always keen on that. And when we were at home at Market Street Dad ran fowls and those sorts of things, and in those days it was no problem, it was quite common in town.  And then when Dave got into it he got ducks, and we had Muscovy ducks.

[Chuckle]  And then we bought … it was an old house that backed onto our section that fronted onto Southampton Street.  It was going up for auction and as we went home for lunch one day we said to Dad “we should buy that”.  And we talked him into it and he put a phone bid in on it and bought it – got it.  [Chuckle]  He got Peter Bridgeman round.  We thought we’d convert it into flats and he got Peter Bridgeman round to have a look at it, and he wandered through and he said “don’t spend a penny on it”.  [Chuckle]  So we had this – basically a quarter acre section that fronted onto us, with the old house on it.  So we sort of knocked the fence down between our place and … used the old garage there a little bit, and developed a bit more garden in there.   And I knocked a wall down in the house and used it as a gym and took some of the ceiling down, which was kauri, and made a little trailer out of it that we used to tow behind a little Land Rover we had to go hunting with. [Chuckle]  It was a pretty extravagant use of a bit of kauri.

In amongst that, at one stage Dave bred some Mallard ducks, I think they were.  And they kept breeding until eventually the neighbours complained and we sent them to the works – there was fifty-seven. [Chuckle]  So there’s the farming and livestock thing that both Dave and Dad had in there.

So we looked at the farming operation.  And Selwyn did some good work with us there, some very good work actually, and we bought a farm over two years where we were able to write down the stock to start with. It suited his client and it suited us, and he worked it so that both sides got some substantial tax gains out of it.  So we bought that farm – we put a manager on it for a long time and then eventually Dave decided that he wanted to go on it.  And his interest was farming, my interest was the business, so at that point he took the farm and I took the business and we split it – the shareholding, to that degree – which worked for both of us in that scene.  But it … there was a – and I can’t tell you the detail of it – there was a tax saving that Muldoon eventually canned.  And we had it for ten years, and we scraped in by months for that advantage of it, when Muldoon canned it.  But it worked – it worked very well for us.  The tax saving virtually paid for the farm, so that was useful, as compared to pouring it down the drain. So that’s how we got into the farming and where we went there.  Dave eventually sold the farm in that scene.  He converted it to dairying at one stage, and did that all pretty thoroughly and well, but I think he got sick of the time …

He was up in the hills wasn’t he?

Patoka, yes.  It was a good farm … it was a very good farm.

Tony, you’ve – did you both go to Boys’ High School?

No, we went to Wellington College.

Oh yes.


And then sporting wise, you were a very good rower – David went to rugby?

Yes, yes, he was always a good rugby player – he was in the 1st XV at Wellington when they won the Quadrangular Tournament at Nelson under Frank Crist, who was their coach, that was headmaster here eventually.  Dave got through and played through the Shield era for Hawke’s Bay.  Very, very nearly got into Whineray’s All Blacks when they went to England.  It was commonly thought that if another two had been taken he would have been in.  So he was very close to that.  Yes, so he did pretty well with his rugby.

I was a mug sportsman at school.  [Chuckle] I wasn’t into anything much.  I played a little bit of tennis.  I was hopeless at rugby, and wasn’t very keen about it.  We had sea cadet unit at Wellington and Dave and I both got into that.  Where we had military training in the schools we had a thirty-man sea cadet unit, and I got into that and I got a week’s trip on the old ‘Kiwi’ into the Sounds one August holidays I think it was.  And it was a group of us – we had to actually help run the ship, so we did all sorts of things on board.  They were short of crew and we were part of the crew, which was quite a good experience.  But when we got to Nelson they set us up in a whaler to race against the Nelson Sea Scouts … rowing race against the Sea Scouts.  We had about two days’ practise and they’d had weeks of practise, so they beat us hollow.  It gave me a bit of a taste of rowing.  Whether that was what inspired me to go to rowing I don’t know … can’t remember that now.  But I went to rowing a couple of years after I left school, so I was – I need to look back though my diaries – but either nineteen or twenty before I started rowing.

Here or Wellington?

No, here.

And you were a single sculler?

Well, I rowed in a novice four and we won at Wellington, I remember that – we had a little crew that was quite good.  And then … that was in my first year, but then I got into  singles for some reason, and I don’t remember how or why of that.  We went to Wellington – the Championships were in Wellington so I went to … that was my first Championship, and I went as a maiden sculler, like almost a novice single sculler, in a little old boat that the current champion at that time said to me “the best thing you can do with that’s put your foot through it”.  [Chuckle]  So yeah, I was training in the single, and two of the more senior fellows, Tony Austin and Don McDonald – Tony Austin’s a jeweller that was here that’s retired now, and Don McDonald is still coaching our crews out here … he was a dentist at the time.  They’d practised all season as a pair, and were going to row in the pair there, and Don put his back out when we at … down in Wellington.  And they said to me “you’re in”.  [Chuckle]  So Tony and I rowed up and down the Petone foreshore a couple of times, and I can’t remember whether we went through the heats or not, but we certainly got into the final.  And when we got into the final we led all the way down until the last knock, and the Lawrence brothers from Otago beat us and we came in second.  That was at Championship level – Premium level – and I was a novice. [Chuckle]  Lawrence brothers went on two years later and won a silver medal at the Perth Empire Games as they were, at that point.

And so Tony and I trained the next season in the pair and raced at Kerr’s Reach in Christchurch and came in third.  I don’t know to this day what went wrong – on theory we should have won it.  But somewhere or other we didn’t get there, so after that I got into a single and I went reasonably well in that.  And my coach at the time sort of encouraged me to have a go at top level, so I never won a Junior Championship, which I probably should have.  I won all my local races and my junior races in the local regattas, but I didn’t compete at the Nationals in Junior.  I had a go at the Championship ones which was a bit before my time, but it dragged me up and took me into that elite level.  I think I came in fifth to start with.  But I rowed for fifteen years, and I always got into a final of a Premier Championship race.  Right from the word go – always in the finals – six boat finals in those days, so … yeah.

I remember – yes, I can remember being on our seats one time and hearing at some party we went to that Tony Bone was racing today, and what a great race he ran.  But you … were you a New Zealand champion?

No, I never won a championship race.  In the single I was second three times, I think I was third five times. I was always in the final – I was never last and never first, and the race you’re probably referring to … there’s newspaper things on that somewhere.

David Bone was at the party too – he was telling us about it.

Was he?

Yeah, at Alex Stead’s place.

Yeah, well Murray Watkinson was my hurdle, and at that time he had won the most Championship races … held the record for the most Championship race wins, so he was a tough customer to beat.  But that one race I was going well and he wasn’t going so well I think, probably, in reality.  And I led all the way.  And Basil Jordon was my coach and he had a tape recorder recording the commentary, and the commentator’s box was about fifty metres from the Finish, and they called me with a length’s lead at fifty metres and I ran out of … the same as Yvette Williams did at Christchurch … where nothing would work.  I can feel it now – I can still feel it.  I couldn’t pull my blades, they just wouldn’t go, and used absolutely everything.  And he beat me by half a canvas which is about nine feet.  Which was – it took me quite a while to get over it I’d have to admit.  It was pretty disappointing – even when I … seconds were a loss as far as I was concerned … I wanted to win.  But when I – I mean when I did that, fortunately the corner of the course was on the bank in actual fact and I managed to get to the beach.  I can remember Bob Styles, who was a boat builder in Christchurch and he was standing up on the bank, and I can hear him now saying “hang on Tony”.  And I got to the bank and collapsed, and the next race I saw was the Champion fours which was an hour later.  So I was semi-conscious for an hour.  Yeah.

Tony Styles?

Bob Styles.

Yeah, he was the coach at Christ’s I think, for a while.

Yes. Well – I mean – I say that was probably my best race, though that was – I think in November of ’67 the Aussies came out here, or came over here, and we had a series of races with them. We had a – it  was a trial for who would represent New Zealand for those races, and I took part in that.  But I was training on my own, I didn’t know where I was, or what area or anything else.   And I had a go at the trial and I came in about third or fourth or something like that.  But I was only two lengths ahead of a guy from Wellington that I knew I could beat by a lot more – even if he went well I could still beat him by a lot more.

So I had a go at those races and the first one was at Karapiro, and I got a bit wide on the course and lost contact with the field. I led a fair bit of the way, then I lost contact for the last little bit, which gives you the impetus, and I came in third behind the New Zealand/Australian reps.  The next one was at Wanganui and the blooming river was in flood, and the start was just round the corner from a bend and … the bend was … came round like that.  New Zealand and Aussie reps, everybody else and me on the side.  [Chuckle]  So I was almost in water that was going backwards, where they were going forwards.  So I didn’t have a show in actual fact, and I often wonder whether that wasn’t deliberate to be quite honest.  I think I came in fourth on that – I need to look at my diaries again.

The third one was at Waihola, and I didn’t go down there ‘cause it was such a long way.  The fourth one was at Kerr’s Reach in Christchurch and I had a go at that.  There were three of us that were entered, and Kerr’s Reach of course, if you’ve rowed there, was only a three lane course, and an ‘S’ shaped course. There was Tom Reid and Lindstrom that were both sort of New Zealand reps, and myself as an outsider.  Rowed off on the Friday for the right to be the third one in there apart from the Australian, and I won that race and got into the final, and then won the final.  So I beat the New Zealand/Aussie rep, so I won a test race in that race.  And I won it by a couple of lengths in actual fact, so it was a pretty good win. Yeah.  So that was a good race.

The Club was very weak in my day.  At times I went to regattas totally by myself.  A little Land Rover that I put a rack on – and there was no coach, no manager or anybody else – I just went by myself.  And then other times … I couldn’t get much competition in the lower half of the North Island – there was more competition in the north.  So where we used to go to Wellington I talked the Club into going to Rotorua, into those sorts of regattas, and so we got a bit of competition that way.

The other interesting contact in my rowing career was when I first started, the business used to import ordinary rowing oars – dinghy oars – from America – ash oars, ’cause they weren’t made in New Zealand at that stage.  And we used to import them, so we had a bit of licence for these things.  And we had oars from five foot six up to nine feet I think, in there.  And one year we didn’t use all that licence and I thought ‘well I’ll buy myself a pair of good sculls’.  So I made some enquiries and found out who made the best sculls in the world.  And somebody said “Pocock in America – George Pocock”.   And they said “Stevenson in Auckland will have contact with him, he’ll give you the address”.  So I got hold of him and he gave me the address, and I made contact with Pocock.  And I thought I was going to buy a couple of pairs of sculls with the licence we had, and I got one pair and I was a bit short of licence, but we got them in all the same.  And I got a pair of standard sculls and they were a bit short in actual fact, for the spread of the rigging – my boat was a bit wider, and I struggled with using them.  So I wrote to him and sort of corresponded and learned a bit about it, and I put a packer on the end of them.  And yeah – I must have corresponded backwards and forwards a bit with him at that point.  I can’t remember dates or times and things like that now very clearly, but he was quite helpful to me.  It was air letter in those times, and quite inspiring … there’s his book.  And I didn’t realise how much prestige he had and how much knowledge he really had at that time.

There is a book out now called ‘The Boys In The Boat’ which talks about him a bit.  And his father and his grandfather were boat builders at Eton College in England before him – that’s where he learned his trade.  And then he won £50 in a race … Henley, that got him to Vancouver in Canada, and he went there for the cedar timber.  And then he eventually transferred down to Seattle and worked for the University of Washington.  And in amongst that scene when he was looking for work, he and his brother were twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth to work for Boeing when Boeing first started.  And they made the floats for the seaplane with their woodworking skill.  And Boeing couldn’t always pay them in cash, and paid them in shares.  I think it took a lifetime for them to come right, but yeah, there’s an interesting … I remember old George Pocock saying to me one time – “oh Boeing … he knew those things would fly”.  [Chuckle]  I think about that now [chuckle] – gee!  [Chuckle]  But it really was something in that time.

But going back to my rowing scene there, I went up to a regatta at Hamilton, on the river, at that time – I think it was five-eighths of a mile – it was short course in those days.  And I was there totally on my own again.  Then at the end of the regatta my sculls were on the bank and somebody said to me “what kind of sculls are those?”  I said “Pocock”.   He said “he was here today with Stevenson, and he’s gone back to Auckland”.  I thought ‘oh, jeepers’.

So that evening I rang him at Stevenson’s place – had a talk to him for a while, and discussed various things.  And then about a week later I got a call at work and he had been to the Commonwealth Games – or Empire Games – in Perth.  It must have been 1962, and he was travelling back to America on a freighter, as they did in those days … remember they had twelve passengers?


And he called in at Auckland and he – I’ll come back onto Stevenson shortly, but – he called into Auckland and then the freighter came back and called into Napier.  And he phoned me and said “we’re in Napier”.  So we had him out, and he came out and had a meal with us at home – he and a dentist friend and their wives – and came out to the rowing thing and showed me a bit of rowing and bits and pieces.  So that was the start of that contact.  And then I …

You hadn’t got the sculls from him at that stage?

I had, yes – I had the first ones, and then I corresponded with him and that’s why the sculls were on the bank.

If I go back to Stevenson and just fill that bit in – he was the rowing manager for the rowing crew that went to Vancouver in ’58 I think.  And when they got there some of their boats were damaged … think the Vancouver boats were damaged, and they got Pocock up to repair them.  And Stevenson latched onto him there and to repair the New Zealand ones as well.  And they became good friends in actual fact.  And Stevenson had been a singles Champion years ago, and Pocock came out and stayed with Stevenson at times.  And eventually, after that visit here, he sort of talked to Stevenson and got me some coaching from him.  So I would go – Stevenson built Lochinver Station of course – there’s a whole interesting story with that too, ‘cause he started with nothing.  He was either a painter or a plasterer on a church in Howick area or somewhere in Auckland, with his father, and decided that if he ever got enough money he would rebuild it.  And he did.

Sure did.  Yeah, I remember when he first went there – they said he was crazy.

Yeah.  Where – to Lochinver?  Yes, right.  Yeah, well he obviously – he poured tax money into it obviously.  But he was the biggest private customer that Caterpillar had in the world.  They sent him a Buick for Christmas once.  [Chuckle]   But he was … I used to go up and stay with him.  I’d go up to Rotoiti – I’d go up on Friday afternoon and he’d have a look at me Friday night, and he’d go down to the Ranch as he called it, on Saturday.  And I’d train Saturday morning and then he had a look at me Saturday night and Sunday morning, and then I’d come home.  And he understood sculling pretty well, and he and Pocock agreed on basic things.  He was reasonably short, and he wanted me to go through my legs, and Pocock said “go over them”.  There was that sort of difference, but that’s minor detail.  So that was the – the sheer positiveness of Stevenson was inspiring.


Yeah.  The story I really like about him was … he took the rowing crew to Melbourne Olympics, and they flew to Sydney and the airline said to them “there’s not a flight to Melbourne for three days”.  He said “that’s no good, I’ve got guys rowing and they’ve got to be out training”.  So he went out and bought a bus – just went and got it.  [Chuckle]  And that was it.   It’s the sort of mind of those guys that can do those things that’s inspiring.  I also remember him saying to me at one stage “if I ever take somebody else’s advice, I take that as my own”.  And I think that was very sort of sane advice.  I always say to my stockbroker “if you buy stocks for me and I’ve said to you, you’ve got the right to say yes or no, that’s my decision. I’m not going to come back to you and say you made the wrong decision.  Yeah.  It’s my decision”.  And in lots of things that works.  Yes, he was quite inspiring.

But Pocock himself was the one that was really inspiring.  He helped me and taught me, and I’d love at this stage to get the Club to listen to some of the stuff that I’ve learned, and I struggle with that.  They … it’s not quite what New Zealand is taught at the moment.  But the technique that he taught me is still very relevant and … you’d enjoy that ‘The Boys In The Boat’ book, in actual fact.  It’s really a story of a young guy in the Depression times in America, with no money and no prospects much of earning much, that got into the University of Washington eight.  And he got into it mainly, ‘cause that was the only way he could get to University.  And eventually they were the crew that were selected to go to the Olympics in Berlin and they won the gold medal in front of Hitler.

But each chapter starts with a little quote from George Pocock in it – very in-depth little quotes – and they refer to him all the way through. Even the top University coaches referred to him, and the University of Washington guys – it  was sort of well-recognised that when the coach was thinking about a change in the boat and George Pocock was out with them in the boat, there’d be a change in the crew.  A change in the crew was coming, and Pocock would be the one that would have the say in that.  And there are two little quotes that – I’m well-known in the Club for quoting him – and he said to me in letters and things … I’ve still got a stack of letters there.  They’ve set up a museum for him in Seattle, and I’m tempted to send them all back to there in actual fact.  But one of the things he said to me – “a man can be a pygmy or a giant”.  [Chuckle]  Attitude of mind.

Another thing … this is not the second quote, but one of the other things he said “as a single sculler you’ve got to provide the fire for yourself in the single”, which is not always easy to do.  But he said “in a crew there’s nearly always just one man that will provide that fire”.  And I’ve seen it so often, I mean look at our rugby – McCaw, and cricket with McCullum  – one man providing the fire, and if you look round it happens in business, and schools and everything else.  If you get two good people at the top you’ve got a pretty good crew.

Yes, you have.

Yeah, but invariably it’s one man that does it … one person that does it – shouldn’t say one man.  But the other thing he said to me – “don’t let self-pity enter in, pain is good for the soul”.  And … one stage I put a little sign up on my footrest – it was enough to remind me of that when I was doing, say, five hundred metre sprints.  And it was amazing how much harder you could go when you thought about that, ‘cause it’s self-pity that slows you.

Drysdale sounds to me a bit like that too. He goes through the pain.

Yes, yes he does, yes.  I’d line up alongside his experiences very much, ’cause I mean at Beijing he fizzed out because he was sick, but it was much the same as I did with that race in Karapiro.  You just used everything you had.  And if you watch the race, his blades started to go in crooked and he had no control.  And that’s where I was in that race.

No, but you’ve had a great life really haven’t you, over the years?  And we’ve all been lucky that we were born about this time and missed the Depression, missed the war and …

Yeah.  Yeah,  I agree totally.

We only had the black budget from Nordmeyer which was bad luck, but overall we’ve had it pretty well.  You’ve had your sporting side as well as your business. You’ve made some very good friends and contacts with people. They are wonderful things to look back on.

Oh yes.  My rowing career I often say gave me a second shot at life.  I learnt so much.  I might be biased about rowing but it is a very, very good sport and you … anybody that really goes through rowing will be … you can [be] almost sure will be successful.  And I … you know, hear so much about young people, and the ones that get into trouble.  I wish the reporters’d come out at six o’clock on a weekday morning and see the crews out at our Club out there … young people – girls and boys – out there training and changing their lives.  Absolutely changing their lives – they don’t realise it at the time but when they look back on it, they’re absolutely changing their lives, their attitude, their physical fitness.  I’m seventy-five.  I rowed six ks [kilometres] this morning, and that’s a short row for me. Yeah.  You know, I can still do things.

Where would you do six ks? On that river?

Yeah, well yes, you can go from the Club.  Most of our crews do twelve ks when they row.  They go down to the mouth, and you can go back round the bend at the mouth and under the rail bridge and back up the main river.  About two-thirds of the way up to Pakowhai.  I have been under the Pakowhai Bridge in actual fact, but it’s pretty hairy now.  It’s shallowed up a bit, but there’s good … very good training water up there.  It’s one of the advantages our Club’s got, in actual fact – that they get out and they do the distance.  And we won the novice eights at the Championships this year, as they’ve done for quite a few years in actual fact – quite a few.

You’ve got a position at the Club?  Life member?

Yes, I’m a life member.

Past President?

Oh, I’m the Patron.

Oh … well.

I say “that’s the old man’s position”.  [Chuckle]  But I’ve been everything.  I was Club Captain for a number of years, yeah.  Yeah I did a lot of work in the early days for the Club and probably to some degree revived it I think, yes … in that time.  When it was quite weak – as I said, when I started it was quite weak, but it’s really strong now, and got a lot of equipment.

Well, that’s a most interesting talk, and that’s one of the best I’ve come across, that I’ve had.  I thank you very much, and – anything you want to add to it?


You can always invite me back to do Appendix Two at some stage.

I’d never be … I mean it goes on and on doesn’t it? It’s hard to remember it all, and I’ve not got a good … I seem to have drifted all over the place a bit with that.

That’s all right.  Now I’m … 

[Break in recording; there is a part missing in which Tony talks about his grandfather Frank, and continues quoting Frank as follows:]

… “I’m going to take a holiday in Australia each year and buy up old violins and come back here and repair them and sell them.”  He sold one to the National Orchestra at one stage for £250.  So that was …  When he died he had the latest Ford car, the one a bit like a Volkswagen – that cost £300, so that puts that into proportion. And there was all these Rolls Royce’s pulling up, staff all in morning suits and it was just an old fashioned regular grocery store, but everything was top notch.

And I thought ‘that’s us – you do your own thinking’.  And I think that’s probably one of the best business decisions I’ve made for the business – you do your own thinking.  I came back and said to all our crew “just forget about our opposition.  Think about what we do, what we do well, and the people that like our service and like our products, and look after them.  And that’s our market”.

How true.

Yeah.  It was just simply looking at that grocery store at that time.  Yeah.  You’ve got to be quite strong about some of this.  The marketing of our Aga cookers – you’re talking about a cooker for $20,000 or $25,000.  And the guys … “ooh, it’s expensive”.  We’ve had fellows that say “ooh” … first thing they say, “it’s very dear”.  Well that’s the last thing you say in actual fact.  [Chuckle]  Because there’s some people that’ve got the money, and they’re really … as long as you give them a fair go and good service, they’ll buy it.  And that’s what they want, that’s what they’re looking for.

And then there’s other people that’ll often say to the guys “plenty of people buy a second motor car for that sort of price”.  Few people say “well, we’ll toss up whether we’ll have an Aga or a motor car.  The Aga’s going to change our lifestyle and give us good cooking … give us that sort of stuff”.  And we’ll get clients that’ll swing like that. They’re not the items we sell every day, but we sell a couple a month pretty regularly these days.

Plenty of money in Hawke’s Bay.

Yes, yes there is. Right place, and you’ve got to provide the right products really, is the first round.  Philosophy round business … even the marketing of our hardware where we’ve tried to stick to our product, some of our opposition – you know, we’ve got opposition out of New Zealand that go into PNG and follow through – they haven’t got the strength of character to put the good stuff in.  We actually beat them for some of these Games jobs, where they had put a price in.  Our stuff was specified, and these guys came in with an alternative price and said “it’s equivalent of that”.  But the architects were strong enough to look at it and evaluate it properly, and it wasn’t equivalent.  I mean they had exit devices that go out … emergency things that – you push bars – built for a crowd thing.  There’s three levels in them, and we’ve used the top level because Papua New Guinea’s rough on things – it’s incredible what they wreck.  And these are going to be built and get a lot of use.  We put the top one in and they put the cheapest one in and called it an equivalent.  I mean, it was an option – if you like to say it was an option that’s cheaper, well then okay.  But when they come and say it’s an equivalent – nothing doing.  You don’t often get the chance to really prove your case in those things.

Oh well Tony, that’s very good, and I’ve enjoyed the afternoon and I hope you have.

Yeah.  Well I hope I haven’t drifted around.

Original digital file



F L Bone

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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin


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