By Zoe Hunter
It sounds like the beginning of a joke. A banker and e-bike shop owner decided to buy a tyre business.
The punch line? A big success.
Lauren Te Pairi and husband Keith Silkstone bought long-standing business Tyre Works in Mount Maunganui and Rotorua in 2018.
Te Pairi was a banker and her husband owned an eBike store, and their business partner Alistair Walker, who runs the Rotorua workshop, was a council worker - all very different fields.
"We saw it as an opportunity to buy a business that was relatively recession-proof," Te Pairi said.
"We thought it would be quite a simple business to run given we didn't have any experience. I didn't know anything about tyres."
She said the business, which had up to nine staff, had been for sale for almost a year.
So they started from the ground up and transformed the business their way from the ground up.
"We ripped the property apart," Te Pairi said.
The first thing they did was build an e-commerce website and Te Pairi began researching tyres and her new clientele.
"For me, if I was going to buy tyres I thought what would I want the experience to be like."
After researching, Te Pairi said she found it "bizarre" that people would buy tyres without knowing anything about it and paying whatever price they were quoted.
"Tyres, I don't think, are a very trusted industry and I wanted to create more trust and a better buying experience.
"I said if we wanted our customers to trust us we need to publish our pricing, just put it out there and people can make their own decision.
"That was my No 1 thing. I wanted to build heaps of transparency into the business."
Te Pairi also met with all of the suppliers. "That was quite hard to hold a meeting when you don't know anything about tyres," she said with a laugh.
But she decided to reduce the number of suppliers down to about three and taught the staff to get to know the tyres they were selling.
"We cut a bunch of suppliers in the first two weeks and taught the team to know the tyres and why that tyre was better than the other. We really simplified the business."
Lastly, the pair renovated the Mount Maunganui workshop and ripped out some of the internal walls to allow better workflow.
"We spent quite a bit of money on the interior and we did all of that in the first three months.
"It has been a really interesting journey. Now I know more about tyres than most of the males do,'' she said.
"It has really taught us if you set your mind to something, you can totally do it.
"The basic fundamentals of every business is the same. If you get the basics right, treat customers well and go the extra mile you will succeed."
In November, the pair bought MTF Finance in Fraser St - four months before the country went into Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown - and got married in February.
"It was a really stressful time for us with two businesses and having just got married."
But Te Pairi said the pair had come out the other side with a post-Covid turnover of more than 20 per cent on what it was pre-lockdown.
"We have had an absolute onslaught of business. Our website sales are up 500 per cent."
She was also big on going local.
"Everything we can do locally, we do locally.
"In Tauranga, we live in an economic microclimate. We seem to be relatively unscathed by Covid because in a time of crisis people are willing to pay a little bit more and will do it locally. It means we are cushioned because we operate among ourselves."
But Te Pairi said they would not have been able to do what they did without the support from their colleagues. "It feels really good. We are so proud."
Working in a 'man's world'
Te Pairi said a thick skin was needed working in what was stereotypically a male-dominated industry.
"You need to just be confident. As long as you know your stuff," she said. "You have to be well researched and know what you're talking about - and not be worried about the reactions you might get."
She said it was good to have diversity in the workplace.
"We see things differently. You can get a more well-rounded approach. I think more women should be involved in these types of businesses."
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said many business owners treated their business like their child.
"They invest so much time, money and energy into nurturing and growing their business. It shows in their determination to make it work.
"Lauren and Keith are examples of people determined to grow a business and help people in their time of need."
Cowley said it was the owners' enduring passion that helped people survive tough economic times.
"This passion is also a key reason for business owners to burn out over a period of time."
Te Pairi will be speaking at the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce's next BA5 event on October 7.