Long-standing retailers have had to change and adapt the way they do business over the decades in order to stay afloat. In a special feature celebrating longevity in these though times, Zoe Hunter speaks to some of the Bay's most enduring retailers about how they've managed to stand the test of time.
"Be prepared to lose everything."
That is Charlie Roberston's trick of the trade when it comes to starting a business that is hoped to stand the test of time.
"Don't look at the rosy picture, that will take care of you. You have to look at the pitfalls. That's why I'm still here, we've got through those," he said.
"But it's a good life in that it will look after you if you look after the business."
Charlie has been the man behind Robertsons Menswear in the Mount for 42 years.
The menswear business was established by Fred Bartram in 1956 who had the store across the road for 22 years before Charlie Robertson took over in 1978.
"Basically, from there on it just grew."
Charlie said he had learned the trade from a retailer in his hometown Taihape before moving to the Mount.
"It wasn't new to me."
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In the last 40 years, Charlie has got to know many local faces.
"Over 40-odd years I knew everybody. I was given the unofficial Mayor of the Mount title," he joked.
"I have met so many neat people and have built up a lot of good rapport."
He often would go as far as taking some of his customers who had arrived off the cruise ships on a tour of the Mount.
"One couple later wrote to me and the mayor saying how great the hospitality was."
Charlie has still kept in touch with some of the young people who have worked for him over the years. He has also contributed to the community, offering sponsorship to local sports teams, rugby clubs, bowls, golf and speedway.
One of the reasons his business has been able to stand the test of time was "just keeping your feet on the ground".
"You stick to your knitting," he said.
"If you establish a real good hardcore and realise the good times are not always there, you have your ups and downs, just like anything, that is what gets you through.
"You just have to be resilient. It is not always easy in retail."
Charlie remembered opening the shop just five and a half days a week. Saturdays would be a 9am to midday shift and the rest of the day was for spending time with the family.
With time the shop opened six days a week and seven days once the shopping malls began to pop up.
"That has ruined the family life unfortunately in my opinion," he said.
"You don't get more money by working more hours. You just spread your overheads."
So why stay in the business 40 years?
"Because I have created something and it has been a passion and a labour of love and I still come in because that's what you want to get up for in the morning."
Now semi-retired, Charlie said he did not expect his son to take over the business but was glad he had.
"Jamie just grew with the business."
Jamie Robertson has worked for the business for about 18 years and calls the Mount "paradise".
"Not many people can work with their parents. But we are not only father and son, we are best mates as well."
What he has learned from his father was not to change the recipe.
"You don't change a recipe that has worked for so long. It is just trying to keep up with the times but also trying to introduce new customers."
Top tips to keep your business alive:
1. Look after your customers. They are your food line.
2. Have a good rapport with suppliers. They are your lifeline.
3. Always have a reserve for a rainy day.
4. Concentrate on your business, not what the opposition are doing.
5. Enjoy what you do.
Source: Charlie Robertson, Robertsons Menswear
Ben Tuck was in his early 20s when his father bought what is now Bronco's Outdoors about 45 years ago.
The company has withstood both the Global Financial Crisis and most recently, the Covid-19 lockdown which saw many businesses have to shut their doors for weeks.
But Ben said through the "tough times" he was determined to make it better.
Working hard was his motto.
"I am not afraid of work ... I love doing it. I still love doing it," he said.
"It is really not a job. I still wake up in the morning and enjoy coming to work."
Business records dating back to 1945 show England-born Aj 'Bronco' Branch moved to Tauranga in 1938.
In September 1945 he opened Aj Branch on Devonport Rd, which was changed to Bronco's in the 1950s.
Over the years, the business has moved to Spring St, Wharf St and Willow St where it is today.
Howard Tuck bought the business in 1975.
Ben worked on his father's farm in Rotorua until he was 20 before moving overseas for a stint in the mines. On his return to Tauranga, Ben followed his brother Ross' footsteps and did a run on the road selling tools, which he said paid well.
When Howard bought Bronco's in 1975, Ben went to work for him before buying his father's shares in 1978.
Asked how his business has managed to stand the test of time, Ben said: "It is pretty commonsense. When people come in the door, a smile and a hello cost you absolutely nothing."
And the staff have fun.
"We're always creating conversation and a bit of flak goes backwards and forwards and that's what we all survive on here."
Problems were also fixed as soon as they arose, he said.
"We try and look after customers as much as we can but we never let anyone railroad us."
Ben said retail had changed over the years.
Back then, he said, everything was suggested retail, which was a personal decision.
"It was the better way to be."
In the early 1970s, there was a lot of items Ben said they wanted to get rid of and advertised a sale in the local newspaper.
"Most of the stuff we only took 10 per cent off. There were 50 people waiting at the door," he said.
"Try and do 10 per cent off now and people go: 'Pfft'. Times have really changed."
Ben said at first the shop was closed on Saturday mornings but open late-night Fridays instead.
"Friday was our biggest night because we were open until 9pm. It used to be huge."
Nowadays, the shop was open seven days a week and Ben said people's shopping behaviours had changed.
"A lot of the time Sundays was the browsing day and they would buy during the week. All that has changed.
"We have noticed the public are using shopping as entertainment now, big time."
Things changed again post Covid-19.
Ben's son Glenn Tuck, who also works at the store, convinced his dad to start a website in 2005.
"They slowly started to work," Ben said. "I wasn't convinced at first but now our website is so easy to get around. We have packages flying out the door.
"That's what's keeping us alive now is our websites."
Having good staff was also a trick of the trade, Ben said.
He and long-standing staff member and friend Steve Harmens have been friends since 1975.
Steve was working at the store when the Tucks took over the business.
"We're just good mates," Steve said.
And he was proud of seeing his regular customers still coming through the doors, some visiting just to say hello and shake his hand.
"There are not too many people who can be in the same job for years and years," he said.
"I just enjoy helping people out and giving them advice. I think we all do."
Hammon Diamond Jeweller
Polishing jewellery was Julie Hammon's first real job. Now, she is the owner of one of Tauranga's longest-standing jewellery stores.
Hammon Diamond Jeweller is a name that's been in Tauranga for nearly 35 years.
"So many years of memories. When you go back through the archives you remember all of those special moments," Julie said.
"The thing with our jewellery is it marks happy occasions."
The late James Hammon and his wife Zalie founded the company in Gisborne in 1947 before Ian Hammon took over the business in 1968.
Years later in 1986 Ian and Julie Hammon bought the existing business from Arthur Stewart and have been in the Tauranga CBD ever since.
In 2001 after her husband died, Julie's daughter Alexandra Hammon-Elliott joined the store.
"Family has always been at the heart of the business and what we do," Julie said.
"I feel a huge love of our heritage, the fact we are in a third-generation business that has been entrusted to my stewardship."
Julie said running a successful business was something she would never call easy.
"It is challenging and it is hard. But if there is one overriding factor in our longevity it is the genuine loyalty of our customer base.
"Every day is different. There is not a day that I use don't love turning the key in the lock and coming in to see what the day brings."
The business has endured downturns and recessions, and most recently the economic fallout of Covid-19.
But losing her husband was by far the hardest challenge Julie said she has had to face.
Thankfully, she has had the support of her daughter Alexandra Hammon-Elliott who has been with the company nearly 20 years.
"I always worked during the school holidays and in the weekends when I was younger," she said.
"I count myself really lucky to be able to work with family. We work so well together.
"Plus, I love being part of some pretty important and special moments in people's lives."
Surviving decades worth celebrating
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said surviving multiple decades was a testament to the business owners.
"There has been a lot of change and constant pressure on rising operational costs. Over the past few decades, Tauranga has been through the dot com crash, GFC, Rena grounding, PSA crisis, and now Covid-19. "
Cowley said customers' expectations had also changed, along with additional compliance requirements and increasing wage pressures.
"It's not easy being in business, particularly as black swan economic events can happen without warning. Surviving multiple decades is something to be celebrated."
Looking forward, Cowley said businesses will need to be careful of their overheads and make omnichannel easier for customers to transition between testing in-store and buying online.
Tricks of the trade
Understand where your money is coming from and going to. Do a cashflow, and map your income and expenditure. Banks love them.
2. How do you make money and ongoing money? Think carefully about that. Don't make a product that lasts forever and you only need one of them. How will you get ongoing sales/revenue?
3. Understand your business model. This will help with resourcing, both from a financial perspective and with your people.
4. Are you the right person to be running the business? If you're best 'on the floor' or 'on the tools', then do that and find someone to run the business. Work out a management process around understanding what is happening in the business, say a weekly meeting.
5. Understand your value to the business. If you are worth $120 an hour (and you should be) then pay someone to do the accounts and earn your value by being the owner of the business.
6. Remember you will never 'be ready to start', so just get on and do it.
7. Get a mentor / adviser and consider an advisory board. It is a lonely role being a business owner.
8. Build great relationships with your accountant, lawyer and bank manager. Look to your advisers to grow your business – and not just in a menial sense. Accountants in particular have so much to offer on growth and strategy.
9. Know when to move from the home workshop/office into premises. It might save you costs in the short term, but will eventually impact on your productivity.
10. Lastly, enjoy the experience of being in business. You often work way harder than you thought you might, but enjoy the experience.
Source: Business mentor Anne Pankhurst