It will be the end of a Rotorua retail era when Outdoorsman Headquarters on Tarawera Rd closes its doors on January 17. Owner Bryan French reveals the reason they are shutting the tills for good.
Iconic Rotorua business Outdoorsman Headquarters is closing its doors, and the property has been sold to a local developer.
For Bryan and Lya French, it is the end of an era. The couple have owned the business for more than 17 years and have been in business for four decades.
Ten staff will be made redundant when it closes on January 17.
The Frenches, both aged 67, had tried to find a buyer over the past three years to allow them to retire, but when a deal couldn't be struck, they made the difficult decision to close.
Tony Bradley from TPB Properties has bought the property and will announce his intentions at a later date.
While Bryan has fears for the future of retail amid rising wage increases and online shopping, he has no regrets.
He said Lya suffered a heart attack in the middle of last year and it's "doctor's orders" to slow down.
"At the end of the day, it's time to draw a line in the sand. Lya's health isn't good, so that's been the catalyst for us to make that call. We have to move on."
Bryan said there had been interest from buyers, but banks no longer lent as much for retail businesses, meaning buyers had to have more money in their pockets.
"If we did anything wrong, we built up a good business that was so good, no one could afford to buy it."
Bryan and Lya raised their family in Timaru and bought their first business there in 1975 with other family. They moved to Australia in 1990 for two years before settling in Rotorua in 1992 when they bought Zip Plumbing and Electrical.
They sold the business after 10 years and bought Outdoorsman Headquarters in 2003 from the Wells family, who started the business in 1998.
Bryan said he could see an end of quality retail as the Government kept raising the minimum wage, which affected what other, more qualified staff members should be paid.
He said by next year the minimum wage would be $20 an hour, only a few dollars less than what more experienced staff were paid, which didn't stack up. He said on a pay scale, senior staff well trained in all the products were worth $35 an hour but paying them that wasn't affordable.
"It means you'd never hire a school leaver because they are simply not worth $20 per hour."
He said every time the wages went up they reduced staff - indicative of the fact there were now 10 staff members compared with 18 when he first bought the business.
"Your margin is your margin. Costs have gone up ... It has to come from somewhere."
He said during the past nearly two decades Outdoorsman Headquarters had changed its range and products to fend off competition.
"Not long after we bought it, Rebel Sport opened in town. Hunting and Fishing had a smaller store in town before moving to their bigger premises, but our turnover hasn't been affected. We just diversified our range, got more clothing and footwear rather than just fishing."
Although Outdoorsman Headquarters had its own online store, he said competition from online shopping affected retail.
"We might spend half an hour with someone showing them footwear and explaining thoroughly what each one does, then they hold up their phone and ask if we can match the price."
He said they would continue with their own online sales but would operate the business from another site.
Bryan said while retail had its challenges, that wasn't the reason they were closing.
"We have no regrets. It's been a really great business. It still is. It's sad, but it is what it is."
He said it was especially sad for the 10 staff losing their jobs.
"The staff have been amazing and have really stumped up. They are doing a fantastic job since we started (the closing down sale) on Black Friday. We have had huge days, day after day. It's pouring out the door."
He said one of his staff members, Julie Stanley, had worked at Outdoorsman since it opened more than 21 years ago.
He said she knew all the regular customers by name, what they ordered and even memorised phone numbers.
"She's just incredible."
He said many of the regulars were sad it was closing.
"We've had a huge response. We've had people crying in the showroom saying 'where am I going to buy my shoes'."
Meanwhile, the Frenches will sell their Tarawera property and retire to Ohiwa, away from the hard work of retail.
"We are ready."
What happens next?
Rotorua developer Tony Bradley says he's always had his eye on Outdoorsman Headquarters site.
Bradley, who owned and developed neighbouring Good Eastern Taphouse and adjacent Redwood Centre, said he would have preferred to have kept the Outdoorsman Headquarters operating on the site, but unfortunately a buyer for the business couldn't be found.
"It's a pretty iconic shop and I would much rather it stay as it is, but it has to close."
He said he had some ideas for the site and had already been approached by businesses wanting to go in there.
"I will develop the site one day, but it's only really just happened."