From an auction room in an old brewery to a chain of stores turning over $200 million in sales and a national brand that is synonymous with value, fair play,
Smiths City’s journey over the last 100 years is one Henry Cooper Smith scarcely could have imagined when he acquired the site on Colombo Street in Christchurch’s central city for his city market from the Ward & Company City Brewery in in 1918.
What is clear is that HC Smith understood the simple principle that guides Smiths City today; the value of the business is determined by the strength of its relationship with its customers and their loyalty.
The City Market, as the company was first known, was founded on HC Smiths’ firm belief that Christchurch needed a grain and produce auction house. However, as more farmers congregated at the market he saw an opportunity to offer them more.
He bought land nearby, constructed sale yards from where he began selling and auctioning livestock and reconditioned farm implements.
Through the great depression, World War Two, the post-war boom, Smiths City’s product range and it reach grew into an ever-broadening range of business activities. Land and estate sales, hardware, building materials, furniture and carpets; in each case HC Smith spotted an opportunity and moved quickly to exploit it.
Indeed, as HC Smith’s grandson and former Smith City director Colin recalls, the company only got into selling new furniture because in the post war boom, the supply of second hand furniture, which until then had been the company’s bread and butter had dried up.
“In the end they found that to keep in business it was easier to adopt selling new than it was second-hand because they just couldn’t get hold of the goods after the war,” Colin says.
Smiths City listed on the New Zealand stock exchange in the 70s and then in the late 80s and early 90s the company faced a reckoning. Like many of New Zealand’s largest companies it expanded too fast and amid the economic downturn fell into receivership. Smiths City retreated to its heartland and released from receivership it soared with its sales breaking through $150 million at the turn of the century.
By 2003 it relisted on the NZX, first on the alternative market and then back to the main board in the following year. The company then rapidly expanded its presence in home appliance retailing. But with the rapid growth in e-commerce and the opportunities it offers for customers to compare prices, Smiths has turned to a combined offer of furniture and appliance categories where the customer experience, both instore, online and after sale can generate the customer loyalty.
In 2015 it brought the Furniture City business to gain a foothold in the important upper North Island markets. This new approach has culminated in the development of the Live Better brand and store formats. Smiths City rolled out the first of these stores in Hastings, and the new stores in Auckland and Whangarei. In July it rolled out the new look at the historic Colombo Street store.
Smiths City is looking to its next century of trading keenly aware that its success depends on the same principles that drove its growth from the very beginning: exceeding its customers’ expectations and keeping the honest kiwi values that have sustained it since its beginning.