They can be Achieved with Planning & Determination
Living the “American Dream” in “New Zealand”
Hope this story inspires some young person
I did it and here’s how
I’ve always been very interested in sport. Not unusual for someone growing up in New Zealand. Most kids there are strongly supported and encouraged by their parents to participate in numerous sports. I loved tennis, swimming, soccer and fishing. On the street where I grew up, street hockey and cricket where the after school games of choice. At age 4 my Uncle Gerry made me my first golf club. A persimmon head hickory shaft Brassie (#2 Wood). Wish I still had it today.
At primary school maybe I was more focused on sport than learning. My parents even though they really couldn’t afford it, decided to spend money on daily travel for me so that I could go to a school known for its high academic standards. So every day for well over an hour (each way), first on an old coal burning steam train and then on a tram I went to my new school, Rongatai Boys College, in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington.
The morning train ride took me into city. From the railroad station the tram ambled through the city to college. The first part of the journey took me past the Parliament Buildings and through the downtown shopping area of Lambton Quay. Then turning south the tram moved along Willis Street the city’s other main retail shopping area.
In Willis Street the only two sporting goods stores in the city faced each other across the street. As a 13 year old schoolboy I wondered why they were so close together and why there was no sporting goods store in the busy shopping area of Lambton Quay. Every day I asked myself the same questions and now looking back I know that’s when I knew my dream. To own a sports shop on the Quay. I can’t say that’s when I set the goal to work towards but the dream was solidly in my mind.
In January 1950 I left home to start my apprenticeship as a maker of handmade golf clubs with my Uncle Gerry, a New Zealand PGA Professional. His club-making skills came from his years working in his grandfather’s factory, D. Anderson & Sons, in St. Andrews, Scotland. I don’t recall that I had much say in my job choice. I think that it was just assumed I would carry on the family tradition.
In 1954 the last year of my club-making apprenticeship my uncle opened a small sports store close to the golf club where he was the professional. Whenever I had the opportunity I volunteered to work there. That’s where I was fortunate enough to learn how to string tennis rackets. And that’s when I knew I really loved sporting goods retailing.
Back home in Wellington, 1955 job-wise seemed like a wasted year. I tried out two or three different occupations not related to golf or sport and was unhappy in all of them. I needed to focus and get back on track towards my dream.
Finally in 1956 I walked into one of the Willis Street sports stores looking for work. Because of my ability to make/repair golf clubs and string tennis rackets, I was hired on the spot. In the two years there I learned a great deal from the men running the fishing, firearms, backpacking and skiing departments. I absorbed everything I could about retail marketing, inventory control, stock turns, mark-up percentage formulas and more. With some ability in art, before long making signs for the shop and setting up the window displays became my responsibility. In those two years I knew I could operate my own store! For sure that’s when I set my goal, “My own sporting goods store on Lambton Quay”.
Wanting to work closer to my home in Lower Hutt, one of Wellington’s satellite cities, I again walked in off the street into a sporting goods store there. Fortunately I was immediately hired and worked there for four years. After two years I became assistant manager.
In those days by law, retail shops were only permitted to open from Monday through Friday from 9:00am until 5:30pm. Fridays were the exception with the closing hour extended to 9:00pm. There was no weekend trading. (Those laws were changed in the 1980s and now shopping hours are similar to those in the U.S.A). For me that five day working week was just fine, because it enabled me to take a second job as a taxi-relief-driver. Those were the years when I started earning additional money to help make my dream come true. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening at 5:30pm the taxi owner would be waiting outside the shop and I would take over and drive his cab until the early morning hours. On Saturdays I would start at 6:00am and drive right through until whenever the Saturday night crowd was home. That was usually around 3:00 to 4:00am Sunday. My wage was one-third of whatever fares I made. It was tough, tiring work and sometimes scary but the money was good. Every dollar earned went into the “dream” savings account. I had married my wife Heather in June of 1956. She was totally supportive of what I had set out to achieve. No matter however committed I was, the dream and the goal would never have been reached without her.
In 1962 I left the sports store as there was enough money saved to buy our own taxi license. Then the hours became longer but the dream/goal became closer. Working 90 plus hour weeks was not at all unusual. In four years I wore out two Holden (Australian GM) taxi-cabs 1965 was the biggest mileage year when 96,000 miles were clocked-up.
Late in 1965 a small basement shop became available on Lambton Quay. It was situated right where the historic-cable-car brought people down into the city. The location was perfect. Being a basement shop wouldn’t normally be a first choice, but it was affordable with the money saved. And we were on “The Quay”. In February 1966 we opened our doors. The goal had been reached and the dream became a reality. Now all that was necessary was to make it work! The journey had taken 20 years and in all that time Lambton Quay had been without a sporting goods store.
There were people in the industry who said we would never make it past three months but we did. In 1969, I became a member of The Professional Golfers’ Association of New Zealand. (Why I didn’t turn Pro in 1954 at the end of my apprenticeship is a whole other story). Then in 1971 we were able to lease a much larger shop at street level. That dramatically increased our sales. In 1976, I was elected President of the Sports Dealers Federation of New Zealand. A very special honor. In 1979 we made another location change to a store with two levels and three times the size of the one we left. Sales immediately more than doubled.
In 1982 when my shop was trading very successfully I made the decision to sell and moved to California. Why did I do that? Sometimes I still asking myself that question. Perhaps it was just time to move on and start a new chapter of my life.
For any young person with a dream, it’s all about being determined, working hard, learning everything you can about your passion as you head towards your goal. Of course a little luck never hurt and the total support of the people in your life is priceless. Hope this rambling blog will give you a little inspiration.