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The story of Smiths City

After almost 100 years trading, the 99-year-old iconic brand that is Smiths City has officially opened its 30th store located in Hastings.

The new 2230 square metre store officially opened on March 17 and is a welcome addition to the ever-growing retailer.

Founded in 1918 by Henry Cooper Smith, the Christchurch-based company is working towards its 100th birthday next year. Smiths City is going through a national expansion plan and new designs are expected to be rolled out nationwide over the coming years.

The property at 550 Colombo Street, Christchurch was the home of the Ward and Company City Brewery before Henry Cooper Smith bought the place in 1918 and turned it into an auction house.

In 1920, Smith leased extra land where he also auctioned off livestock. The company traded under the name Smiths City Market until 1986, then the following year, it dropped the work ‘market’ from its name.

Smiths City Market Limited was registered as a private company in 1938 but was floated as a public company in 1972.

In 1988 the group reconstructed into two chains – Smiths City Limited, selling homewares; and Smiths DIY Limited, selling builders supplies and sports goods. However, the company was then placed in receivership in 1991.

Smiths City’s success started up again in 1994, March, where it officially became the first publicly listed company in New Zealand to recover from receivership.

Now, Smiths City has a strong community focus, working with many New Zealand charities over the last few decades. This includes Ronald McDonald House, Santa Parade, Canterbury Charity Hospital Trust, Youthline and most recently, the Christchurch branch of the New Zealand Fire Service, for which it raised $25,000.

Total expenditure for donations and sponsorship by the group average out at $91,359 in 2010.

Roy Campbell, chief executive of Smiths City Group, said that with the approach of their century celebrations that integral to the retailer’s longevity is its ability to evolve and reflect changing market needs.

“As a retailer you always must be in touch with your customers, understanding what they want and making sure you meet their requirements. It’s an ever-changing market.”

“This new design is a direct response to customer research conducted last year. Customers who shop large ticket furniture and appliances want an enjoyable shopping experience that’s both inspiring and easy,” says Campbell.

In December 2015, Smiths City began consolidating its stores to be under one brand turning its two Wellington-based LV Martin stores that it has owned for more than ten years into renamed Smiths City.

“LV Martin changing its name to Smiths City is a coming together of two retailers with very similar mindsets. We’re a genuine, Kiwi-owned company, with a southern heritage that stretches back more than 85 years,” Campbell then said.

Although an iconic brand, Smiths City hasn’t had a fully smooth ride. Campbell was appointed in May of 2015, only to see the company’s first-half profit slide by 46 percent after it was cleared of wrongdoings over unpaid staff meetings in 2016.

Under Campbell, Smiths City is running a ruler over its assets in a bid to improve earnings.

Campbell has been credited for the significant changes occurring throughout the company that helped it achieve the purchase of Furniture City in January of last year for $5.85 million.

The new Hastings store is the retailer's 30th and was also the start of a combined physical and digital strategy, with customers now offered the option of buying online. Moving into the digital sector upholds Smith City’s philosophy that to survive for a century, you need to keep up with the market.

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 749 April / May 2017