From fag papers and barber’s chairs

By Merv Robertson August 16, 2011 Retail Icon

What do you get when you mix together radio retailing, a tobacconist and a handful of barber’s chairs? Hawke’s Bay’s Duckworths Appliances is our latest Retail Icon. Merv Robertson reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in Wares magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

On 1 November1958, Lloyd Duckworth opened his own shop for the very first time. It was located in Emerson Street, Napier. Soon enough he made his first sale – not a radio, not a washing machine but two packets of cigarette papers at a cost of fivepence. As they say, “From small beginnings...”

In the 1950s, Lloyd was working for Lockyers Appliances, first in Market Street, Napier, and then in Emerson Street. When Tom Lockyer took time off for a stint overseas, Lloyd was left in charge.

Turnover rose but when Tom returned it is said that he offered not one word of praise or thanks so Lloyd decided to have a crack on his own. He walked up and down Emerson Street asking if anyone wanted to sell their business. Finally he met Johnny Johnston, a tobacconist and barber who agreed to sell up and the deal was done.

Johnny had done well as a barber with no less than six chairs but Lloyd’s goal was home appliances so he removed two chairs to make space for radios and small appliances. As a new retailer, he realised it would take time before he could make serious money out of these products so he kept on several tobacconist lines (hence the fag papers!) and subbed out the barber business.

 

1963: TV COMES TO THE BAY

Television arrived in New Zealand on 1 June 1960 but would not reach Hawke’s Bay until three years later. Lloyd Duckworth had the vision to realise he needed a much bigger shop, with a good range of TV sets, So, with his wife Ruth, he bought the last vacant lot on Emerson Street in 1963 and built their new home appliance shop in conjunction with Ritchies’ China Shop. They kept just two barber’s chairs upstairs on a mezzanine floor.

The previous year, with TV arriving in the Bay, Messrs Nobby Collins, Ivan Small and Peter Bone figured they might just be able to pick up a signal from Wellington on one of the hills around Havelock North. Carting a TV and power source around, they eventually picked up a reasonable signal from Mount Kahuranaki. Lloyd Duckworth was one of a group of enthusiasts who huddled outside the van, in the cold and watched The Flintstones. Lloyd and three other retailers then put up the money to fund a repeater station. This was in 1962.

Lloyd’s son Rob Duckworth, now 100% Duckworths Managing Director, remembers: “Full NZBC transmission arrived in the Bay the next year and it was very exciting. The Napier reservoir was between our Seapoint Road home and the Mount Erin transmitter, so a pipe about 30 metres high with two huge element aerials on top had to be erected, high enough to clear to reservoir roof to get the signal. It was held in place with cables running all over the house. Our first TV was a little black & white and for two weeks technicians fiddled about trying to position the aerials so we could get a picture. Once this happened there was a big celebration. I was 11 at the time and remember heaps of people visiting to watch TV.”

1963 also saw Duckworths open a branch in Taradale with Dennis Little as manager. As Rob says, “This was basically so dad could get a double allocation of television receivers.” There was no intention of maintaining the store long term but both stores did a roaring trade in TV, selling as many as they could lay their hands on.

Selling a TV was quite an exercise in those days, a far cry from the modern day sale when invariably the customer takes the set home, unpacks it and uses the remote to get started. Back then, the TV had to be set up, including the adjustment of vertical and horizontal holds and fine tuning. It took a while and reception was often poor but the eagerly anticipated first sign of a picture was always greeted with a burst of applause. TV sets were expensive and in short supply so often TV evenings would be held when owners would invite the neighbours over.

The Taradale store was sold to Des Stephens in 1969.

1965: INTO MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

In 1965, Duckworths took over the china shop next door (along with its upstairs coffee shop). This provided 2,000 square feet of retail and a small workshop out the back, plus a large mezzanine, still with the two barber’s chairs. Musical instruments took up most of the space in the new development.

Around the same time, Lloyd hired Eddie Watts as his right hand man. Watts was a prominent identity on the Hawkes Bay rugby scene, as a player, a Board Member and later as Chairman. Eddie was to remain a vital team member at Duckworths until 1982.

In June 1965, the Hawkes Bay Industrial Exhibition was staged. This was a massive event for the district and Lloyd Duckworth saw a big opportunity to promote his business. Investing heavily in advertising, his intuition proved spot on and the business grew rapidly as a result.

It’s always interesting to compare prices then and now. Duckworths advertised a Norge wringer washer for £65.17.6. Using the Reserve Bank Inflation Calculator, this equates to just under $2,414 today. A Hoovermatic twin tub washer was £85, or $3,109 in today’s money.

With expansion in mind, Lloyd Duckworth badly wanted a Fisher & Paykel franchise, but for years was frustrated by the fact that Agnews (based in Hastings but with a branch in Napier) had the Kelvinator brand for the Hawkes Bay.

Lloyd was the proverbial “squeaky wheel” however and around 1969 he became an F&P dealer with the Leonard brand for refrigeration and Washrite for laundry. Up until then he was a strong Norge whiteware retailer.

 

1973: COLOUR TV ARRIVES

Competition was extremely tough in the Bay, what with Agnews, Hawkes Bay Farmers, Bissells Electrical, Farmers Trading, Wrightson NMA, Hawkes Bay Electric Power Board, as well as various independents and farming agencies, all selling appliances.

Nevertheless, around 1972 a large workshop / bulk store was built in the Onekawa industrial area and the Emerson Street shop was expanded. Colour TV eventually arrived in 1973 and suppliers would provide retailers with spectacular presentations, in particular Philips which launched its famous K9 range.

At this time, Rob Duckworth was away in Wellington at Victoria University studying for his business degree. “A major assignment in my third year was a study for LV Martin & Son on the introduction of colour TV and how it was to evolve. I remember predicting that the high paid blue collar manual workers such as freezing workers would be among the first to buy colour because in those days, they already had the big expensive stereos and earned the big bucks. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

“CTV was subject to allocation for several years as manufacturers just didn’t have the capacity to cope with demand. Customers would put their names on every retail waiting list but still often had to wait a few months to get their TV. Even some whiteware was on allocation, especially F&P. Discounting and interest-free terms were unheard of. In the times of allocation, it was the dealers shouting drinks for the suppliers, not the other way around.”

Rob returned to Napier in early 1975 and in 1978 Duckworths bought back Stephens Radio in Taradale, relocating the shop to bigger premises in Gloucester Street. Two years later, the Lockyers stores in Hastings and Havelock North were acquired.

 

1977: ATTRACTING TALENT

1977 was a big year for Wayne Johnson. In March 1977 he was the first person personally employed by Rob Duckworth, as a delivery man. Wayne remembers: “A couple of years after I started we got Tellus vacuum cleaners which were on strict allocation. I would cringe when our monthly allocation arrived as it was my job to unload them all, check them off against our waiting list and then deliver them. No discounts, just happy customers and great margins for Duckworths.”

Wayne moved into sales in 1981 and became Sales Manager in 1990. When the Mega Store came along a few years later, he happily went back into sales and is still a lynch pin with the company, 34+ years on.

Yvonne Arrowsmith became Rob’s second appointment in March 1979. She started in the Taradale branch as a sewing machine demonstrator and salesperson but in the early 1980s became Hawkes Bay’s best known microwave demonstrator, conducting weekly classes in Emerson Street and also doing public shows, sometimes attracting up to 300 people. Yvonne left in 2005 to spend time abroad with husband Roger, but returned to the fold, resuming her speciality of commercial sales.

Very soon after Yvonne came on board, Rob “pinched” Roley Cook from Bissells. “Roley was their manager,” says Rob. “He was ‘Mr Frigidaire’ and ‘Mr Tellus’ in Hawkes Bay and I was chuffed when he agreed to come over. He also secured the Tellus agency for us, an allocation of 40 vacs a month. We sold them for $399 a pop [$3,100 today], full RRP.”

 

1980-1990s: FURNITURE, RETRAVISION

In 1983 the Havelock North branch was closed down and the Hastings operation expanded in Heretaunga Street. By this stage Duckworths had become an Appliance Court retailer under the Retail Traders Society (RTS) umbrella and the Appliance Court brand spread across most of the country. Hastings proved so successful that Duckworths relocated to bigger premises in Market Street a year later. The Onekawa warehouse underwent a change in 1987 with the establishment of Duckworths Retail Warehouse with the aim of selling manufacturers’ end-of-lines, secondhand and shop soiled appliances, but it soon ended up as a dedicated whiteware outlet.

After much deliberation and research, it was decided to enter the furniture market and in 1988, Duckworths Furniture Court was opened in the old Bon Marche building on Hastings Street, Napier. This proved to be a master stroke and the business grew to the extent that in late 1992, plans were developed for a combined furniture and appliance Mega Store in Thackeray Street.

Sadly, Lloyd Duckworth died in February 1993 at just 66 years of age and never saw the new dream super store which opened in November that year.

That same year, RTS was given the licence to operate Retravision in New Zealand and the timing couldn’t have been better for Duckworths. Retravision was a massive co-operative marketing group in Australia with an annual retail appliance turnover said to be in excess of the entire New Zealand market.

All existing Duckworths Appliance Court & Furniture Court stores (with the exception of the Hastings appliance shop) were closed and the business functioned out of Thackeray Street with the appliance division relaunched as Duckworths Retravision. Brian Atkinson, who had joined around 1974 as an audio salesman and became General Manager in the early 1990s, played a pivotal role in Thackeray Street before leaving to sell real estate after some 23 years’ service.

Barry Daley had worked for Leader & Watt in Palmerston North before joining Jim Bulloch at Manawatu TV & Sound. Less than a month later he was moved to Central Power Appliances, Bulloch’s specialist whiteware store. Rob Duckworth approached him in 1995 and in December Barry moved to Napier as Duckworths’ kitchen & laundry appliance specialist in the Onekawa branch. He was transferred into the Thackeray Street Mega Store in 1997 to manage the appliance department.

 

1998: BACK TO BASICS

Rob Duckworth says the Onekawa store was “fantastic!” “We were euphoric and felt like we were ready for the big time. But, over the next few years, our appliance position slowly deteriorated. We conducted some research and found that the public no longer perceived us as appliance specialists so we had to bite the bullet and get back to our knitting.”

The decision was made to amalgamate the Hastings, Thackeray Street & Onekawa operations into one Retravision store and again Duckworths relocated, this time in early 1998 to a refurbished shop on the corner of Munroe and Station Streets in Napier. We leased out a third of the Thackeray Street shop and retained the rest for furniture with the furniture business eventually being sold to Paul Fenn of Gisborne.

Ron says: “This move left me with vacant retail space in Onekawa so we reverted back to the original concept for the site and opened Honest Rob’s which is still running successfully.”

Barry Daley became Store Manager and buyer of the new Retravision store at that time, moving to New Plymouth in 2005 where he is now looking after inventory control for Plumbing World. Barry remembers a line Rob used to trot out, especially at Expo time when a bunch of reps came to town: “You work hard, you play hard but you better be at work the next day.”

Also in 1998, Retravision in New Zealand changed big time. RTS closed its doors and on 1 April Retravision New Zealand Limited opened as a state of Australia with premises in Lambie Drive, Manukau. Rob Duckworth was the inaugural Chairman, holding the position for eight years. During that time he also put in four years as Deputy Chair for Retravision Australia.

 

2003: INTO LARGE FORMAT

The new specialist store took off. It was well merchandised, the staff were highly motivated and, before long, Duckworths was back with a vengeance. Rob Duckworth relives the excitement: “Things went so well that space became an issue so I took the punt and designed a purpose-built large-format shop which we moved into on 2 April 2003. This was right across the road in Munroe Street and here we remain.

“The extra space in this shop enabled us to really catch up as we were able to expand our range and put much more emphasis on technology. Now we can match it with anybody and have such expertise within our staff that we should never lose a sale because of any lack of product knowledge.”

In 2001 the Hawkes Bay Electric Power Board decided to get out of appliances, so Future Power’s Heretaunga Street shop closed its doors. John Bush was the store’s manager. Together with Rob Duckworth and John’s wife Helen, they thrashed out details of a partnership and purchased the business from the receivers. The shop reopened as Duckworths Appliances Retravision. Sadly, the tough economic times the country has experienced over the last few years saw this impressive shop close at Christmas last year.

By 2009, as we know, the appliance industry was struggling in the wake of a global recession and unfortunately Retravision New Zealand was a casualty. All Retravision shareholders were invited to join Appliance Connexion Limited, the majority as identified 100% outlets and from 1 April 2009, Duckworths has traded as 100% Duckworths.

Rob Duckworth has been fully involved in the appliance industry for over 36 years now, always in the family business. Old Blue Eyes crooned: “Regrets I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.” Rob is no different but right now he remembers the good things and muses over the changes in the industry during his time.

“The most dramatic changes have been in pricing and I can give you a few examples. Remote controlled colour TVs came on the market in 1980 with a 14” set retailing at around $1,200 [$5,367 using the afore-mentioned calculator]. They sold like hot cakes. The first VCRs were nearly $2,500 for something decent [$11,000 today] with microwave ovens hitting $1,300 [$7,500]. It was about 10 years ago when I sold my first plasma TV. It was a Panasonic 42” at $23,995 [$31,000] and they lasted only about 5 years. Today you can pick up a 42” Panasonic for less than $900 and it will last maybe 30-40 years.”

Rob has some fantastic memories, and is quick to point out that there will be plenty more to come. “Setting up Retravision New Zealand and launching in 1998 was probably the biggest highlight. Retravision was completely broken and we put it back together, particularly with Alister Lilley and Warren Huband, and of course Leighton Cox as CEO. We did something good there and it was certainly a major highlight. Our off-site Expos in the 1990s were incredible! We would do $1 million in a weekend. Man we worked hard, but it was a buzz and so satisfying. Naturally the everlasting friendships I have made would be an important part of a highlights package. Too many to name just a few here but there’s no doubt I have been privileged to form lots of strong relationships in this industry.”



THE DUCKWORTHS: FAMILY TIES

Lloyd Duckworth (1927-1993) earned a position of high respect, not only in Napier but across the wider Hawkes Bay community. In business he was known for his absolute integrity and his commitment to customer satisfaction. Outside his business, he served on the Hawkes Bay Power Board for many years, most as Chairman, and was a three term Napier City Councillor. During the 1960s he was a Hawkes Bay Rugby Union Board Member and his term encompassed the famous Shield era. He was also honoured for his commitment to Fisher & Paykel by being appointed to the board of Fisher & Paykel Finance on which he sat for several years.

Richard Papworth, long time F&P staffer and founder of Fapay (the forerunner of Appliance Connexion) has many great memories of Lloyd. Pappy was an F&P rep when he first met the great man and called on him regularly from 1973 through 1976. “Lloyd was a lovely guy and had a huge amount of charisma. He had a real empathy with his customers and never let them down. This integrity was fundamental in building the dynasty as he did. As a customer, he kept his suppliers on their toes but never exploited them. Lloyd had a great relationship with Fisher & Paykel people at all levels and was greatly respected. Lloyd Duckworth in the appliance world was a provincial legend.”

Mention must also be made of the part Lloyd’ wife, Ruth Duckworth, played in the business. Rob pays tribute: “Mum was a Director right from the start. She had been a nurse and needed to learn how to ‘do the books’. This she did and was fastidious in running really accurate stock and cash books. It was very labour intensive as of course everything was done manually. She actually gained quite a reputation in the industry for her detailed stock management and did this for a long, long time until we became fully computerised.” Ruth is now retired in Napier but is still a Director of the company.

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