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Iconic Kiwi Brand Turns 100

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Iconic Kiwi Brand Turns 100

One of the country's most recognised retail brands turns 100 on October 1 with Farmers celebrating a century of trading in New Zealand.

Founded as a mail order business in Auckland in 1909, Farmers has become synonymous with quality retailing in New Zealand with 58 stores nationwide, from Kaitaia to Invercargill.

Farmers is New Zealand owned and managed and has experienced the full range of ups and downs during its 100 years - two world wars, a depression, Australian ownership and a resurgence in popularity in a new century.

Founded by Robert Laidlaw as Laidlaw Leeds, Farmers originally supplied rural communities outside Auckland city and around New Zealand. Its first sale was for a roll of wire netting whereas today its anniversary sale is more likely to feature mascara, a handbag or a fashion garment!

Following WWI, Laidlaw Leeds merged with the Farmers Union Trading Company (Auckland) Ltd, a farming cooperative, thus cementing its name forever in the history of the young country.

There has been a myriad of milestones in the company's history, many with a distinct focus on customer service, a trait inherited from Mr Laidlaw.

For example, Farmers introduced its first free bus service, taking customers from Wyndham Street up the hill to the Hobson Street store in 1922. Six years later it opened New Zealand's first free car park building right next to the Hobson Street store.

The renowned Hobson Street tearoom that opened in 1930 and the first Santa Parade was held four years later. Two years after that Hector the Parrot came to Hobson Street, assuming the role of company mascot until 1977 when he died at the ripe age of 131.

The war years were tough for all retailers but Farmers dug deep to assist the war effort, at stages distributing more than 10,000 food parcels a month to Britain and providing ongoing support to staff who were affected by the war. In 1954, much to the fascination of the children, escalators were installed in the Hobson Street store.

Throughout the '60s and '70s Farmers underwent an ambitious expansion plan, while dealing with changing retail patterns. The company acquired numerous competing chains including the large Haywrights chain. In 1970 it acquired South Island's Calder McKays officially making Farmers the biggest department chain in the country.

In 1986 Farmers was taken over by investment company Chase Corporation and six years later was bought by Deka with Maori Development Corporation and Australia's Foodland as owners.

The business returned to New Zealand ownership in 2003 when James Pascoe Ltd purchased the retail business of Farmers. James Pascoe owners Anne and David Norman set about a programme of refurbishing stores and modernising stock and by 2005 a wider range of women's fashion garments was in-store.

The Norman's ownership has seen a huge revival in Farmers' fortunes and this year the business is celebrating its centenary by donating $1 million to New Zealand communities and charities.

"Under the care of its new owners and management Farmers has been repositioned into a vibrant, modern retailer focusing on leading brands for fashion, beauty, and homewares," says Farmers managing director Mr Rod McDermott.

"Because we are New Zealand owned and managed, we are close to our communities and customers enabling us to respond quickly to changing consumer demands and market opportunities."

Each Farmers store has selected a local charity or community project to support from June to August, alongside national activity with Farmers corporate charity The Leukemia & Blood Foundation.

Money raised by each store, distribution centre and head office is being matched by Farmers to the limit of $1,000,000.

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