The Hawkes Bay is widely considered as one of New Zealand’s top destinations, mainly due to its picturesque landscape, friendly community and delectable food and wine. However another aspect, which many may not know, is that it is home to five independent menswear stores, some of which that have been around for more than 40 years.
Each offering a unique product and service, the five menswear stores have stood the test of time due to their drive and commitment to the retail industry, as well as the support from their customers. Based in a tourist hotspot, many of the stores’ customers have been Aucklanders, Wellingtonians, or cruise ship tourists, who are eager to check out independent small businesses as oppose to bigger retailers.
The Register speaks to Alexanders on Tennyson owner Graham Bell on building a successful business and how the NZ retail industry has changed over the last 40 years.
Why did you decide to open Alexanders on Tennyson 45 years ago?
“It was always a dream to own my own business, and I wanted to put together a store that had one of the best curated selections of menswear that we could put together at the time.”
“We saw an opportunity, committed ourselves to it and away we went.”
What was the retail industry like back then?
“It was very crowded back then. I think in the Hawkes Bay we probably had over 23 outlets for menswear at the time, and the majority of clothing was all made in New Zealand.”
“A lot of menswear stores were gathered in Hastings, as Hastings was sort of the service centre for the rural community in the Hawkes Bay. And of course in those days we had Friday night shopping, so all the farmers used to come to town on Friday night and shop.”
“We swam against the tide and instead of opening in Hastings, we opened in Napier. We saw potential there.”
What are the benefits of owning an independent store?
“Well its the old cliché you’re your own boss. But with that, you are also a manager of everything. You have to be an accountant, merchandiser, buyer, sales person, banker, it goes on and on.”
“One of the best benefits is that you can chart your own course. You can design your business accordingly to how you want it to be.”
What is it about the Hawkes Bay that has helped all five menswear stores last this long?
“I think it’s because we’ve all been here for a long time. The youngest one has been here 30+ years and the oldest one is now down to their third generation.”
“We’re all different, but I think what drives us is that we are passionate about our businesses. Each business stands alone and is unique in its own little place. We’re fortunate that Napier is one of the world’s most unique cities and we have this lovely ambient alfresco type feel here.”
“Our store is situated on Tennyson Street in Napier, it is one of the most unique character streets in New Zealand. It has a wonderful selection of independent stores, galleries, cafes, restaurants and wine bars that visitors really love.”
Were you impacted by Covid?
“Well we’re missing our cruise ships and missing our international visitors, but Napier is a destination city in New Zealand and our store has been here for 45 years thanks to our customers that come from outside of the Hawkes Bay.”
“Since Lockdown, a lot of people have taken the opportunity to visit and of course sample the beautiful food and wine that we grow here. They stay in some nice accommodation and then they have a wonderful range of independent shops to shop from.”
What’s your relationship with the other stores? Does it become competitive?
“Well its always competitive (laughs), but the best thing of all is that we try and keep the business in the Hawkes Bay. If we can’t satisfy a customer, we’ll send them down the road to the next store so that they can help them.”
“We also have annual get together dinner and we all get on exceptionally well.”
What’s your advice for others looking to open their own store?
“Okay, first of all, you have to have a passion and it’s got to be a deep passion. You also need to understand your market and how your market works. You can open up the most beautiful shop in the world, but your potential customer might not like it, so you’ve got to keep an eye out for what your customer wants.”
“You’ve got to absolutely believe that what you’re doing is what you want to do, and don’t be afraid of hard work.”
The five menswear stores from oldest to youngest:
Thomson’s Suits, Hastings( third generation), Jefferys, Napier ( second generation), Alexander’s on Tennyson, Napier ( 45 Years), Alexander’s Menswear, Hastings ( 39 years) Chris Wiig, Napier( 30 plus years).