Des Flynn talks retail history for NZ Retail's 70th anniversary issue

  • News
  • February 19, 2019
Des Flynn talks retail history for NZ Retail's 70th anniversary issue

Des Flynn celebrated half a century in retail in 2016. Before he was a senior retail executive, board member, mentor and customer services expert, he started his career as a volunteer at his school’s tuck shop. Upon graduating, he worked his way up through the grocery system before joining The Warehouse Group. These are his recollections.

As a child in the 1950s, I remember:

Shops were open 9am – 5pm, Monday to Thursday, and had one late night on Friday until 9pm.

Everything was served from either behind or over counters in all stores.

No supermarkets existed, but the grocer had a whole wall full of goods behind the counter with a roller ladder to reach the items that were high up.

The grocer always wore a white apron and had a pencil behind his ear.
Not a calculator in sight (they hadn’t been invented), just a pad to add up on.
For larger orders, the customer dropped off the hand-written order, the grocer made up the order and a grocery boy delivered the goods on a bicycle with a basket on the front.
The goods were charged to the customer’s weekly account.

Aniseed balls were five for a penny at the dairy, and gob stoppers one for a penny. [Ed: The Reserve Bank’s inflation calculator prices one penny in 1955 as equivalent to $0.21 in 2018.]

Three pence bought a small packet of Wattie’s potato chips, which contained a small piece of blue waxed paper twisted into a ball. This contained the salt to shake through the pack.

New clothes were typically selected by the female in the household and taken home “on appro” for others to try on at home and the items chosen were later purchased.

In the 1960s:

The supermarkets arrived, and customers were allowed to select their own goods.
Limited ranges were offered for sale as all imports were tightly controlled by the Government of the time. The total supermarket stock range count was only 800 items.
Some items were rationed (oranges at Christmas), and other seasonal items unavailable when they had sold out for the rest of the year.

Trading hours changed. Shops were allowed to open Thursday night instead of Friday night if all of the retailers in the local area agreed to the change.

Radical things happened in 1967 as we changed from old imperial money to decimal currency, and the rest of the measures such as distance, weight, etc, followed in quick succession.

Many stores made the change to self-service selection, and this phenomenon excited customers who were now able to touch [product] before they bought it.

By the 1970s:

Market deregulation was on the cards – and this was a huge shift in Government thinking.
The dollar was floated against international currencies; import licencing was abolished and new markets opened up to dramatically increase product ranges and offer customers huge selections.
Inflation was rampant and out of control. Mortgage interest rates were up to as much as 23 percent.
Some stores in tourist areas were granted a Saturday morning trading licence.
1979 saw the first national letterbox mailer dropped by Woolworths for their 25th Anniversary Sale.
A law change allowed milk to be sold in supermarkets, with wine to follow in the next decade.

In the 1980s:

Technology started to change the way shopkeepers did business.
First barcodes and scanning were introduced in a few supermarkets, and later followed by Eftpos in just a few stores.
Credit cards made their debut – but oh no – not for supermarket shopping!
Saturday shopping became available to everyone in the early 80’s, but not Sunday until late 1989.

In the 1990’s

There was a change to all trading hours with a shift to 24/7 except for 3.5 days in the year.
The internet was adopted widely, and in the late 1990s the first online shopping site arrived with .
Radio frequency devices were introduced to manage ordering, ticket printing etc.
Supply chain efficiencies began ramping up in a big way.

During the 2000s:

Technology changes enabled the beginning of digital retailing, mobile devices, omni-channel, and customer data collection, plus more.

There was a drive to look after employees, offering opportunities to increase learning and development, and gain qualifications…

… all leading up to where we are today!

​ ​

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