Sir Stephen Tindall says business owners tried to stop him from opening the first retail store in the 1980s that would later become the iconic 'Red Shed'.

That was the first challenge Tindall faced when setting up the now NZX-listed The Warehouse, which today, combined with the group's other retail brands, has an annual turnover of $3 billion.

Takapuna business owners on Auckland's North Shore sent complaints to the council about Tindall's Wairau Road store, concerned about the competition it would bring for their companies, in its the early founding days, he says.

"I'd been given a legal opinion that the building we had took over had existing use rights because it was a showroom, but those people fought hard and the council guy came and saw me, and said; 'no, your wrong we're going to shut you down'," Tindall told Newstalk ZB's Heather Du Plessis-Allan.

Advertisement

"I said to them: 'Look we can either contest this in court or if you cut me a bit of slack and let me trade until I find some alternative premises would you do that?'. Luckily they said they would so I then found some premises right smack in the middle of the Takapuna business district - amongst all these people that complained about me."

The Warehouse was founded in 1982 in Glenfield, and in its first 10 years in business it exceeded more than $100 million in sales. It hit $1 billion in annual sales before it was 20 years old.

Tindall, who had a job at the Reserve Bank when he was at school, said in the early days he had to cash in his superannuation and sell his caravan to invest in the latest technology of the time for the first store - about $40,000 for a state-of-the-art computer system that managed stock.

Tindall opened a second Warehouse store within four months of opening the first, and a third six months later. Three stores were trading within the first 12 months of the business.

"We started in '82 with nothing, just a few measly sales, right up to a billion dollar in sales. How did we get there? Well, firstly technology was very, very important as we could manage the company so much better.

"As we started to grow we started to attract other retailers, people who worked for Woolworths, Decker, etc, they were coming to me all the time saying; 'Can I have a job, can I have a job, I can see our businesses going down'."

After a rapid expansion, the business was floated in 1994, and Sir Stephen turned his attention - and cashflow - to family philanthropic trust the Tindall Foundation and his seed and venture capital fund, K1W1.

Tindall is also chairman for the board of directors at Emirates Team New Zealand.

Advertisement

He says he has always had an "environmental bent".

"[I] definitely never felt good when people bought stuff which went to landfill. Part of being able to provide people with bargains is that quite often, the products are what you would call reasonably temporary in nature. So you might sell, say, a towel that would last 5 years instead of one that lasts 10, but it's about 25% the price. That is something you don't feel good about, but unfortunately it is a reality. So what you've got to try and do, is mitigate that".

He now spends his time on environmental causes, and has used the Tindall Foundation and K1W1 to seek out environmental projects in the past decade, from the likes of waterway restoration, to making plastic waste into valuable products.

He says he wants to leave the world in a better place than he found it.

"But I'm really sad to say now, the reaction to climate change isn't going anywhere near as fast as it has to. So we're probably not going to leave the world in as good a place (as we could). But you can only take courage from what you're doing yourself, and do as much as you possibly can, and that's where we're hopefully leading the way."

Sir Stephen Tindall has been sharing insights from his entire business journey in the latest episode of HP Business Class, available to play below