Turning pages on 150 years' worth of history: Q+A from Bruce Page

Meet Bruce Page – the fifth in a company history book filled with Pages.

Page + Co has a 150 year legacy. For a century and a half, Mr Pages have busily hammered out buildings all around Auckland – the original Farmers Trading Co, the Kingsland post office, Page Corner restaurant and café, and Parnell primary school to name just a few.

Over the last 30 years, Bruce Page has put the whole toolbox to work, specialising in retail fit-outs for Kathmandu, Michael Hill, Icebreaker, Lotto, and Z Energy. Its 2500 m2 production facility in West Auckland operates 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and is generating Page + Co more than $20 million a year in turnover.

Q. What’s the best part of running a family business with so many decades (and grey hairs) behind it?

A. The long-standing clients. Farmers has been working with us since the 1900s, and Michael Hill for about 15 years. You get to see them grow and change; and you grow with them. It’s satisfying.

Q. There’s been lots of growth since renovating Farmers Trading Company buildings in the 1900s – is there a future in fit-outs?

A. We’ve grown 50% in the last seven years. Our staff has gone from 30 to 80 – and that was through the GFC. I believe the reason for that growth was taking Page + Co from a company of generalists to becoming specialists. We do retail and do it well. I see plenty of opportunities ahead; many businesses believe their bricks and mortar stores will continue to expand despite the rise of online shopping. You’ve got to be innovative now, and take almost a ‘showroom’ approach. We’re getting more work overseas in Australia, and exporting joinery components to Michael Hill stores in Canada and the US. Not all companies want the cheap China option – we’re a quality alternative.

Q. Has it always been a purely family-owned affair?

A. Funny you ask – just this year we’re looking at bringing in outside shareholders for the first time. We see opportunities in developing products that require fresh blood, more skills. For us it’s less about the financial investment and more about growing the company’s potential. The people we have in mind are Kiwis who have worked in the business. I believe in the ‘power of more than one’ – passionate people.

             

Q. "Around since 1864" must help with credibility. Do you feel you have to fight for new business?

A. There would only be a handful of companies in New Zealand that we’d consider ‘competitors’, and we don’t find we come up against them often. Our main competitor is China; price is a biggy for businesses and it’s tough to compete with their factories. Our advantage is building and maintaining relationships – we earn people’s respect by delivering what we say we will. Once we’re working with them we don’t give them any reasons to go elsewhere! It’s a case of who-you-know first in this industry and then what-you-know second.

             

Q. What’s this about a side business around the "colour rendering index?" Doesn’t sound that sexy.

A. We’ve developed our own solution in response to clients reporting issues with the lighting in their retail stores. Their customers would see an item under the store lights and think it’s grey, take it home and realise it’s blue – and maybe take it back. Or think pink was red; you get the idea. The best light to see clothing accurately in is sunlight – which ranks 100 on the Colour Rendering Index (CRI). We’ve custom-designed LED lighting that ranks between 95-97 on the CRI. We’re implementing it in the Z Energy outlets – they love the sustainable factor too, as LED is a low-power option. Also in Overland Shoes stores. It’s exciting … there could be potential to morph it into its own business down the track but for now it’s a logical product to offer our existing clients.

Q. I bet there’s been some big ‘Oh no’ moments over 150 years. What’s a situation you’ve really learnt from?

A. Every business has some clangers. One time we were in a situation with a clothing chain where things didn’t feel right – we’d completed the fit-out, but said we wouldn’t hand over the keys until the bill was paid. They said they’d pay later, but we stood our ground. The bill was paid, and then we heard the next day that the whole company had gone bust. At the end of the day, you’ve got to trust your gut feel and stand firm.

Q. What happens when it’s time to ‘turn the Page’ – run me through your succession process.

A. Well, I’ve got two daughters – seven and 10. My suspicion is that both of them will end up with jobs I’ve never heard of before! So this is where bringing shareholders on makes a lot of sense. It’s going to be an invested team rather than just me at the helm. I’m focused on de-risking the business and putting long-term plans in place. I often ask clients “What do you think the future of retail is going to look like?” Their answers are what guide the new technology we’re developing. ×