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More Info →Oral interview - Colin Dyer, part 1

Recorded: April 20th, 2018. Interviewer: Simon Johnson Abstract: Simon Johnson. Interview with Colin Dyer, Assistant Manager, PDC - Part 1 of 2. 0.00 First job: Joined Woolworths, Hastings, in 1962 at 16 as trainee manager. Did well at school but chose to get straight into a career rather than go to University. By 21 was doing “Major management reliefs [for Woolworths] around the country.” 1968 was manager of Greymouth store. Various other management roles in Woolworths. July 4 1975, joined PDC as Assistant Manager at age of 29. 3.05 Joining PDC: Brief history of PDC – initially Premier Drapery Co, then bought by Co-op in 1956. Colin and family looking to settle down – had worked in 14 different towns beforehand. Employment interview conducted by Co-op General Manager ARTHUR BARTLETT and PDC Manager LES GOODWIN. Colin’s wife was outside in the car. Saw ARTHUR BARTLETT arrive, take off his gumboots and put on a shirt and tie. PDC was 4th biggest retail store in NZ at the time. 5.30 PDC culture [co-op as opposed to conventional business] attractive as Colin from a working class background - “a Labour, socialist sort of person.” Idea of customer shareholders getting rebates appealed. Also “more a family type of management structure than I’d been used to in a large, corporate Australasian structure [Woolworths].” Woolworths so large an organisation that you rarely saw General Manager or even Personnel Manager. GM was “God” who’d summon you occasionally. At PDC you were part of the management team. There were social events. Felt he was having a direct influence on the organisation. Regular dealings with Co-op board. PDC management was “quite separate from [Co-op’s] grocery division” which included “some 35 grocery stores, 10 butcheries, a liquor store, a motorbike shop [CO-OP HONDA]. Co-op management was divided into “three divisions” – PDC, Grocery, and “others” – liquor, Co-op Honda, etc. Colin focused on PDC. Grocery division of PDC was worried he might interfere because of Woolworths experience but he backed off. Only involved in grocery store inside PDC building “towards the end.” This later became FOODTOWN and subsequently COUNTDOWN. 9.50 Over 300 people working in PDC [Department. Store] when he started in 1975. “By far the biggest employer next to University and Hospital.” A lot of office staff because were running a bank “20 – 40 million dollars deposited there at any one time.” Also a “huge accounts business, almost mail order standard, which stretched also round lower North Island,” a “credit accounting function,” also admin staff. Staff who were focused purely on PDC store amounted to around 200. 11.00 Gender balance – in department store approx. two thirds women. Higher proportion of men than most retail stores where 90% women the norm [this probably because of departments such as Hardware, Appliances, etc. SJ]. 12.00 Staff turnover. Many long serving staff but this more a generational thing than a feature of PDC. COLLINSON AND CUNNINGHAM had long serving staff, DIC perhaps less so. Was some movement of BUYERS [i.e. heads of departments within the store] between the three major department stores in town. But “Within each of those three stores there was a loyalty culture.” Has talked to MIKE COLLINSON about this. “People stayed in their jobs much longer than is the case today.” 13.45 Employing staff who had come from other stores: PDC’s dress standards more “disciplined.” “Dressing in black and white, having to wear hosiery if you were a woman… even fingernails were inspected from time to time.” Feels that this hard line because PDC had experienced managers who upheld standards, also GORDON BROWN, founder of Co-op, a “stickler.” PDC had a wider range of departments than DIC and Collinson and Cunningham. “Motor mowers and bicycles to high fashion.” Every five years each department had to be completely remodelled. This “was very much modern thinking.” At the time Collinson & Cunningham might have done this only every 25 years. 16.15 Staff relations: When he started at PDC junior staff supposed to call him ‘Mr Dyer.’ Was upbraided for letting a Buyer call him ‘Colin.’ At Woolworths things not as strict. First names fine. By 1980 PDC had “relaxed considerably.” 18.10 Changes: SATURDAY TRADING. “A real concern among staff and management.” Colin was part of a National Retail delegation that went to argue against it at a parliamentary select committee. Saw it as potentially destroying family values. Saturday shopping initially 9.30 – 1.30. Now, with full weekend shopping, labour more casual – students, etc. With Saturday a.m. regular staff worked the hours with days off in lieu. 19.55 PDC structure a pyramid. Executive management, Buyers, shop staff. Every two weeks there were two Buyers’ meetings with an agenda which Colin, as Assistant Manager, drew up. Half of Buyers came to one meeting, the other half to second meeting. Ongoing issues, planning, promotion discussed. Other main structure was the Retail Purchase Book, a system introduced by LES GOODWIN. Each Buyer had a leger book with purchases and sales recorded. PDC Manager or the Assistant Manager [Colin] looked at these at least once a month. Sales determined how much purchasing money could then be allotted to that Buyer. “Non-computerised Dickens type leger.” This took up a lot of Colin’s time. Most accounting functions sprang from these legers – performance measuring, gross profits, net profits, stock turnover, etc. Worked very well. “Gave us the best stock turns of any department store in New Zealand.” 22.55 Unions: Militant unionism wasn’t an issue. “Had a good accord with them.” During SATURDAY TRADING campaign “we worked quite a lot with the unions.” Management motivated by keeping running costs down. Spreading a week’s sales over 7 days would increase overhead expenses. In the end “We didn’t do any more business, it just cost more and affected a lot of people’s lives.” However, as a shopper he found weekend shopping as convenient as everyone else. Saturday shopping affected PDC’s regional dominance – shoppers who came from Taihape, Levin, etc. 25.40 An average working day: Started at 8.00a.m. left between 6.00 and 6.30. Much of work involved overseeing purchase performance. Management team consisted of: General Manager, Assistant Manager [Colin], Merchandise Manager, Personnel Manager, a Store Supervisor who was on management team but also ran a department, a manager responsible for the property and maintenance, and an Advertising Manager. PDC “by far” the biggest advertiser in the Manawatu in both press and radio [N.B. NORMA ANGUS mentions TV advertising and more – see interview with Norma]. This meant that there were many management meetings e.g. weekly promotional meeting [there would be a major promotion every month, e.g. Homemakers to coincide with the time rebates were paid out to stockholding customers]. Promotional events around Xmas, Mothers’ Day etc, also topical events e.g. Racing driver Denny Hulme and his car in store, quiz shows in school holidays, visit by SELWYN TOOGOOD [presenter of TV and radio quiz show ITS IN THE BAG]. All this required great deal of planning. There were also the Buyers meetings [see above] and preparation of rosters for FLOOR WALKING [i.e. manager level employee available to deal directly with issues anywhere in the shop e.g. customer complaints, SHOPLIFTING] “mediating resolutions to problems like that.” Also, was overseer of Personnel Manager ensuring getting the right people and staffing within budget. ARTHUR BARTLETT – Manager Co-op group. LES GOODWIN – PDC Manager. Les was quite “hands on in Fashion Dept.” and often away on fashion buying trips. Colin doing more “store administration” than Les. Colin enjoyed the job, “thought that would be it for me to retirement.” “Loved collegial nature of management team, enjoyed PDC’s success and performance against budgets & targets, especially liked promotions “I was very much a promotion minded person” 32.20 Work place become more casualised over time? No, this happened later, “a product of the 90s.” Staff leave/holidays: Not as flexible as it is today. When he was at Woolworths he might be expected to rearrange shop floor on a Saturday – unpaid. You had to do it if you wanted to get on. No overtime in PDC. PDC ahead of most businesses in introducing annual appraisals [see interview with group of PDC staff including VERN LUMLEY] Colin enjoyed bringing in appraisal system. At PDC easier to initiate new systems than in a “big corporate” like Woolworths. E.g. when petrol rationing introduced during crisis of 1980s PDC was one of first companies to introduce CNG into its fleet [Compressed natural gas or CNG was an alternative fuel system using locally produced natural gas from the Taranaki oil fields. A large cylinder in the car’s boot {under body in vans and light trucks} fed the gas into a modified fuel system. CNG was available at selected North Island petrol stations. Disadvantages were reduced range, reduced power over petrol, the expense of converting a vehicle to CNG and problems with keeping a converted car in tune. However, the imposition of petrol-less weekends boosted CNG’s popularity as New Zealanders struggled to sidestep government regulations – Simon Johnson]. Re staff annual appraisals: PDC Manager more ‘old school.’ Colin pushed for fairer, “more structured” appraisal system. Worked with Personnel Manager VERN LUMLEY. Had had previous experience of similar system in Woolworths. 36.55 Work related social activities. “Social Club a key element to the well-being of the place.” Company contributed “quite a bit” to Club funds, were also staff weekly contributions [see other PDC interviews]. Were film evenings, picnics, all PDC and Co-op staff involved, also “Lavish dinners,” mainly for buyers. Before Colin’s, time were “regular balls and dances.” Helped by Co-op’s wide range of facilities – trucks, tearooms “even if they [tearooms] did belong to SMITH AND WALDING – “we had everything to make something happen.” 39.00 Political connections – Joe Walding [of Walding’s Tearooms] was local Labour MP. “We often had [Government] Ministers coming through.” Colin mentions “the political inclination of Co-op’s founder [Gordon Brown].” David Lange opened the PDC PLAZA. 40.15 GORDON BROWN: Had retired as General Co-op manager shortly before Colin started in 1975 and ARTHUR BARTLETT had taken over. But over first 5 years of service at PDC Gordon Brown returned as Chairman of the Board. Probably not wise as by 1970s his “40s 50s ideas had been surpassed.” Was resistant to modern retailing ideas. He was “still very much in the grocery rebate” mindset. Colin wanted to preserve this while competing in a progressive, modern way.

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2019Au_2019-42_026557_01
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Oral interview - Colin Dyer, part 1
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IMCA Digital Archive

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Palmerston North
Date
April 20, 2018

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Palmerston North City Library

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