With 50 stores gracing central business districts from Whangarei to Invercargill, it’s easy to forget that there was ever a high street before Hannahs. And actually, at 150 years old, the shoe chain may well pre-date some Kiwi towns.
Hannahs is a shoe chain known for its extensive store network and affordable on-trend footwear. Its first store opened in 1868 in Charleston, a village in the Buller district on the South Island’s West Coast.
Founder Robert Hannah opened his store intending to take advantage of the demand for boots generated by the gold rush. He learned the cobbler trade in Ireland and came New Zealand from Australia, having emigrated at age 18.
Born with the surname Hanna, Hannah was forced to add a second ‘H’ to his name to avoid confusion with a second Charleston-based Hanna after losing a coin toss.
After the gold rush ended, Hannah shifted his operations to Wellington in 1874, having originally intended to move on to the USA. He opened a store on Lambton Quay before building a three-storey building off Cuba St to serve as shop, factory and headquarters. At its peak, this factory was capable of producing 6,000 pairs of shoes per week.
By the time Hannah passed away from pneumonia, his company boasted 19 stores in the North Island and 11 in the South Island, plus its factory. The factory complex is still standing, and was converted into architecturally-acclaimed apartments during the 1990s. Hannahs shifted its headquarters to Porirua in 1999.
The 1990s and 2000s saw an expansion of Hannahs’ branding strategy. In-house fashion footwear brand Pulp launched in 1997, followed by a raft of international brands joining the Hannahs stable. These included Hush Puppies; Steve Madden; Ipanema x Giselle Bundchen; Kardashian Kollection handbags; Madonna’s Truth or Dare Collection and Keds.
General manager of operations, Stephen Cook, says everyone has a Hannahs story. He says he’s proud to work alongside former employees such as Richard Johnson, a direct descendent of Robert Hannah, as part of the Hannahs brand.
“The longstanding heritage of Hannahs is instilled in the brand with many New Zealanders able to recall without hesitation their own Hannahs story – whether it was the place they bought their first school or rugby shoes, they’re a current or past employee, or know Hannahs as the place they shop for quality shoes at great value prices,” he says.
“This is why we feel the 150-year milestone for this Kiwi brand is significant not just for the company but for all New Zealanders.”