It was 22 years ago today…

By Merv Robertson June 01, 2014 Rolling back the years

…That this magazine started to play. With Wares half way through its 22nd year, we look back to our first issue. 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.

For all you fans of the Retail Icon series and what happened way back when, we have a new series called Rolling Back the Years. In this series, we will review what was happening in the appliance channel 10, 15 and 20 years ago and take a look back at the products, pricing, promotions and people that made the news. 

We will kick that series proper off in August. But to set the scene, we have selected some items of interest from issue Number 1 of Wares magazine, from November 1992. Yes, Wares is that old!

To set the scene, some notable milestones from 1992:

  • Sir Robert Muldoon passed away.
  • The New Zealand population was 3,533,000 people.
  • Jim Bolger was Prime Minister with a substantial National majority.
  • NZ’s Album of the Year was Body Blow by the Headless Chickens (and the Chickens’ Fiona McDonald was NZ’s Best Female Vocalist).
  • New Zealand’s young guns cricket team reached the semi-finals of the ODI World Cup.
  • Barbara Kendall won Gold in the windsailing at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. 
  • The first episode of Shortland Street was screened.

 

CRAZY HAPPY PEOPLE

In 1983, Bud Little founded a publishing company called Marketplace Press, launching the New Zealand Hardware Journal that continues to this day. Almost a decade later, in November 1992, Wares was born as Appliance & Housewares New Zealand

Bud Little recalls: “Through the hardware magazine we had contacts with small appliance suppliers in the SPEDA group and it was them who encouraged us to do the same exercise in the appliance industry.” 

Ross Middleton was Editor and he used his first column to welcome readers to Wares, outlining the aims and benefits of the publication. Lisa Davis was his assistant. Lance Blackbourn was Advertising Manager with a certain Simon Little on his team. Jenny Clark (now Jenny Hercus) and Nerina Davies (now Nerina Groves) looked after Accounts & Circulation. 

Where are they now? Well, Bud has retired but still keeps an eagle eye on today’s magazines, now under the ownership of daughter Andrea and son Simon as Marketplace Media. 

Ross Middleton, ever the wordsmith, runs his own company Word Warrior, along with his wife Karen Thompson who will be remembered for her past work as Event Manager for the Wares Awards. 

Lance has his own agency, Ground Up Media, majoring in print, including around 30 million letterbox flyers and brochures a year, plus website construction. Lance remembers that once the first advertisers came onboard, it was not difficult to convince others and it snowballed rapidly from there. 

Nerina is retired but Jenny is working part time at Hammer Hardware in Leeston, just out of Christchurch. She joined Marketplace Press in 1986 when Christine Lawler was Editor and remembers Bud Little as “a terrific boss.” 

Jenny says: “We were a great team! We worked hard but had a wonderful time along the way and were very proud of our magazines. I finished in 2002, very much with mixed emotions, but now I love my rural cottage with a view out to the Southern Alps.” 

Ironically, at the Hardware Awards in 2001, Jenny was seated next to her current employers, Jeff and Bronwen Quigley from Leeston Hammer Hardware. “Little did I know then, that I would end up working for them!” she says today.

 

OF BRANDS AND BINS

The first issue’s news pages reveal an interesting mix of brands across appliances and consumer electronics, reflecting the origins of the magazine.

Black & Decker for example took the opportunity to promote some key Christmas lines, including the hand-held Dirtbuster vacuum and the Black & Decker hot air popcorn maker. The hot air popper required no butter or oil for cooking, making a healthy, low calorie snack. The company also promoted its Mealmate toasted sandwich maker – who hasn’t ever owned a toasted sandwich maker?

Parmco said “Welcome” and told us of the firm’s “Great names in extractors, rangehoods and disposers”, going on to detail the virtues of the Downdraft in-wall ventilator which mounted neatly into the benchtop alongside the cooker or flush to the wall surface. Quite the thing in 1992, Parmco’s Downdraft and variations continue to this day.

I’m guessing we won’t find this next range in any of today’s appliance stores. In the first issue of Wares, Pacific Plumbing Appliances advertised a line called Kitchen King which didn’t make toast or coffee and there were no function buttons, not even a power cord. Capacity ranged from 16 litres up to 50 and they were in fact, “trash tidies”. Single and double bin versions were available and they were easily installed in under-bench cupboards.

In fact Kitchen King as a brand lives on and is operating out of Silverdale north of Auckland, with its products having been rebranded as Hideaway still making noises in the specialist kitchen design channel.

 

LASTING RELATIONSHIPS

In issue #1 back in November 1992, Sony was “ready for summer” with its four-model portable stereo radio cassette range (aka boom boxes – remember cassettes?). These were “inspired by overseas trends, opting for square-looking speakers with rounded corners” and retailed one key model, the CFS 208, sold for $119, or around $190 in today’s terms. 

Back then Sony had both the Discman range (portable CD players) and Walkman (pocketable portable cassette players for all you youngsters out there). Sales of the latter had just increased by 84% with the help of merchandising and Sony expected the same potential for Discman. 

 Shona Gow was Sony’s Product Manager at the time and I dropped in for a chat with her recently. She laughs: “Rather worryingly, I do remember the CFS 208. It was one of those models we marketed truckloads of – one of the stars of our roadshows – and I still run into it today, in kitchens, baches and sheds around the place.”

Now Shona has taken a step or six back in technology and spends most of her days on a 1960s Heidelberg printing press, producing top quality letterpress business cards and invitations. For fun, she also has a really old press, called a Golding Jobber which is obviously well over 100 years old. Shona’s business is called MagpiePress (www.magpiepress.co.nz) and she says it would be nice to catch up with old industry acquaintances.

 

FAMOUS BRANDS

Still within the packed news pages of Wares’ very first issue, even back then DéLonghi was a strong supporter of the magazine and was promoting a dehumidifier, benchtop oven-grill, rotary deep fryer, multi-vac and a range of heaters.  

22 years ago, Parex Industries was DéLonghi’s recently appointed distributor and Paul Tooley was its Marketing Director. Today, Paul runs his own company, Tooley & Associates (www.tooley.co.nz) and has earned a strong reputation in customised sales training, both here and in Australia. 

Paul well remembers his early association with Wares: “Wares offered Parex and DéLonghi, with new brands, products and people, the ideal opportunity to become quickly known and gain credibility amongst the most important people – those doing the selling. Our reps were given extra copies of Wares to show retail staff and managers what was new. After all, people buy from those they trust and Wares helped get people on our side.”

Thanks Paul, the cheque is in the post.

 

FANCY A CUPPA?

In 1992, today’s burgeoning coffee market was just a glow on the horizon, even though Nespresso’s portioned system was well on its way to world domination. But, back then, Sunbeam showed readers its revolutionary Cappuccino Instantly coffee maker, which used instant coffee (horror!) and retailed at $269, targeting the 25-45 year old market.

At the time, Sunbeam’s Marketing Manager, Alison Brunton, was excited that consumers could now enjoy cappuccino in their home “quickly, affordably, easily”. A 30-second TV ad in December would feature Luigi Coluzzi, of Sydney’s Bar Coluzzi, making foamy, “restaurant quality” cappuccino quickly and effortlessly. 

 I caught up with Alison (now Alison Roberts) recently. “Marketing for Sunbeam was my first job after leaving university and I ended up working there for eight years – anytime I got a bit restless, a new and interesting project came up. I don’t remember a great deal about the coffee maker except that it was expensive and reasonably sophisticated, for its time. Sunbeam was a great brand to work with and I gained so much knowledge, both from the people on our team and in the wider industry, much of which I still refer to today.” 

Alison was also involved in organising launches such as the Sunbeam 12-month replacement guarantee and in new product development including the Sunbeam Fleece top electric blanket. She is still in marketing, as Tasman Insulation (Pink Batts) and Fletcher Insulation’s Marketing Manager ANZ: Brand, Communications & Digital across Australasia. 

 

MORE COMPETITION IN APPLIANCES

Forging brand awareness” as the first issue’s cover story was Vulcan, then a recent entry into our appliances market from offices in Mount Wellington. Vulcan’s Dishlex dishwashers already boasted 50%+ of the Australian market and its new Milano and Manhattan models released here, had earned five star energy ratings. 

A new range of Vulcan cooking appliances featured both gas & electric models and Wares reported that the factory in Brunswick Melbourne had a production capacity of 1,400 stoves a day across both gas and electric models. 

One industry identity told me that, despite claims to the contrary, the early Vulcan freestanding electric stoves released here were “10 years behind the times”. Vulcan New Zealand was eventually taken over by Southcorp Appliances which then sold to Email, at which stage the Vulcan brand became obsolete. 

Of course, Electrolux later purchased Email’s major appliances group and that was the end of Dishlex, at least in New Zealand. 

 

WESTINGHOUSE ARRIVES TOO

Coincidentally, the Westinghouse brand (another Email asset by that time) had launched in September 1992 and debuted in Wares under the headline “World-famous Westinghouse arrives in New Zealand”. 

Frank Davis, who had cut his teeth with Smeg under Robert Eng at Applico, was National Sales Manager for the new entrant and commented pointedly at the time: “No-one wants to be locked into buying or selling one brand. Simpson and Westinghouse have opened the market up and have given people more of a choice.” 

Target retailers for Westinghouse included Farmers, Appliance Network, Electric City, Bright Spot, PSIS, RTS and the Simpson dealer network. The range comprised refrigerators (12 models!), freezers, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers. 

These days, Frank Davis heads up Hunza Lighting International. “At the time, Westinghouse was completely unknown but the launch was a big success. Email was already well established with the Simpson brand, led by Warren Brewin.” In 1995 Frank transferred to Sydney as Group Marketing Manager, eventually staying for seven years, the last two under the ownership of Electrolux.

In 2002 Frank accepted a partnership offer from an old friend to develop the American market for Hunza light fittings and relocated back to Auckland. They now export Hunza and LuxR luminaires throughout the world via offices in the USA, Melbourne and Dubai.

 

CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS

In our November 1992 issue, Fisher & Paykel announced the reversal of a two-year decline in whiteware sales thanks to the release of its new range of SmartDrive washing machines and Softline refrigerators. 

At the same time, F&P Chairman, Sir Colin Maiden, said that Panasonic sales had risen 14% and overseas sales now represented 34% of trading revenue, up 6% on the last comparative period. Whiteware sold overseas totalled 46%.

Panasonic? Fisher & Paykel? Indeed – F&P had signed a sales agreement with Matsushita Group of Japan in 1971 for the distribution of the National and Panasonic brands. All National products were rebranded Panasonic in 1987. Some years later, in 1998, Panasonic would form a wholly-owned local company in its own right.

 

MIELE MEETS STEELFORT

22 years ago, we read that Peter Murphy, Managing Director of Miele Australia, had appointed Steelfort Engineering of Palmerston North as the exclusive New Zealand importer of Miele household appliances for New Zealand. In 1992, Miele enjoyed worldwide sales in excess of NZ$3.4 billion, held significant market share in most European countries and were said to dominate the premium high quality end of the whiteware market. 

Back in the day, a certain Brian Scott was Steelfort’s Retail Sales Manager for both its Miele and LawnMaster brands. Later, in 2008, he would move across to Miele New Zealand when a local subsidiary was established here. 

Brian became Miele NZ’s National Sales Manager and kicked off his new role by setting up Miele’s Chartered Agents system and establishing the Auckland office and showroom. Brian is still leading the charge for Miele today.

 

BIG RED MEETS RUSSIAN PRODUCTS

 By the time of our first issue, The Warehouse was already a decade old. Formed in 1982, by November 1992 the big red shed had grown to 44 stores and recently released the Lemair brand of gas bottle compatible, bar-size refrigerators, out of Russia. 

At the time, we asked two “leading suppliers” (no names, no pack drill) to give us their opinions of the red sheds getting into appliances. Pundit #1 after their visit: “They were old fashioned, inside and out. They were grubby, as if they had not been cleaned up before they left the factory. They are like comparing a Lada and a Toyota.”

Pundit #2 expressed similar views, was firm that Lemair would be competing with the second-hand market and opined that the range didn’t have very good quality or styling. The large price difference – a bit more than half that of a leading brand – was however the whole point at the time.

In 1992, Gerard Peterson was in charge of buying and marketing at The Warehouse and was quoted as saying: “With other brands, it’s an expensive product for what you are getting. We are catering for those who can’t afford the top end. People can buy with confidence.” The Warehouse offered a 12-month money back guarantee and parts and servicing were available. 

On leaving The Warehouse around 1996, Gerard Peterson founded Number 1 Shoes, which he later sold to the Hellaby group. Now semi-retired, we hear he keeps his hand in with property investments. As for The Warehouse, it is a very different operation indeed these days.

 

CHAIN STORES CHANGE HANDS

More insights into the big chain retail aspects of Wares’ world in 1992 included Farmers’ Australian ownership. By then, the Commerce Commission had cleared the way for the 48 Farmers department stores to be bought by Foodland from the Aussie banks which had taken control of Farmers after the post-1987 collapse of Chase Corporation. The iconic retailer would be merged into a large retail group that included Deka, Toy Warehouse and James Smith. 

Wares reported that Auckland group Hill & Stewart had purchased seven Auckland stores from rivals Selectrix, whilst two others had been sold to another competitor, Home Team. Hill & Stewart Managing Director, Mohammed Khan, said the buy meant that Hill & Stewart then owned 23 stores in greater Auckland.

 

INDEPENDENTS’ DAY?

Wares’ first issue profiled three independent retailers. Starting with Newmarket Appliances which had been owned by Ian Gorter since 1981. Ian refused to join a buying group to “have more freedom to stock what we want”. 

 Recently I spoke to Ian’s daughter, Ingrid: “Eileen Painter worked with dad forever and because of high rental costs he later moved the business from Newmarket to 666 Dominion Road. But, when his health deteriorated, he just closed the doors. Sadly, dad passed away in 2002 after a battle with cancer, aged 72.” 

In 1976, Peter Jackson (ex Pye) and Ron Taylor (ex AH Nathan) opened Good Guys Appliances, an independent appliance shop in Te Atatu. Peter later assumed full ownership with branches in Glendene, New Lynn & Birkenhead. After selling all but Glendene, Jackson sold that business to Jim Wintrup and Rex Pilotto in 1992 but stayed on as Assistant Manager. 

In 1993 Good Guys joined Retravision and purchased the New Lynn Retravision store in 1996, consolidating the whole operation into a large Henderson store in 2003. At the time of the Wares article in 1992, they specialised in whiteware and audio visual with only a token range of small appliances. 

“Most small appliance brands have been gobbled up by K Mart, Deka and hardware stores,” said Peter Jackson at the time, “But we don’t care – we don’t need them.” Jim then made a bold statement – “We will be here in 10 years’ time, we are here for the long term.” He delivered on that promise for sure, although in 2008 the business was sold to Australia’s The Good Guys. 

These days, Jim and Rex still operate the Appliance Parts Company in West Auckland, which they have owned since 1987. Peter is enjoying retirement in Auckland.

Robert Berger started out doing small appliance repairs in his Spinella Drive, Glenfield home and he opened Spinella Electrical in Milford during 1980. 

Spinella had joined RTS in October 1992 and was the first shop to wear the new Retravision livery when RTS was granted the branding licence in 1993 the official launch being 1 April 1994.

Robert was a promoter and introduced interest free terms as a big consumer attraction. One of his best promotions was a new Panasonic microwave oven for which he offered a $300 trade-in on the customer’s old model! “We sold 45 in two weeks,” he said. Spinella primarily sold whiteware and small appliances but Robert had plans to double the floor space and introduce television. 

Robert Berger moved Spinella to Link Drive, Wairau Park and subsequently sold the business in 1996. He then had 15 years with his own company converting vehicles for disabled drivers and is now retired. As this issue goes to press, he is in Poland completing his senior international judging qualifications for disabled shooters, with the Paralympics committee.

1992 may have been Queen Elizabeth’s “annus horribilis” but it was a time of positive change for the appliance and consumer electronics channel. And I am looking forward to the next issue when we can document some of these changes and our new series Rolling Back the Years starts in earnest!  

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