Bill remembers: setting up shop

We continue with the reminiscences of Bill Waring and the early days of Waikato’s meat trade.  It doesn’t pay to think too far ahead, he says…

Bill WaringAFTER THE WAR, with the increased supply of domestic refrigerators, the advent of deep freeze refrigeration, road improvements and growing affluence, meant many farmers and their sharemilkers chose to do their shopping in the major towns, or to slaughter their own stock. This was to be the start of the ‘home kill trade’.

Throughout New Zealand, many farmers who owed their very existence to the extended credit offered by the rural trades people, who at personal risk and often in difficult times had carried the farmer’s debt, chose to have short memories and shorter loyalties. The credits of the country butcher, grocer, baker, and whoever else, were used only during the `no cream cheque period’ but when cash was about, it was being spent in the towns or city.  We sadly learned that nothing is forever.

The rural traders were not required as before. The Collingwoods of Te Hoe shifted their main operation to Hamilton, and Waring Meats expanded initially to Huntly, opening the first air-conditioned butcher shop in the North Island.  This was followed by the purchase one morning of a business in Ngaruawahia and then one in Morrinsville on the afternoon of the same day.

At around the same time, The Farmers Trading Company used Hellabys in Auckland and ourselves to venture into meat retail concessioning for the Farmers in Morrinsville, Matamata and Tokoroa. At peak, we held six shops and 11 concessions.

Morrinsville was unique in that as we had purchased John Hopkins’s meat business next to the Farmers, all that was needed was to cut a hole in the wall, build in a ‘fire door’ and put in the Farmers refrigerated meat cabinets which we could supply from our cutting department within our adjacent retail shop. This gave us  the advantage that on Fridays we were able to trade, using both operations with their permitted hours of trading, from 7am until 9pm.

Unfortunately, these years were too short.  The concessions with the Farmers Trading Company disappeared when they chose to go out of food and change their marketing direction into furnishings, hardware, clothing, etc.  As they were an integral part of our considerable supply chain, we ceased to concession outside of Hamilton.

Although Warings did many things right, there was one opportunity we did not take that would have been of real benefit.  This was when a Mr Percy Vercoe of GW Vercoe, Auctioneers, offered us a butchery business in the main street of Hamilton. This also included the Bristol Buildings and property extending from Victoria St through to Barton St at the rear. The price was 20,000 pounds and while this was market value at the time, the payment would be simple.  No deposit was required and because of the volume and value of wool, pelts and cattle hides we were putting through Vercoe’s hide and pelt pool at the time, they would progressively take the hides, wool and pelts as payment for the business, land and building. Wool and pelts back then were fetching a good price due to American stockpiling for the Korean War, so the repayment would not have taken long.  Also, the meat business offered was of good standing and would have seriously contributed to the purchase payment.

Old-time butchers, Hamilton
Missed chance: (other) butchers on Victoria St, 1927. Pic: Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Library

Instead, being local lads at heart, we wrongly elected to extend our building at Taupiri to accommodate a boning and manufacturing plant. At Taupiri the land and the buildings were freehold and the area was suitable for expansion.  Two new staff houses had been built as well, and another existing home was purchased to assist with staffing the operation.  Taupiri was our contracting depot for the Army, Air Force and Health Institutions; once the contracts were won they were supplied from this point.

In the post-war years, the Territorial Service was compulsory and the contract requirements to service the Territorial Camps were large. We found that our manufacturing machinery, mincing machine, sausage filler and other such plant needed enlarging.

Bill Waring (senior) had not long returned from a trip through England, the US and Canada, and was convinced that the breaking down of meats at one depot to supply extended retail meat branches was the way of the future. He was right, but, as with a lot of Waring thinking, the idea was way ahead of its time for New Zealand.  Meat prices were not yet high enough for that exercise, and after using Taupiri in that capacity for a time we reverted back to full carcase supplies to the branches. My father was 20 years too soon, a habit I inherited. We both were able to see well ahead as to the future of the trade, but didn’t always choose the most profitable moment to make the move.

A Federated Farmers Trading Society had been formed and after winning a contract to supply their Christmas ham requirements, Waring’s set up a retail meat operation with them in the new Federated Farmers building. This was only of short duration because of other meat mergers that were soon to take place.  These created a conflict of interests, and necessitated a mutually agreed separation.

There was a demand for mutton manufacturing meats from major operators at that time and considerable quantities were sold on contract to Thos Borthwick’s Freezing Works at Waitara.  Again, the volume of throughput attracted another stock company, Farmer’s Auctioneering Co. (FAC), who in order to protect their farmer clients and achieve entry to the AFFCO killing chain through the domestic abattoir, made an offer for 51% of the Waring’s Taupiri operation. This was accepted because, although the asset backing was sound, Waring’s was feeling financially stretched for cash with all the sudden expansion and the easement was appreciated. This new venture was formed under the market name of ‘Country Touch’.

It should be explained that the FAC interest was because export slaughtering space export works was lacking; many farmers had to hold stock while awaiting export space for their cattle. At times of drought this could be a real disadvantage.  Waring Meats throughput could assist with this problem.

The association with FAC continued until they were taken over in a merger initiated by North Auckland Farmers. This was Waring’s first experience of the savagery of takeovers and the first realisation that 49% of a business meant ‘no say’ in that business. The Taupiri business was sold on to one Bede Tancred of the Tancred’s Australia meat family.

Of this first era of expansion, the move to Huntly (with a branch shop at Rotowaro),  was a chance to appreciate people other than the conservative farmer that had previously been our main customer. Huntly was basically a mining town, a microcosm in itself.  It was very much self-contained in that it was expected that staff would be employed from a Huntly family, and such an employment ensured that the relatives of the person employed shopped at your place of business. Should the staff member be dismissed, the near families disappeared as customers.

Fortnightly accounts were the norm, with Friday-fortnightly settlement. While to my early conservative thinking the majority of Huntly people were politically different, politics was the only difference. They would come to be the most honest and loyal people where credit was used that I have ever dealt with. This loyalty was further tested when Marilyn our daughter was elected as a National member to the Raglan Electorate.  I wondered how that would affect the business, but I need not have worried.  Marilyn was, to the Huntly people, ‘one of us’ and the business took no harm from this happening. It can be said in all honesty that where Huntly was concerned, Marilyn was always aware of the feeling of belonging the people gave her and always endeavoured to do her best for the town.

Chapter One is here (follow the link at the bottom for all chapters to date.  More coming soon!)

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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