Newbolds: Fish, fridges and franchising

By Merv Roberston February 05, 2013 Retail Icon

This issue’s retail icon is 100% Newbolds. The story of this lower North Island retail brand both opens and closes with fridges. Merv Roberston reports.

James Neville Newbold, wife Eliza and their f our children arrived in Auckland from England in 1865. The family settled on land where these days Blockhouse Bay Road meets Great North Road and established a farm on the site where Eden Park now stands.

John Edwin Newbold (son of James and Eliza) and his wife Annie moved to Australia and in Adelaide, Allan Newbold was born. Allan eventually came to New Zealand, initially living in Invercargill before relocating to Wellington in 1907 where he later married Ivy Colvin and set up an electrical contracting business.

In 1924, Allan and Ivy proudly welcomed their first born into the world. John Alexander Newbold became known as Jack as the years went by and it is by this name that Jack Newbold will be affectionately remembered by many Wares readers.

On leaving Rongotai College, young Jack joined Public Works. But, after a short time, aged 18, he was called up for Military Service. In late 1942 he transferred to the Royal New Zealand Air Force where he trained in various aircraft types, both here and in Canada, finally becoming a fighter pilot flying Corsairs. Jack served in the Pacific, stationed in Bougainville and, at the end of hostilities, he left for home in October 1945 and was finally demobbed on 21 December.

After some deerstalking with a couple of mates he returned to Public Works for a short time. But his father had formed a new company in October 1944, Allan Newbold & Co. And, after a meeting with Phil Scott, the Manager, later in 1946, Jack agreed to join the firm on a salary of about £6.10.00 a week (approximately $479 today). The business was situated at 25 Farish Street in Wellington and they managed to store, stock, sell and service their wares in cramped premises of just 350ft2.

 

1940s: Keeping cool and refrigeration

At the outset Allan had two staff, daughter Winsome Newbold, who served in the shop, and Reg Thomson-Reilly, who was a skilled service engineer and the first working Director. Before he opened this new enterprise, Allan ran the refrigeration division of importer John Chambers Ltd, and in fact, the installation and service of commercial refrigeration was the foundation of Allan Newbold & Co, until retail developed rapidly through the next two decades. Today, 69 years on, we know this retailer as 100% Newbolds.

Starting up a new venture had been a huge gamble. Remember, this was war time and little merchandise was available. So, apart from a few small electrical lines, Allan Newbold’s main turnover came from repairing and selling second-hand refrigerators, although documentation shows that his first major sale was a second-hand piano.

From the writing of Jack Newbold: “One of the first jobs I became involved in was a contract to repair or replace all the refrigeration on board the Wanganella, a Trans-Tasman passenger liner which had run aground on Barrett’s Reef. We took 12 months to complete the job and it was a great boost to the company which was still in its infancy.”

Around this time Newbolds also became involved in the Golden Bay Fish Company in Motueka, constructing a refrigeration storage room and installing a refrigerated section of the ship Janie Seddon. But, when this contract was complete, Golden Bay was unable to pay the bill. This was a big setback and after lengthy negotiations it was resolved that Allan Newbold & Co would take over the running of Golden Bay Fish Company. This venture was looking good until a shipment of fish to Australia was condemned by inspectors. Jack would later comment that they should have “greased a few palms” but the losses from that single transaction were substantial and Newbolds took nearly two years to recover lost ground.

Retail was also challenging in the post-war years due to a chronic shortage of appliances. But, in later times, Jack reflected: “When we first began selling washing machines, we never even got our stock into the shop, delivering them straight to the customers from a waiting list. Some people would offer us an extra five pounds just to be bumped up the list. Even when we held a sale for second-hand appliances, we would be flooded with bargain hunters and needed to hire marshals to regulate the queues.” Despite the difficulties, Newbolds prospered.

On securing a Fisher & Paykel franchise in 1946 (Kelvinator refrigerators, Whiteway washers and Goblin vacuum cleaners), Newbolds’ retail was considerably ramped up with a small branch opening in Grey Street followed by a high profile site on busy Lambton Quay in 1947. A few years later, the original Farish Street operation moved to the Salvation Army building, the People’s Palace in Cuba Street, supplanting Grey Street. Now there were two thriving Wellington City outlets.

 

1950s: Promotions? It’s in the bag

Like today, advertising played a big part in taking the Newbolds message to the public. However, unlike today, the audience was much more captive with only The Dominion and Evening Post newspapers and one radio station.

The move to Cuba Street also led to a long-term relationship with Selwyn Toogood, who would become a renowned quizmaster. Newbolds and Fisher & Paykel provided prizes for the radio quiz show It’s in the Bag which launched in 1954. Toogood would become a household name and his show was a hit for many years, spilling into the television era. The Newbold family acknowledged that this partnership brought great publicity and momentum to their business.

But life is never without its hiccups and on 13 May 1953, Allan Newbold was very lucky not to lose his life when, whilst driving his small car over the notorious Rimutaka Hills to visit the Masterton branch, he was blown off the road and over a cliff. He was thrown from the car just before it bounced into the river.

Luckily, a Featherston butcher who was travelling just behind, tended to him until ambulance staff arrived. Allan suffered critical internal injuries and frightful head wounds and was not expected to survive.

However, he eventually recovered in the Greytown Hospital and on the way home asked son Jack to pull over so he could check out the scene of his near miss. Jack wrote: “Dad even suggested that I go down to see if I could recover a basket he had in the boot of the car, containing bottles of liquor. You can imagine my reply.”

Allan Newbold survived another 21 years but his activities in the business were considerably diminished due to the accident, after which he only drove big American cars, purchased from Sir Woolf Fisher. Allan Newbold died from a severe heart attack in 1974.

 

1960s: Expansion calls, marriage beckons

That same year, 1953, Newbolds opened a Lower Hutt branch near the VIC corner and after two good years it was moved into the heart of the Lower Hutt shopping precinct. The store was first managed by Frank Munro, an old schoolmate of Jack’s who had joined the team two years earlier.

Replaced by Colin Smith, Munro was transferred to Masterton as Manager in 1954 and he grew that store considerably before returning to Wellington in 1964 to take up a position as Sales Manager for the overall Newbold operation. Neil Stagg took over Masterton but the doors were closed a few years later, the focus switching to Greater Wellington.

Next in the expansion programme was Otaki, opening in 1956. With Bill Jansen as Manager, such was the success of this outlet that Newbolds decided to further exploit the Kapiti region and bought out Aerosound at Paraparaumu Beach, soon moving to a larger shop in the same area.

Meanwhile, franchise lines of radios, radiograms and tape recorders had progressively been added, and 1960 saw the introduction of television into New Zealand, an event with prolific results for not just Newbolds, but the industry as a whole. The Newbolds brown goods brands were Murphy, Astor, Philips, Admiral and La Gloria. Hoover products and Bendix auto washers were also added from Fisher & Paykel.

In 1956, Maureen Atkinson joined the Newbolds team at the Lambton Quay branch. Maureen developed something of a niche with Necchi sewing machines which had just been introduced into New Zealand by Fisher & Paykel.

Maureen takes up the story: “By that stage, Jack was Managing Director. We became friendly and went out together regularly, but after a year or so I could see he was not going to propose marriage so I wrote him a letter terminating our romance. I also resigned from the company but met with him again in Taupo several months later when I drove up in my little Fiat to visit mutual friends who were staying at Jack’s holiday cottage.”

Shortly after she returned to Wellington, Jack took Maureen on a drive around Scorching Bay where he proposed. This was on 7 February 1958. Jack and Maureen married on 15 November 1958 and had 52 wonderful years of marriage until Jack passed on in December 2010. Maureen still lives in Wellington and her contribution to this Wares series is greatly appreciated.

In 1961, Derek Shepherd was Manager of Ashcroft Home Appliances in Manners Street and, when Newbolds acquired this site, he joined Allan in head office as Company Secretary. He would later play a role in the franchising of Newbolds. Jim Irving was appointed manager in Lambton Quayand the same year, Otaki and Paraparaumu Beach were combined into a wholly owned subsidiary with Bill Jansen given overall responsibility for both shops.

Again drawing on the first-hand writing of Jack Newbold, we learn of an interesting exercise not widely known, at least these days, which got off the ground in 1962: “An important development in the company was the appointment of F&P sub-agents in the Wellington Region. This was prompted by Woolf Fisher who felt there was a need for additional retail outlets for their products.

“We negotiated with Farmers Trading Co, LV Martin & Son, Nimmos, Gurney Electrical, Hutt Valley Consumers Co-op and Mark & McKenzie of Upper Hutt. They were all keen to get involved and became our F&P sub-agents. Fisher & Paykel were happy and we benefitted by the commission paid to us on all their purchases.”

 

MID-1960s: New sites and a new model

With the business now a leading light on the New Zealand retail scene, a building was purchased on Thorndon Quay to house the head office, bulk store and service department. Tenants included none other than HE Shacklock.

However, within a short time, Thorndon Quay was too small and servicing was outsourced to Johnsonville, where Tom Powell and Alf Ells, both ex Newbolds servicemen, had set up a company in their own right. This operation was called Tharcold and an arrangement was reached whereby Tharcold became the Newbolds whiteware service agent.

This arrangement lasted for a number of years but, after Sir Woolf died, Jack was summoned to Auckland because F&P wanted to terminate the deal. However, after some hard negotiating he was able to continue the agreement for a further five years.

In September 1963, Newbolds moved the Paraparaumu Beach branch to the new Coastlands Shopping Centre and this became a virtual prototype for the future. Attendance on opening day was encouraged through regional radio – always a great drawcard – and the Otaki shop was closed shortly after.

Allan Newbold & Co continued to grow at pace and in 1964 came the boldest move yet, using the Paraparaumu experience as a basis. A new shopping complex was built in Porirua and on 4 December that year, the biggest and brightest Newbolds store opened for business with much fanfare, including live crossovers featuring some of Wellington’s best known radio personalities.

We read from Jack Newbold’s notes: “Porirua, like its Paraparaumu prototype, is more than a home appliance and ‘radiovision’ store, with a range of alternative and interesting housewares such as china, crystal, crockery, cutlery, silverware and home decor.” Reg Taylor was the inaugural Manager.

 

1980s: Franchising the way forward

Around 1975, Lambton Quay closed and the Cuba Street branch relocated to the corner of Cuba & Vivian Streets with offices built for Messrs Newbold, Shepherd and Munro. The business continued to be a prominent enterprise. But, as Jack Newbold came closer to retirement, he decided to operate only one store as a family business and franchise the others out to owner-operators (“Management Agreement” was the terminology in those days).

The planning process started in 1981 and came to fruition the following year with Jack retaining Cuba Street and the other branches being put in the hands of a new group of franchisees.

After spending a couple of years with Philips, Peter Newbold, son of Jack and Maureen, joined the family business in 1982, followed by his brother Richard two years later. When the franchising arrangement was finally solid, the sons ran the Wellington shop in Cuba Street, although Jack retained ownership until 1988 at which time the boys became owners.

Derek Shepherd recalls the ins and outs of the franchise agreements: “We offered each branch to the managers, although not all took up the deal. Upper Hutt had been bought from Davidson & Jones and an electrical contractor named Murray Birrell took up the franchise but failed.

Paul Burnett became the Paraparaumu proprietor and was extremely successful before retiring in December 1988. Terry Heggarty went into Porirua but this shop turned out to be a disaster and Terry moved on. We offered Lower Hutt to the Manager, John Robinson, but he declined and joined Philips with Neill Press buying the franchise. Neill was a real trader and made a great success of it.”

With the Newbolds Group now established and the Newbold family left with just one store, Derek Shepherd retired in 1984.

 

1984: Dollar devalues, causes retail boom

John Heginbotham has provided insight as to how the Newbolds franchise system evolved after the first two years. At this stage, Newbolds was reckoned to be market leader in greater Wellington and was certainly one of the strongest independent groups in the country.

“My business, in partnership with my wife Donna was Sound of Music in those days, also in Upper Hutt specialising in brown goods and attached to that we had a rental operation called Hire Sound. James Omundsen worked with me at Sound of Music and when the Newbolds opportunity presented itself, we were able to take over the franchise, me working Newbolds and James looking after Sound of Music. We opened for business on 9 April and in the first month our turnover was $28,000 [$85,653 these days]. Month two was $140,000 [$428,265] and we were away.”

1984 was the year that Prime Minister Robert Muldoon called a snap election and on 14 July, David Lange’s  Labour government was elected. New Zealand was in a financial crisis due to Muldoon’s refusal to devalue the NZ Dollar but on Thursday 19 July he bowed to Lange’s wishes and the dollar was devalued by 20%.

With price increases a certainty, there was something of a retail boom and John Heginbotham recalls the Newbold Group bonanza. “In the early 1980s VCR was the hot product and prior to the devaluation news we had been stocking up with Hitachi ahead of a promotion. Retail was $1,499 [$4,487 today] and in Upper Hutt alone, during the Friday & Saturday immediately after the news hit, our VCR sales were $103,000 [$308,347] ahead of inevitable price increases. Our month overall was $370,000 [$1,107,654]. It was bedlam, and not a discount in sight!”

 

1990s: Newbolds leaves wellington city

The Newbolds Group progressed. Neil Press was joined in partnership by Brian Girdlestone in Lower Hutt and Peter Wyness taking over the troubled Porirua shop. Gary Kirkland later bought Paraparaumu from Paul Burnett at the end of 1988.

In 1989, a year before the Newbold Group’s acquisition of the Wellington region Selectrix branches (December 1990), the formal franchise document was redrawn. Jack and Maureen had formed a company called M & J Newbold Ltd and this company entered into an agreement with Newbolds Wellington (Peter & Richard Newbold), Girdlestone & Press Lower Hutt (Brian Girdlestone & Neil Press), Cravens Sales & Service Porirua (Peter Wyness), Hire Sound Upper Hutt (John Heginbotham) & Kirkland’s Appliances Paraparaumu (Gary Kirkland).

These five shops formed The Newbolds Group and traded as Newbolds Appliances, each with its own clearly defined territory – City of Wellington, City of Lower Hutt, City of Porirua, City of Upper Hutt and Borough of Kapiti respectively.

The Directors quickly realised that, given a competitive marketplace and with turnover accelerating to over $20 million, the business needed someone reliable to take charge of and implement advertising, promotions and marketing, as well as coordinating terms of trade with suppliers. So Darryl Gill joined as Group Manager, leaving the proprietors free to concentrate on running their stores.

John Heginbotham considers that period to have been vital, not just in regards to the further growth of Newbolds, but in its consolidation as well. The Selectrix takeover meant that suddenly each Newbolds proprietor had two shops and two competing retail brands. This was logistically challenging to say the least. But Selectrix was soon made a thing of the past with Newbolds having successfully absorbed its market share and taken a competitor out of play.

To round off the franchising era, Newbolds Wellington made a bold move in August 1993, closing Cuba Street after 43 years and moving to a destination store in Adelaide Road, complete with copious customer parking.

 

2000s: Newbolds quit retailing

When Jack’s sons, Peter and Richard Newbold, decided to leave appliance retailing in 1995, their store was bought by Brian Girdlestone. In 2002 Brian decided to move on and he sold to Nigel Lawson, who in turn sold the business to LV Martin & Son in December 2008. For the first time in 64 years, there was no Newbolds in Wellington City.

Newbolds Lower Hutt came under the sole ownership of Brian Girdlestone when he purchased Neill Press’ shares and sadly, Neil died a few years later aged just 61. When he moved to Adelaide Road, Brian sold to Wayne Bouzaid who had been a Wrightson Appliances and Selectrix man. Wayne closed down in 2011.

Newbolds Porirua saw Peter Wyness in the mid 1990s selling to Calvin Burgh in the mid-1990s. Later the franchise was bought and operated by Bill Kirkup for a time before he sold to Tim Barnes, who moved from Lower Hutt to become a franchisee in his own right. Porirua closed in 2010.

Newbolds Paraparaumu closed in 1996 when the Kirklands moved to Australia, but Brian Girdlestone reopened in the town with a branch in the “tin shed” on Kapiti Road not far from the airport. Newbolds Wellington employee Derek Johnston then took this shop over a year later, eventually shutting up shop in 2010.

These days the Newbold family has no presence in the group but the name lives on. Today, there are just three remaining appliance stores still carrying the iconic retail brand name. 100% Newbolds Upper Hutt remains in the Heginbotham/Omundsen camp, with Darren Gittins buying a shareholding in 2005.

100% Newbolds Masterton also continues to thrive and just recently, 24 year-old Mark Heginbotham – the son of John and Donna – joined the business after graduating from Otago University.

100% Newbolds Johnsonville was established by Alan Lee in 1997 and despite the difficult retail climate, is still trading.

Peter Newbold is General Manager of New Zealand Sotheby’s International Realty, based in Queenstown and, with wife Bridget, has developed a winery – Gibbston Back Road Wines. Richard Newbold meantime, is General Manager of Southern Construction in Christchurch and with wife Carolyn, has developed land which is leased by a day care centre and a doctor’s surgery.

One fascinating legacy from the days of Allan Newbold also lives on today. It is not known just how, but Allan acquired a refrigerator during the 1930s, an open-unit GE from America. Son Jack eventually moved it to his Upper Hutt home as a beer fridge and today, around 76 years old, it serves a similar purpose for grandson Peter in Queenstown. It’s still running perfectly, by the way, although it requires a defrost every six weeks.  

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