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150 Years In NZ

Ian Hunter

Telephones came to NZ in 1882. Annual fee was £10 and exchange was open 9am to 6pm. When an exchange suggested for Gore the local paper was up in arms: "Who would think there were 30 people in Gore with £10 a year to invest in a telephone?"

Dutch company, Hagemeyer, bought Briscoes in 1977, despite the fact that the two were quite different types of businesses. Years later, a director of Briscoes at the time met the retired chairman of Hagemeyer and questioned him as to why he'd actually done the deal. "Well," he said "I don't know if you ever noticed it, but in my office I had a big wall map of the world with all the branches worldwide. And l'd always wanted to pin a flag in NZ."

Rod Duke born in Adelaide. His father was an accountant but on Saturdays he worked as a bookie at the local racetrack, taking his son along to help. When he was 16 he found a job selling shoes, and within 2 years he was managing the store. A customer was so impressed with way he got talked into buying shoes and stuff he really hadn't wanted that he hired away to work as a door-to-door TV salesman. He worked 7 days a week and evenings as a waiter, soon earning $1000 a week. Paid cash for his first home at 21.

In the late 80's he ran a turnaround for the struggling Harvey Norman retail chain. Then Hagemeyer hired him to go to NZ and do the same with Briscoes chain which they'd been trying unsuccessfully to offload for 2 years. He cut costs, focused on clearing out stock that was not moving, and cane up with some brash, but cheap TV ads.

1989 Sunday trading was still illegal, and attracted a $1000 fine. Other retailers had tried to open on Sundays, but the unions would go to court to get an injunction blocking it. So Briscoes simply waited until 5pm Friday to announce to staff that they were opening and work would be available if they wanted. Ran TV ads on Sat night telling NZ the stores would be open tomorrow. They got away with it - only one member of public complained - and on four Sundays of December they took $4 million worth of sales - a fifth of their annual turnover. Suddenly the company was profitable again.

Did a deal with Sunbeam who had 800 microwaves they wanted to get rid of outside Australia. Duke got them for $195 each, but with 120 days credit. (At the time, decent microwaves cost twice that). He flicked straight away at $199 - only $4 profit on each, but that was still $3000 for the bottom line. But more important, he effectively got an interest-free loan of $160,000 for 3 months at a time when interest rates were running at 15%.

A similar sort of deal when Crown Glass decided to exit NZ. Duke agreed to buy the whole warehouse full of 1.4m glasses, but with payment spread out over a year. Then he turned part of the warehouse into a temporary store, advertised huge bargains, and sold half the stock in just two weekends. The rest got farmed out to the Briscoes branches and also sold quickly.

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