Recorded: April 22nd, 2018.
Interviewer: Simon Johnson
Abstract: Simon Johnson.
Interview with Norma Angus, fabrics Buyer for the PDC, Part 1 of 3
Had done some office work in school holidays for HERD TESTING in PN while at school. “They were waiting for me to turn 15.” Didn’t sit School Certificate, parents encouraged her to take the position. The job - keeping books, reception. Never regretted leaving school when she did. Labour was short after the war and many people went straight into the work force once they had reached leaving age. Married at 19. Moved to country. Milked a herd with husband. Back to PN when she was 41 and began working at PDC in 1976.
Job interview taken by VERN LUMLEY. “I had some wonderful years at PDC.” Initial job was salesperson in fabrics. Thinks she may have got job because she was an accomplished sewer. Had made daughter’s wedding dress. GRAHAM GOODING her immediate superior as Fabrics Dept. Buyer. He retired shortly after, and Norma was offered his job. Graham stayed on for 6 months to train her. A Buyer was essentially a head of a department e.g. Fabrics, Hardware, Menswear, etc. Buyers had their own team of staff and selected stock from an agreed budget. Were answerable to the Executive. Were regular Buyers’ meetings so Buyers kept abreast of promotions, etc. and expected to pass this back to their staff. “Communication wonderful.” There were five Fabrics staff.
Initially Fabrics Dept. was in old PEGDENS building [Pegdens had been a high end furniture shop]. Later PDC bought the CLUB HOTEL and Fabrics moved there. Was set a little distance from main PDC building [see further details below, 3rd recording]. A display team would set up display windows. Sewing and knitting machines [under the aegis of Merchandise Manager GRAEME MEYERS and JOY TARR] were sold in an area close to Fabrics.
Two occasions “which really put our fabric shop on the map.” GRAEME MEYERS strong on promotion. Orchestrated a fashion parade in WALDINGS TEAROOMS. Suppliers donated lengths of latest fabrics. Garments made from SIMPLICITY PATTERNS. “Local girls and staff” were models. Manager of SIMPLICITY addressed the audience. KAY RANKIN from 2ZA was compere. Really kicked off the spring season.
The second promotion involved the newly introduced KITCHEN WHIZZ food processor. GRAEME MEYERS asked Norma to approach COUNTRY WOMENS’ INSTITUTES because of her “rural connections” to invite members to kitchen whizz demonstration in WALDINGS TEAROOMS by ALISON HOLST. Norma hadn’t intended to buy one but when she saw Alison whip up an apple pie she was “sold.”
WALDINGS TEAROOMS was owned by JOE WALDING, pie manufacturer and sometime Labour Party MP of Palmerston North. Was in PDC complex so customers saw it as part of PDC.
TV commercial: Graeme Meyers wanted to promote microwave ovens. Norma chosen for the part “all you saw were my hands” but she still had to learn script re the ease of defrosting and cooking a chicken after getting home from work. Was filmed in the old hall behind ST. ANDREWS PRESBYTARIAN CHURCH next to PDC. Episode illustrates how “PDC was very strong on promotion.” Customers very loyal because of REBATE COUPONS. Helped staff to establish rapport with public.
Gender mix of staff: “A lot of men. You see we had a Menswear Department and Home Appliances and Hardware.” Mix was probably 50/50 [PDC Assistant Manager Colin Dyer estimates more women than men except in the Hardware and Appliances Depts].
Staff relations. Departmental Buyers responsible for making sure all duties covered. “I was lucky with my staff.”
UNITED STORES GROUP.
PDC was part of a wider buying group which operated throughout the two islands. Met in Auckland twice each year. With PDC combining fabric orders with other large stores, could reach the wholesalers’ threshold for a keener price. There was a fabrics preselect committee which presented to the main United Stores Group meeting. Good for basics – poplins, etc. and able to get a better margin through bulk buying.
Impact of tariff removal in 1980s? Not great for fabrics, bigger effect on china. Vague on this area because it didn’t affect her.
PDC culture, rules:
“Never approach a customer and say ‘can I help you?’ but ‘how can I help you?’ emphasis on I’m here, tell me what you want.”
As a new staff member and – initially – as a shop assistant Norma was already familiar with the department and staff as a customer herself. GRAHAM GOODING [Fabric Dept. Buyer – see above] only had to give her a few pointers. Basic rule – Customer is always right. Remembers first run-in with irate customer which she diffused by agreeing with her. Because of loyalty of customers and her familiarity with their tastes she’d buy fabric with certain people in mind.
Remembers going to Auckland for the day with a certain amount to spend on discounted ‘end of run’ lines of fabric which became the “bread and butter” of PDC’s sales.
Departmental budgets were set by management. Norma then responsible for allotting percentages to her suppliers and leaving some over for UNITED STORES GROUP purchases.
Biggest changes in time at PDC?
“SATURDAY TRADING.”  Was a big union meeting in OPERA HOUSE which was only a short distance from PDC on corner of Church Street and Ashley Street. A staff member from CM Ross [department store on Western side of Square, currently occupied by PN City Library. At the time Norma is speaking of the store was no longer CM Ross but DIC] saw Norma through the shop window and challenged her for ‘holding the fort,’ saying that the next step would be SUNDAY TRADING…
At Union meetings the Union officials weren’t interested in any pro-Saturday trading opinions from members. “Blocked them.”
“We were so fortunate at PDC.” If we worked late on Friday nights we were given meal money. Management not in favour of Saturday trading either, but had to go with the flow. “None of us could envisage Sunday trading.”