Winloves: The generation game!

By Merv Robertson June 11, 2013 Retail Icon

The latest in our series detailing the history of iconic Kiwi retailers is Waipukarau’s Winlove Appliances, which is nearing its 150th anniversary. 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 28 December1858, a young carpenter arrived in Auckland from Gravesend, England, on the good ship Kingston after a voyage of 104 days. His name was George Winlove and it wasn’t long before he became a despatch rider for the army during the Maori Wars. He was part of an advance party which would warn East Coasters that trouble was on the way, giving them time to either flee the district or batten down the hatches.

Waipukurau was first laid out as a private township by one HR Russell in 1860. As the place developed, the call went out for all manner of trades and business people. George (better known as Geordie) answered that call and, having met and married an Auckland girl, Miss Hutchison, set up a carpentry enterprise in the burgeoning town.

A simple advertisement in the Hawkes Bay Herald on 27 May 1865 announced to one and all that “George Winlove – Carpenter” was open for business. He ran the same advert regularly for a couple of months and, as his clientele grew, plans for expansion were formulated and activated. This is a truly outstanding story of a family business changing and evolving over four generations, to where we know it today as 100% Winloves.


Carpenter, joiner, builder – and undertaker…

Waipukurau is the largest town in the Central Hawkes Bay, some 50km south of Hastings. “Waipuk”, as it is affectionately known, was the site of the first church built in inland Hawkes Bay. It was designed and built by, you guessed it, George Winlove. It opened on 20 August 1867 and served as both a church and a school.

Some 140 years later, the 2006 Census shows Waipukurau with a population of 4,008, an increase of just six souls over a decade earlier. It’s a farming-based town with an economy which has been heavily reliant on meat processing and surrounding agricultural and horticultural industries.

Sadly, these days, the meat processing plant in the town employs only around 40 people after 300 were made redundant in 2011. And, by all accounts, the droughts of this past summer have done the place no good at all and the effects are likely to be felt for years.

But, back in the late 1800s, Geordie Winlove’s business plans were coming to fruition, to the extent that he later positioned himself as “George Winlove – Carpenter, Joiner, Builder & Undertaker”. On an 1889 invoice to one of the local farmers for building night pen additions to the woolshed at a cost of £18 ($3,344 in today’s terms) you can see “Undertaker” has been added to Geordie’s list of services.

Looking back on that era today, great grandson and current proprietor of 100% Winloves – also George Winlove (son of Harry, of whom more anon) – reckons: “Geordie figured if he was making the coffins he may as well do the whole job.”

Around the turn of the century Geordie retired and, after a lengthy illness, died in 1906, aged 71. His son, John Winlove, took over the business. John was a very clever man; he was Dux at Waipukurau High School, a member of the Waipukurau Town Board and, in March 1913, when Waipukurau was constituted as a Borough, became the inaugural Mayor, serving in the post until 1919.

John was also an avid horse racing fan, a keen member of the local Jockey Club and for a time, its President. John went on to develop a reputation for top quality sale yards across Hawkes Bay and as far away as Gisborne. He was also well known as a bridge builder and in fact, constructed many bridges on the district’s country roads.

John’s entrepreneurial talent saw Winloves grow apace and it became a one stop shop for building, renovations, extensions and farming construction. He employed a crew of carpenters, painters, plumbers and cabinet makers and employed up to 60 locals, his business being one of the biggest private companies in the Hawkes Bay. In 1910, the local MP, the Hon WC Smith recognised Winlove’s expertise and the renovations to his home set the gentleman back £38.10 (a tad over $6,000 today).

From using hardware to selling it

John saw an opening for a retail activity to compliment the building business and opened a hardware shop. This he called John Winlove, Building & Hardware Merchants but he traded as John Winlove & Sons. Around the same time he opened a timber yard, a plumbing workshop and a concrete products manufacturing plant.

Winlove’s retail flourished and in 1924 a large shop was opened on a high profile corner site at the then centre of town with such items as kitchenware and saddlery added to building supplies and hardware. A little later he opened a joinery factory, adding branches in Waipawa and Porangahau (40km south east of Waipukurau on the coast).

In the early 1920s, John Winlove opened a brick and pipe manufacturing factory in Waipawa, five miles north of Waipukurau which was very successful right up until 1931 when the Napier earthquake struck. Following the quake, nobody wanted to know about bricks and the factory closed.

Another venture which Winlove diversified into in the mid-1920s was trucking and transport. Back in the days of solid rubber tyres he established a fleet of trucks plus one of the first Leyland articulated lorries. For some years during that period Winlove’s was also the agent for Massey Harris tractors.

John Winlove died from pneumonia in 1930, aged 58. His two sons, George and Harry Winlove, age 21 and 17, respectively were suddenly thrust into the business, Harry having been plucked from Wanganui Collegiate. The Public Trust was executor of John’s will and this appointed a manager who trained the two greenhorn brothers to take the company over a year or so later.

As the Great Depression hit, the brothers’ introduction to the world of business was brutal. National unemployment skyrocketed to an official level of 15% but in those dark days, women and Maori were excluded from the count so the real figure was estimated to be nearer 30%. Government relief programmes were inadequate and many New Zealanders were forced to accept whatever charity they could find. Like all businesses, Winloves struggled but somehow got through and as the 1930s came to an end, business was flowing once more. Then, along came the war.

Harry and George flipped a coin to see who would enlist. Harry “won” but at the medical it was found he had Hydatids, a serious but not uncommon disease at the time, so it was George who set off overseas and served in Egypt and then Italy. Back home, Harry became desperately ill and nearly died but, on reflection, considered that the advent of war actually saved his life because of the treatment he was able to receive at home.


Retail moves on, smalls enter the picture

By this time Winloves retail was dabbling in small appliances and a 1939 display advertisement by Hays in Wellington for Haywin vacuum cleaners (cash price £5 or $465 today) lists Winloves as an agent.

Around this time, the Winloves experienced problems sourcing quality native timber and boldly decided to buy their own mill, a project which almost sent them to the wall. This was called Mangataniwha Timber Company Ltd and was a joint venture with Angus Construction, the mill being purchased from C&A Odlin. It included a 26,000 acre block bounded by the Te Hoe and Mohaka Rivers and the equipment, all army surplus, consisted of bulldozers, trucks, jeeps and engines.

However, the Winloves had badly underestimated the difficulty in creating adequate access tracks across the challenging terrain to enable the timber to be brought out. They ended up spending a fortune developing these roads but managed to survive, as they had done in 1937 when the Tukituki River burst its banks causing severe flooding throughout the district. The timber mill lost a lot of money for the Winlove brothers and was eventually sold.

Back in Waipukurau, over the years, as a railway station was built and more shops were developed, the main retail area moved westwards. With foot traffic diminishing on the eastern side, Harry recognised that he had to move. So, in 1950, the building was sold and Winloves moved close to the centre of town into smaller premises, a former general and clothing store owned by Mr Alec Blom.

This move saw fewer bulky lines but also the addition of toys and sports goods. Overnight, turnover multiplied dramatically.

Then, around 1956, the hardware shop and timber yard were sold to Robert Holt & Sons, later to become Carter Holt Harvey. At the same time the joinery factory was sold to stock firm De Pelichet McLeod, which used it for grain and general farm supplies. George continued with the transport business until he sold it to Foley’s Transport around 1960.


Into home appliances, boots & all

In 1960, Waipukurau Fisher & Paykel dealer Bill Barlow sold to Harry Winlove. Harry had a monster sale, cleared his shop entirely and quickly converted it into a home appliance store. Toys, sports gear, kitchenware and hammers, nails, nuts and bolts were replaced by stoves, washing machines, refrigeration, radiograms and more overnight. There was so much to learn.

Glyn Jenkins was the F&P rep at the time, backed by Dacre Black as their man for the Murphy brand in brown goods. Today, George Winlove remembers: “I was only 10 at the time but Fisher & Paykel and Murphy were all I heard about. Glyn and Dacre trained dad up on all the products and I recall this line-up of 6-8 washing machines all in a row, yesterday’s version of ‘stack ‘em high and watch ‘em fly’ – and they did!

“Dad had Leonard refrigeration and Washrite washers plus Shacklock, Champion and Atlas stoves. In browns Murphy was the main player for us but Pye, Philips and La Gloria were there as well. Small appliances, heaters, vacuum cleaners and electric blankets were sold, with brands such as Ralta, Ultimate, Morphy Richards, Sunbeam, Kenwood, Goblin Ace and Russell Hobbs. Sewing machines too I remember with Necchi and Husqvarna.

“Dad was blown away. From selling all those low priced items to selling a fridge for, say £120 [over $5,000 today] or a wringer washer for £60 [just over $2,500]. I got involved even back then, coming in after school to dust, sweep the footpath and do any other odd jobs I was asked to, including installing the wringer assemblies and castors onto the washing machines. It was exciting.” At that stage there were no less than 10 retailers selling appliances in Waipukurau, including the stock and station agents and the local co-op grocery store!

1960 was also the year that black & white TV came to New Zealand. The next year, when transmissions extended beyond Auckland, Harry would load his VW Combi with TV sets and take them out to all his farming mates, leaving them on loan, with a rough aerial for the cocky to trial – “Just to test the signal,” Harry would say. Of course, when they were contacted a few weeks later for a report, none came back. Sale made! Then it was George’s holiday job to go around installing permanent aerials.

Today, George relates a story similar to several about the introduction of TV to our landscape, but this time with a touch of humour: “As was the case in many provincial towns, reception was poor and dad was instrumental in having a team of radio technicians install a repeater station on Mt Kahuranaki. Estimating the correct direction for the aerial to face so as to maximise reception proved tricky, a bit of a guess without the correct electronics.

“So, at a nominated time, my mother was instructed to climb onto the roof of the two-storey family home with a large mirror which she flashed in the direction of Kahuranaki for 10-15 minutes. This enabled dad to see the exact location of Waipukurau and fasten the aerial so it faced the right way. True story!” Many such Number 8 wire stories abound from those days, especially in the provinces.

From old press advertisements we see that in 1965 a Leonard 9ft3 single-door refrigerator was £95, or $3,500 in today’s terms. By 1967, radiograms were using the new solid state (transistorised) technology and a Murphy Diana retailed for £59/19/6 ($2,200 today). In the same ads Winloves included the decimal currency pricing which would take over from July that year. As an aside, your author is a little embarrassed to admit that he was also selling those products (Kelvinator instead of Leonard) in that era for Hays in Dunedin.

From the movies to colour television

George left school aged 17 and, after spending two years working for an accountant, joined his dad’s business at the Waipawa branch, working in sales and the office. Walter Scott was the Manager and also serviceman. Waipawa opened around 1964 when Harry bought one of three appliance stores in the town, from a Mr McGregor. But this shop never really got going and early in 1970 Harry closed the doors.

So George and Walter moved across to Waipukurau, joining up with Harry Winlove and long-time employee, Dexter Fox. Dexter was also the local cinema projectionist and George has good reason to remember him well.

Harry and wife Joan were out of the country when George turned 20 in July 1970. “Yes, that was the first year 20 year-olds were allowed to drink in the pub. And, with mum and dad away, old Dexter decided to step up to the plate and took me to the pub after work where he sewed me up good and proper. Trouble was, he nearly forgot he had to run the movies at 8pm and he wasn’t in great shape. He got through the night, but it was a struggle. Poor guy died suddenly just a month later.”

Colour TV came to New Zealand in 1973. George recalls: “Trying to get sufficient colour TVs to satisfy our long waiting list was a nightmare, just impossible as suppliers simply did not have the capacity to meet demand. Philips’ K9 was the premier brand and, although several customers were prepared to wait for Philips, most were happy to get whatever we could find for them. We had Philips of course, plus Murphy, Thorn and Pye but, even with four brands, we could not keep up. The situation eased a little when we finally got Sanyo.”

Back in the day, manufacturer launches were lavish and George particularly remembers the release of the second generation of Pye CTV, the famous Vidmatic range: “We received in the mail, a series of little cards which said ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’. We wondered what the heck it was all about. Then we were invited to the Vidmatic launch.

“We were put up in a flash Wellington hotel, all the place mats had a Times They Are A-Changing theme on them, pretty girls were circulating, handing out cigarettes and at pre dinner drinks, grog was flowing freely. Then dinner was served with plenty of wine before the release itself which featured Tommy Adderley and John Clarke (aka Fred Dagg). It was an amazing night and, as a young man, I had never seen anything like it.”

By the mid-1970s, Limbricks was the last remaining appliance business in Waipawa. Around 1976 Harry bought the business, complete with its F&P franchise, and re-entered that market with Walter Scott installed as Manager.

Today, Tim Chote is Manager, supported by Margaret Grover and Julie McLatchie. Tim and Margaret have both been with Winloves for over 25 years.

By this time Richard Papworth was the F&P rep and today George remains grateful for Richard’s assistance in enabling him to acquire a broader view of modern retailing in other centres. “I took six months away from Winloves to go and work in various other retail set-ups, just to get some ideas that I could introduce into our business.

“‘Pappy’ facilitated all this and I spent time with Eric Johnson in Hawera, Graham Myers at PDC in Palmerston North, Lloyd Duckworth in Napier and Bevan Forbes at Kelvinator House in Gisborne. I found the exercise extremely valuable, learned a lot from the experience and made copious notes. I still had them right up until we had a big fire in 2009!” (of which more below…).


The changing of the guard

Harry Winlove was always going at 100 miles an hour. He was a really active man who no-one thought would ever retire. However, he did and son George takes up the story: “Rip shit and bust comes to mind when describing dad and what a shock it was in 1977 when suddenly, at age 65, he announced he would retire on the 31st of March. We didn’t believe him but on the Thursday night, March 31 he shut the shop, left me in charge and made his goodbyes.

“It was very strange not to have him around next morning but having said that, he was on the phone every five minutes asking how sales were going, what the bank balance was and what was happening in general. Of course that faded away and he was happy going trout fishing and working in his huge garden. He was an avid gardener.”

In 1992 Harry had a serious fall, ironically enough tripping over his prized pumpkins. He suffered a fractured skull, developed dementia over the next few years and died in 2002.

Harry Winlove was a wonderful man, this I know. Like his father, he was elected as Mayor. This was in 1959 and, with the next election period set to be the last before Waipuk amalgamated with the district’s County Councils to become the Waipukurau District Council, the “town fathers” descended on his shop, twisted his arm and Harry was elected unopposed through until 1965.

George wistfully reflects: “My dad was the last Mayor of the old Waipukurau Borough and his dad was the first. How cool is that?” Harry’s wife, Joan Winlove, is 95 and still lives in Waipukurau.

So, from 1 April 1977, George Winlove was the boss. “With import duty, sales tax and good margins, we were selling 14-inch colour TVs for $999 back then [$7,139 today] and it was common for Kiwi retailers to holiday in Fiji and bring back a stereo system which was promptly sold in the shop (until Customs got wise?). The profit paid for the holiday. Hard to believe nowadays but many Wares readers will remember.”

George and Beth Winlove married in 1979. Beth was a doctor’s receptionist who eventually came to work for George in 1997 as a temp for Rex Cave, who had taken ill. Rex was unable to return so Beth stayed on permanently and her bubbly personality won the hearts of customers. She was a big asset and sorely missed when she finished up in 2002. To this day, she can’t be persuaded back.

Winloves employed five servicemen for some years – that Kiwi “we service what we sell” attitude – but this became cost ineffective and from 1983 all service work was contracted out.

A business “on fire”, literally and metaphorically

George Winlove is a very keen boatie and one of the great highlights of his retail career came in 1989-1990 when Fisher & Paykel mounted a massive promotion around the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race with the boat Fisher & Paykel New Zealand. Apart from the interest around the race itself, that promotion was a huge boost to Winloves and obviously, all the other F&P dealers around the country.

Richard Blundell was the F&P head honcho for this promo and I took to it full-on,” says George. “Lots of hoopla – we decked the shop out with all the promotional material we could lay our hands on. We had window displays, in-store displays, regular radio & press updates on the race and the whole thing was just terrific. I got to have a sail on KZ400 off Napier out to Cape Kidnappers and back. Even did a bit of grinding. That was a promotion I will never forget!”

Other promotions of note included one put on by the local Chamber of Commerce which staged a major retail promotion in Waipukurau during the A&P Show week in November 1990. George Winlove recalls: “It was a Friday night and as usual we all shut the doors at 8pm but then, after dinner and a few drinks, we reopened at midnight. The event was heavily promoted with bands performing in the main street and food stalls operating, but really, we had no idea what to expect. It was a spectacular success!

“We had maybe 40-50 people waiting to come inside and for the next few hours we actually had to regulate numbers in-store. We wrote business like you would never believe. I guess the novelty of a ‘12+12’ promotion ($12 deposit & 12 months interest free) captured the customer’s imagination. Interest free was a new phenomenon in 1990.”

Fast forward some 20 years to 2009, and a near-disaster for Winloves as fire raged at the rear of the shop. This was a time of great stress for George Winlove and his team. “I was in bed asleep on Thursday night 23 April 2009, when I received a phone call from the security company saying the shop burglar alarm had activated. I was out of bed like a rocket expecting to find a broken window where thieves had entered but, as I drove over the top of the hill, I could see a great column of smoke rising from the vicinity of our shop.

“My heart went through my boots and, by the time I arrived, the Fire Brigade were already busy fighting the blaze centred in a semi-attached storage shed at the back. The fire spread through the ceiling and caused substantial damage to the rear of the store but the fire fighters caught it just in time to prevent the shop from being gutted.

“We were well insured, thankfully and, with the fantastic help of family, friends and staff we got temporary repairs in place, cleaned up and were open for business on the Monday! It took three months for the shop to get back to normal and, hopefully, we never have to go through a similar experience.”

Staff are important to this retailer. And George Winlove has a very low “stock turn” when it comes to staff. In Waipukurau, the Power Board divested itself of appliance retail in 1999 and Winloves bought the stock. They also took on two staff members, one of whom was Jason Booth, who’s still there today, along with Mark Eagle and Jackie Maulder, who joined in 2000. As mentioned earlier, two of the Waipawa team have been with Winloves for 25+ years.

Over the years Winloves has seen buying/marketing groups come and go. Firstly there was ARS (Amalgamated Retailers Society) based in Palmerston North of which Harry was one of the founding members. This group folded and members were incorporated into RTS (Retail Trading Society) so Winloves operated as Winloves Appliance Court.

Then in 1993 RTS was granted the licence to operate the Retravision brand in New Zealand so the name changed to Winloves Retravision. Then in 1998 Retravision New Zealand was launched on the demise of RTS, with Rob Duckworth as Chairman and Leighton Cox as General Manager. Retravision was wound up at the end of the 2008 year and from 1 April 2009 both stores have traded as 100% Winloves.

As for the future, nothing is planned long term as yet but all involved at 100% Winloves are keenly looking forward to the 150th anniversary in just two years’ time. It will be a hot time in the old town when that comes around!

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