Rolling back the Years: February 1996-2006

By Merv Robertson February 25, 2016 Rolling back the years

We get back into the archives and review the last few decades of the industry, as seen through the eyes of Wares magazine. 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.



It was in this month two decades ago when a terrorist bomb blew up a bus in the heart of London’s West End, killing three people. This was just nine days after the IRA ended its ceasefire with a bombing in the Docklands area which claimed two lives.

A securities broker, Nick Leeson at Barings Bank in the UK, lost $1.4 billion of someone else’s money by speculating on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, causing the bank’s collapse and sadly, Kiwi weightlifting great and fitness centre founder, Don Oliver, passed away from cancer, aged just 59.


The genesis of the Wares Awards – On the front cover 20 years ago, Philips asked: “What’s got 6 heads, 4 legs and runs forwards & backwards very quickly?” The answer was the new 6-head Hi-Fi Turbo Drive VCR, Philips’ new premium model.

Philips also featured in our February 1996 Editorial, which was all about the announcement of a new industry awards programme which would be sponsored by Philips and was signed off by Chris Danielson, along with Wares’ Bud Little.

That event would run for three years, followed by a two-year hiatus, after which the Guild introduced the Apex Awards in 2000. It would be another three years before Breville, JVC, Fisher & Paykel, Panasonic and Philips would support the launch of the now highly prestigious Wares Awards in 2003.


When cordless phones were cool – NEC reckoned its new cordless Flexifone 100 telephone would make the cash registers ring as well as making mum smile. It was competitively priced and an ideal Mother’s Day present.

Meanwhile, competitor and cordless technology pace-setter Uniden was settling into new premises on Harris Road in East Tamaki. Those premises are today occupied by BluLink, which is what Uniden here turned into quite recently, so they clearly suited their purpose.

David Norrie was Uniden’s GM back then. He now owns Anderson & Norrie (, a creative company specialising in website development and related services such as website audits and search engine optimisation & marketing.

Still with telecommunications, can you guess what Panasonic’s “One-stop solution to complete personal communications” was? The new Panafax UF-S1 was more than just a fax you understand, it could also be used as a telephone, an answering machine and even a copier. A key selling point was that it could tell whether an incoming signal was a fax or a phone call and switch accordingly. Boy, we’ve come a long way!


Hi-fi, not home entertainment – In the days before hi-fi became home entertainment, Peter Gilbert Ltd was promoting the incredibly broad Jamo range of Danish hi-fi speakers through the pages of Wares magazine.

The brand offered solutions to fit all applications and cheque books at prices from $299 to $19,000 across 270 models, including an elegant satellite and subwoofer combo. Just add a soundbar and boom – it’s a home entertainment system!

For the last 16 years, Wildash (NZ) has been the distributor for Jamo, Peter Gilbert having passed away.


The games people play – Back in the day, 20 years ago, video games were a relatively fresh, new and buoyant business to be in.

Sony’s foray into video games through the famous PlayStation had started in Japan in December 1994, followed by Europe and North America in September the following year and through Oceania shortly after.

In 1996, Wares reported progress, saying Christchurch retailer Future Music Entertainment (FME) had seen a run on the new titles, especially ESPN Extreme Games and War Hawk.

FME chief, Steve North, said, “The first shipment sold out within 24 hours and it took just three weeks to sell out the first stocks of consoles, not one being discounted.”

We believe that FME – incidentally said to be the first New Zealand gaming specialist – was bought by The Gamesman, which itself was eventually acquired by EB Games.

Howlers, successes and breaking new ground – Premium offers are often moot, i.e. they only work if the offered bonus is actually of any use to the customer.

Sunbeam had a crack in 1996, saying: “Put a Sunbeam on the table and the clock is on the house.” Sunbeam was referring to its range of breakfast appliances – toasters, kettles, juicers, coffee makers & skillets – and the clock was a white, quality wall clock. The promo was advertised in national magazines and supported by attractive in-store merchandising.

Back then, Kärcher was trying to make inroads into the high street appliance scene and used Wares as a vehicle to promote floor care. Featured in a decent ad were a wet & dry, a stick vac and a conventional barrel vac. The hoped-for breakthrough didn’t eventuate for Kärcher at that time however, unlike the extraordinary success it has enjoyed in the hardware sector, especially with high pressure cleaners.

Black & Decker was another brand making a run at non-traditional products, with its Coffee Collection: the easy-to-use Café Combo espresso & cappuccino maker; the Hot Café coffee plunger and hotplate; and the Mr Cappuccino. I’m told Black & Decker has largely been out of the small appliance game for some years but a look on the website today shows it is still a potent force in power and garden tools.


Going large for the little people – Noel Leeming was the only retailer featured in the February 1996 issue, with Noel Leeming Computer City taking advantage of the fact that, 20 years ago, more and more customers were setting up home computers.

The new site was said to be the start of a one-stop-shop try for the computer industry and Craig Martin was Assistant Manager at the 14,000ft2 (1,300m2) store on Auckland’s Nelson Street.

Several top brands could be found here, along with a vast array of software. A full time trainer was on-site, operating in a training suite with 20 fully operational computers.

Craig said that the brands chosen all offered reliable warranties, after sales service and spare parts, adding: “Children and teenagers of today are a major influence in a computer purchase for the home.” Hence, small chairs were included in the classroom environment.


Tisco, then and now – TISCO opened its doors in 1960 when black & white TV arrived in New Zealand. The founders were Philips, Pye, Fisher & Paykel and Atlas Majestic.

Murray Hobson (featured in Wares’ February 2011 “Where are they now?” instalment) was appointed CEO in 1984 and later bought the national service group from Philips and F&P, the remaining shareholders.

A little more than 20 years ago however he had made the call to sell the company via a receivership process. By December 1995 TISCO had 27 service centres across the country and a staff of 300. Price Waterhouse was the receiving company and the business was sold to a group of investors.

Murray, a former judge at the Wares Awards still has a strong affiliation with the IT industry through his company, McAlester Holdings.

To bring the TISCO brand up to date, it has been owned by Ken Shilling since 2000 and is licensed out to a mix of franchise and independent operators across the country.

He explains how that works: “TISCO, in conjunction with Link Limited, has in excess of 2,000 service outlets across Australasia supporting sales with warranty service, installations and returns for importers, retailers, online sellers and factories in the brown, white, aircon and power tools markets using Link’s priority cloud-based Software Central Workflow System.”


Rinnai moves & shakes at home & abroad – The two movers & shakers had both joined Rinnai, Tony Benson as National Sales Manager and Ray Ferner as Marketing Manager.

Tony coached the Junior Kiwis rugby league side before moving to England in 2005 and he is currently Head Coach of the Golden Lions, Belgium’s national rugby league team.

Ray on the other hand, stayed at home with Rinnai NZ. These days he is Managing Director.



Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman kicked off the year by announcing they had separated. Two weeks later, 400 died when a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit El Salvador. The two events were not related.

Closer to home, Ross Middleton used his Editorial to lament the passing and salute the industry contribution of good friend and long-time Gisborne retailer, Chris Fenn, who had passed away in December.

The emotions expressed were shared by industry mates and acquaintances up & down the land. Chris was a good bugger!


Large screen, big margins? – On the front cover 15 years past, Philips assured us that every TV was digital-ready and pronounced: “Philips Widescreen is the future of television and it’s here now!”

Widescreen was ideal for home theatre and DVD – and potentially brought with it better profit margins! Back then, the new 34-inch “large screen” was the fastest growing screen size.

Today, 50-inch-plus is the new 42-inch in TVs and the hoped-for margins have all but disappeared.


Passionate, about smalls? – It took a bit of close inspection to realise what the relevance was of a randy young couple in an electric kettle to the Krups brand or its distributor, Monaco Corp, until you read the tiny printed line, “Passionate designs for passionate people.” Bit of a stretch, possibly, especially judging by the shape of the kettle’s handle, but what do I know?

Hagemeyer keeps calm and carries on – Hagemeyer was all over Wares’ February 2001 issue, starting with an advert for JVC’s “shape of home cinema for the 21st century”, an all in one home theatre package. The company could also be found plugging its new agency for EWT heaters. Brenda Jones was the contact person for EWT back in the day, as well as for Hagemeyer’s Dimplex brand.

Now all this would have been fine and dandy, had it not been that, earlier in the same magazine, we read that Hagemeyer New Zealand was closing its doors, meaning new homes had to be found for all agencies except for JVC and Minolta, which were both integrated into Hagemeyer’s Tech Pacific Group.

But there was a logic to Hagemeyer continuing to promote. Norm Scott was Hagemeyer NZ’s General Manager at the time and he told Wares: “Until we have placed our agencies, it’s business as usual for Hagemeyer. Our principals are committed to the New Zealand market and are respected internationally. They will not be hard to find homes for.”

The Asia-Pacific activities of Hagemeyer corporate, once the owner of Briscoes, were then sold off as part of the global Rexel takeover which was concluded in March 2008.


About Miele and Palmy North – 15 years ago, Steelfort in Palmerston North distributed Miele products, including vacuum cleaners.

Back then, Brian Scott was Steelfort’s National Sales Manager, a position he now holds at Miele NZ.

Interesting also to note that as recently as last year, the two companies had maintained their links with Steelfort acting as Miele’s B stock outlet from a Mount Wellington storefront.


TV moves out of the living room – Nothing like today’s on-demand and streaming TV market, still, by 2001, the need for other options to watch TV had extended way beyond the original big “piece of furniture” which was a focal point in a lounge.

15 years back, Casio met the challenge with four new portable 2.3-3-inch LCD colour TVs, all with aerial jacks and optional car adaptors. They were capable of displaying NTSC as well as PAL material and the top three models had AV jacks.

Stephanie Louie was Product Manager and she recalled recently that the novelty aspect of these little units made them popular and in practical terms, they were ideal in locations where conventional TVs were either not permitted or were inconvenient; hospitals immediately springing to mind.

Stephanie Louie is now Stephanie Clark and has her own marketing consultancy, currently contracted to Golden Homes.

If you got, flaunt it! – Retailers across the nation had got behind a Panasonic display promotion based around the previous year’s Olympic Games. Smiths City’s winning effort was showcased in Wares February 2001 and was described as “superbly orchestrated”.

Just an hour and a bit down SH1, Smith & Church Retravision in Ashburton also featured in February 2001 as the winners of our regular Sunbeam Excellence in Retailing Award and Debbie Whenmouth of Sunbeam was on hand to present the award to Alister Lilley and his team led by Retail Manager Dean Crossan.

Founded in 1969 by a pair of electricians, Michael Smith and Graeme Church, Smith & Church was, and still is, an integral part of the local landscape.

15 years later, Alister and Dean are still there and Deborah is now managing the Akaroa Criterion Motel.


Millennial movers & shakersPeter Halkett of Pacific Retail Group was our main mover & shaker, having earned promotion from his role as Chief Operating Officer to the top job of CEO.

Peter had joined Pacific Retail three years earlier as GM for Noel Leeming and Computer City before taking up the role of GM Retail, responsible for all Noel Leeming, Computer City and Bond & Bond stores.

We find him now in Sydney, where he is Executive Chairman of APG & Co, a company presiding over “Australia’s assembly of iconic fashion brands”, namely Sportscraft, Saba, Jag and Willow.



In February just a decade ago, Saddam Hussein had a crack at suing Tony Blair and George W Bush for crimes against Iraq. That didn’t pan out so well.

I bet he wished he had gone to the premier of The Pink Panther instead, the remake movie starring Steve Martin and Beyonce which was released around the same time.

Back here, Don Brash gave his third “state of the nation” address at Orewa, this time focussing on the economy. A certain John Key, then National’s finance spokesman, attended the meeting and later in the year, rolled Brash to become leader.


Nilfisk’s centennial celebrations – Any centenary is hot news and 2006 marked 100 years for Nilfisk. It was 1906 when PA Fisker sold the first Nilfisk vacuum cleaner to his father in law for use in his Copenhagen printworks.

Rumour has it there may have been a family discount involved, but the investment was still roughly equivalent to a year’s wages for a housemaid of the time. More on this throughout the year I’m sure.

Staying with floor care, Miele had a brand new vac range going into 2006. In fact, make that two ranges. S5 was said to “stand out among its peers” using contemporary colours, and “sleek and stylish” aluminium-look trim. S4 models were targeted at townhouses and apartments, being of a compact design. “True greatness is no longer a matter of size,” concluded our friends at Miele.


Haier’s “lowboy” freezer – 10 years ago, Haier and Fisher & Paykel weren’t an item so it was Monaco Corp that was launching an interesting new Haier product. Using a selective distribution approach, Bond & Bond was the principal retail partner, backed up by a limited number of Retravision and Betta Electrical stores.

The advert which kicked off its 2006 marketing had a simple message – this new chest freezer had a bottom drawer, just like the lowboys seen in most bedrooms. Great idea, it beat rummaging around in the depths of your conventional chest freezer models.

Although Haier and Fisher & Paykel these days go hand in hand, the previous year, 2005, F&P had effectively shut the Chinese giant out of Noel Leeming. Haier had already had an NZ presence for three years by that time.

Still, business is business and, a few short years later, in 2009, Haier became a cornerstone shareholder of Fisher & Paykel and part of the F&P family. By 2012, the Chinese giant would buy a majority stake in F&P Appliances, thereby probably securing our premier whiteware maker’s future, and the rest as they say is history.

Glitz, glam and those FHM girlsWares’ first issue of 2006 had news of the Braun FHM Xmas party which had been held at the popular night spot, Float, on Auckland’s Princes Wharf. Attended by some 2,500 revellers, glitz and glam were the order of the day, the FHM girls bringing the glam to the event, while celebrities including Jo Cotton, Dominic Bowden, Hilary Timmins, Mike King and Shane Cortese brought the glitz.

Leilani Cowie-Fuimaono (now Leilani Driessen) was Braun’s Product Manager back then and she was clearly rapt with the night: “We had a fantastic turnout,” she said at the time. “People partied until 5am!” (Sounds like the Wares Awards!)

The night life apart, Leilani remembers her industry days fondly: “I lived and breathed Braun and remember enjoying the Wares Awards. We sponsored those FHM parties for two years, promoting our Braun cruZer³ foil shavers which were targeted at the young market. They had two trimmers, one wide and one narrow so the guys could get ‘creative’ with their facial hair.”

These days, Leilani is a stay at home mum with two girls and a boy, living in Hastings.


Remembering the MP3 player – By February 2006, Direct Imports had been the Kiwi face of TEAC for 43 years so, today, the half century has been left well behind and the company is the longest-established TEAC distributor in the world. That’s a big deal!

A decade ago, we were savouring three tasty new TEAC MP3 players. I recently asked Adam Turner, Direct Imports’ CE National Sales Manager, what the music consuming customer is buying now.

Here’s what he had to say: “In a word, smartphones. Because nearly all of us nowadays effectively have an MP3 audio player built into our phones, the market for a standalone portable audio device is very limited and in fact, we don’t bother.

“Another factor is that the younger generation simply don’t own music like they used to. With so many streaming options available, the smartphone has all the solutions, all the versatility, all in the palm of our hand.”


Pana’s changing plasma plans – 10 years ago, Panasonic was in the news for the opening of its new plasma TV plant in western Japan, the world’s largest Plasma Display Panel (PDP) factory.

Back then it was producing 125,000 units a month – serious numbers – and, when added to its three other PDP plants, Panasonic’s total monthly capacity was 300,000 panels.

Pana’s plasmas TVs, along with others using that technology, were widely regarded as the best way to view sport for many years. So it was with some surprise that in 2013 Panasonic announced it would be bringing its plasma production to a close with March 2014 the end date.

The decision to stop making plasma came amid rumours of losses, on top of the sheer potential cost of developing plasma technology for the world of 4K TV, not to mention energy efficient standards.


Getting into the daily grind – As the world’s second most popular drink, it’s no wonder demand for sophisticated coffee makers has grown like topsy over the last decade or so, but in a Wares feature on espresso, Groupe SEB with its Krups brand reminded us that it all starts with the grinding.

At the same time, Sunbeam was bringing out out the big guns by entering into a marketing partnership with Paul Bassett, a renowned Australian gourmet coffee expert and former world champion barista.

His Living Coffee TV series was acclaimed and he was the star turn of Sunbeam’s retailer educational roadshow which trained dealers in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland in the art of making perfect espresso.


Farewell to the PDA – Palm, an American company famed for the manufacture of PDAs (that’s Personal Digital Assistants in case you’ve forgotten), released its Palm Treo 650 in 2006, making it available on Telecom’s CDMA network.

Treo offered customers mobile email, internet and messaging capabilities. Kevin Kenrick, GM at Telecom Mobile, said at the time: “We’re pleased to be one of the first carriers outside the United States to be able to offer its customers the Treo 650 Smartphone on a CDMA network.”

Just a year later, effectively sounding the death knell of the PDA, Apple would introduce iPhone – the first real smartphone – complete with touchscreen operation and mass market appeal.


Monstrous carbuncle removed – As reported in October’s Rolling back the Years yarn, in 2005, Bill Belton of Stereo World in Auckland had been advised that the Auckland City Council would pull the pin on the jumbo Panasonic and Sony signs and large keyboard graphics which adorned his striking blue shop on Dominion Road.

Evidently they contravened local bylaws, even though they had been in place for years with no problems. Well, by February 2006, Auckland City Council had made good on the threat when a team stripped the signs in a pre-dawn raid.

Councillor Glenda Fryer stated at the time: “We do not want historic sites such as this lost beneath a mass of modern advertising.”


Go to Ashburton for excellent retailing – Five years to the month since Smith & Church Retravision was featured in Wares’ February 2001 Excellence in Retailing slot, up pops the Ashburton retailer again in 2006 for its quality of service!

Alister Lilley, still the boss by the way, was Chairman of Retravision at the time and he was chuffed with yet another accolade: “It’s not rocket science,” he said at the time, adding: “It’s all about having the best product solutions to choose from, the best price or deal on offer and backing that up with the best service. You have to live by your promise.”

10 years ago, there were seven competing outlets in Ashburton, a town of 14,000 souls at the time, plus the mass merchants. And there was also the threat of Christchurch, only a half hour away.

With the closure of Retravision, the business became an ACL member, trading as Smith & Church Appliances & Beds, and is located in a bulk retail destination store on Moore Street.

Dean Crossan (30 years of service so far!) is still Retail Manager but the store has definitely moved with the times: “The addition of beds and a focused range of furniture, plus recently becoming a specialist Weber dealership has enhanced our offering, proving to be our points of difference as a ‘local’ retailer. Having a Colombus Coffee Café within our store complex, assists with store traffic and boosts the customer experience.”


Movers & shakers – In February 2006, Wares acknowledged the passing of an international mover & shaker, Frederik Jacques “Fritz” Philips, part of the famous Philips dynasty. Philips had been founded in 1891 by Fritz’s uncle, Gerard, and grandfather, Fredrik senior.

Fritz had graduated from the Technical University in Delft with a degree in mechanical engineering having specialised in manufacturing techniques and business administration. Technology was a lifelong fascination for him. He died two months short of his 101st birthday.

On the local scene, Robyn Gillum (now Robyn Samasoni) joined BDT as a Mitsubishi Electric Sales Representative, Sharlene Antonio hooked up with Morning Star as a Product Manager, Sacha Ripley became Logistics Officer at BSH Home Appliances and the new National Manager of the business Imaging Solutions Group at Canon was John Devenney.

Fast forward 10 years and we find Robyn is now a Key Account Manager at BSH Home Appliances Group, joining Sacha who is now a Product Manager at the company. After a stint with Canon Australia, John is now GM Queensland & Northern Territory for Kyocera Document Solutions but I couldn’t find Sharlene.


In April we will roll back to 1996 when Fisher & Paykel signed on as Netball New Zealand’s new sponsor. We’ll read about the retirement of Noel Robinson, founder of Robinson Industries and then cast our minds back to 2006, recalling where former Pacific Retail Group CEO, John Milford, had turned up.


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