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Back in time: The Jones Family Business

The Jones Family Business, which owns distribution network Applico and retail brand Kitchen Things, recently celebrated 30 years in the kitchen appliance business.rn

The origins of the Jones Family Business can be traced back to the late 1980s, when the seed was first planted for executive chairman Mark Jones to import European appliances into the New Zealand market.

Jones, now 67, was a former Foodtown trundler hop turned district manager and assistant general manager of the iconic Georgie Pie brand before he was headhunted to lead appliance business Arthur Nathan.

This led to him going on to become a co-owner in The Microwave Shop alongside founder Robert Eng in 1982.

The Microwave Shop had one store already established in Mt Eden and was self-explanatory in its product offering.

It sold what is now regarded as a staple feature in most Kiwi kitchens – the microwave.

Before the 1990s, this humble kitchen appliance was a revolutionary item on the New Zealand market, as most consumers were used to cooking with stovetops or ovens.

The popularity of the new product drove The Microwave Shop to quickly expand and open four more sites in Takapuna, Parnell, New Lynn and Manukau.

Jones says big crowds were drawn to the stores, with a camera crew even attending the opening of the New Lynn store.

“We had about 350 people a week coming in for cooking lessons and were responsible for 40 percent of the microwave sales in Auckland at the time. Business exploded for us because we were one of very few companies that actually bothered to tell people how to use the product.”

As mentioned, one of the ways the Jones Family Business differentiated itself from its competitors was its marketing techniques.

Free weekly cooking classes hosted by the retailer proved a drawcard for customers who were bewildered by the technology. Some of the recipes taught went on to form The New Zealand Microwave Cookbook.

The education was also helpful, considering the idea of a machine that could quickly zap and cook food was a little mindboggling to some. Staff recalled having to reassure one male customer who came in and asked if the microwave’s technology would affect his virility.

Another way it differentiated itself was through its attentive customer service.

For many years, microwaves bought as Christmas presents would be gift wrapped with a big ribbon and bow and delivered early Christmas morning alongside a bottle of champagne. 

In 1986, The Microwave Shop bought a retail chain called Hood Centre and its assets, which included the ability to distribute European appliance brands Smeg and Bosch in New Zealand.

This meant the company’s appliance offering now covered ovens, cooktops and hoods, so the name ‘The Microwave Shop’ became too specific.

Its stores were rebranded as ‘Kitchen Things’ in the same year.

The retail chain went on to introduce other appliances to the New Zealand market.

The first fan-forced oven was introduced, as were gas and induction hobs and front-load washers.

Jones says great customer service was key in teaching consumers how to use the new technology.

“Today we take all of these things for granted, but back then it was all about training the customer.”

In 2006, Applico Group and Kitchen Things became 100 percent owned by the Jones family when Jones purchased business partner Robert Eng’s shares.

Mitre 10 is now Applico’s exclusive distribution partner for its Classique and Whirlpool brands, while Kitchen Things has 20 stores around New Zealand, the most recent opening at Westgate.

Over the years, other premium European brands have been added to the foray. Most recently, Gaggenau, Neff and ASKO were brought on in 2016.

Jones says the goal for Kitchen Things is to be seen as the lead retailer for premium European cooking appliances.

“Whether it’s clothing, food, appliances or cars – New Zealanders love the European way, style and quality.”

The company is also in the process of rolling out Jones Family Services, a nationwide delivery, installation and service business for its appliances.

This completes the business’ trio of importing, selling and servicing.

Meanwhile, Jones’ daughter Rachel Louie, who is currently executive director of the business, is poised to be his successor, keeping it a truly family affair, while his other daughter Melissa is on the advisory board.

Jones’ hope is that his business’ legacy will live on in generations of his family to come.

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 746 October / November 2016

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