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In 1971, when Cantab Brian Mason was 20, his girlfriend, Jan Bridgman, graduated as a school dental nurse and was posted to Invercargill. He followed her, landing a job as a salesman with Wrightson Appliances, where Des O’Neill was in charge.
On a base salary plus commission, Brian thought he had “landed in Heaven”; because virtually everything was on a waiting list, the commissions were “easy money”!
Jan and Brian married in 1972 and, seven years later, Brian was Manager of the Gore branch, which is where the Masons’ first two daughters, Becky & Sarah, were born.
In 1981, Brian took over Wrightson’s in Nelson from Paul Sanford, who had bought Star Appliances in Rotorua and, after 2½ years, Ken Clarke, Wrightson’s national chief, asked him to transfer to Wellington where he had seven shops and 40-odd staff.
1982: GOING IT ALONE
Brian Mason learned a lot during three years in Wellington but became increasingly convinced he and Jan should do something on their own. So he asked Richard Papworth and Graham Boggs at F&P if they knew of any franchises which might be for sale.
They put Brian in touch with Ernie Soper in New Plymouth. “Ernie was very accommodating and we made what turned out to be a great decision.” On 1 April 1982, Soper’s Appliances in Devon Street East became Mason Appliances at the start of “23 outstanding years”.
Brian never doubted his ability to make New Plymouth work, but he needed assurances from the major suppliers. F&P whiteware and National were a given, thanks to Papworth, Boggs and Jim Stenhouse. But, with colour TV still booming, it was crucial to secure more brown goods brands, so Philips, Pye and Sanyo were quickly locked in.
The Masons’ third daughter, Jemma, arrived soon after the move, but it wasn’t plain sailing for the fledgling independent. Mason’s needed to establish numbers but to do this they needed stock.
Brian recalls whiteware was an issue in the early days: “F&P were very helpful but we were allocated stock and had to place orders three months in advance. These orders could not be altered so, even when we didn’t need a particular item, we couldn’t afford to turn the allocation down.” Which meant funding was sometimes a challenge.
The former Soper’s store was pretty dowdy at first and only about 1,000ft2. But Brian Mason “tarted it up” and “got stuck in”. This entailed putting his name about and introducing some rather innovative marketing ideas, one of which led to a phone call from Trevor Burrell, who was running MacEwans.
“He said: ‘You need to stop advertising like that. You can’t go around discounting!’ I replied, ‘Well, you watch me!’ Shortly after, I pinched his top sales guy, Robbie Peel. Robbie was a big factor in us getting off to such a good start.”
Three years later, with Mason Appliances well established, came the need for bigger premises. A decent site became available across the road and considerable investment went into a bright, modern 4,000ft2 shop and service department, with the old place becoming a trade-in outlet.
In a few years the showroom would be 10,000ft2 with a new building housing the service department, warehouse and trade-in centre.
In 1989, the telecommunications industry deregulated and Brian Mason was quick to capitalise, sourcing telephones, faxes and small business systems from Telecom Equipment Supplies.
The original Soper’s shop was completely refitted to accommodate Mason Communications, which soon amalgamated with another independent player, Communiqué. Brian, as Managing Director, was joined on the board by Robbie Peel, Maurice Kemsley and Chris Haughton, who took over the MD’s role in 1991.
THE HEADY DAYS OF EXPOs
The 1990s saw appliance expos sweep New Zealand, with Dennis O’Brien at Rices in Invercargill leading the way. Brian Mason flew down to see what all the fuss was about.
He was “blown away” and set up his own expo programme in the local trade centre. These were “brilliant” for 10 years before they had run their course. Mason Appliances’ biggest Expo was $1.3m in three days, all incremental business by the way – “retail sales never dropped a scrap”.
Then it was time to pull the pin. “We had built a high profile company employing 35 people and had been Taranaki Retail Business of the Year twice. Consumer voted us top after-sales service company in New Zealand three years in a row, so we were high achievers – but we had an exit plan.”
Mike Walsh had come on board with the plan being that one day he would buy the Masons out. That happened in 2005 and on 31 March Jan and Brian walked away. “We took off to Europe for six months. It was fantastic!”
Returning home, the couple bought a boutique hotel and then an Auckland-based business called Mayon Importing, which became one of the country’s leading importers of cane baskets, homewares and furniture.
This business was extremely successful but, with Brian spending so much time away in Auckland, sadly the marriage suffered and the pair separated, with Brian buying out Jan’s share. They remain good friends.
In 2012 Brian Mason sold up and moved to Napier where he is now selling real estate for Property Brokers. In the market, or just want to catch up? Call Brian on 021 423 780.