Our History

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Retailers Conference February 1947 - Tapuaeharuru Marae, Rotorua.


Working on behalf of retailers for more than 130 years.


Retail NZ is a modern organisation defined by our recent name change and rebranding in a rather bright chartreuse green colour! However, you may be surprised to learn that we can trace our roots back more than 130 years.

The first Retailers Association was established in Dunedin in 1884. The Otago Daily Times newspaper of the day reported that the Retailers Association came into being because many retailers were having trouble receiving payment for invoices and credit notes. The retailers felt they were victims of 'dishonest customers' whom they had trusted by extending credit. The customers instead of paying their bills were thought to be "squandering their money on the theatre, horse-racing and various other follies". The Dunedin Retailers Association was formed as a way for retailers to provide mutual protection for each other. Each member of the Association provided a list of all their undesirable customers. A 'blacklist' was formed, printed and circulated amongst the members who could deal appropriately with bad customers, by refusing both service and credit.

Following the success of the Dunedin Association, other associations sprung up in New Zealand towns and cities. Wellington formed their association in July 1897. It also primarily dealt with bad debts, but its responsibilities were expanded. A Dominion newspaper article of the day reported that it was involved in formulating a list of retail holidays, pricing, support and justice by petitioning parliament. Associations in Christchurch and other areas also formed around this time. Originally it comprised only those retailers selling clothing, textiles, and footwear, but as the Retailers Association's grew, so did its reach, strength and responsibilities.


Establishment of the New Zealand Retailers' Federation


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The New Zealand Retailers' Federation was set up in 1921. The Federation comprised of 15 nationwide district Associations, who all remained completely autonomous. The Federation was managed by a council appointed by the Associations. Six national trade groups, representing the various types of stores in the Federation, were established. They were subordinate to the council in matters of national policy, but autonomous in matters affecting their own trading sphere.

A national secretary and staff looked after general administration. Members were kept in touch with developments through a monthly journal, The Retailer of New Zealand - the equivalent of our online newsletter 'Talking Shop' today!


After World War II


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In the 1940s the Federation widened its representation. It included drapers, department stores, chain stores, speciality fashion houses, and retailers of men's and boy's wear, household appliances, footwear, crockery and household hardware, and furniture and furnishings.

By 1966 The Retailers Federation represented 2,900 retailers and an estimated 3,500 stores. The Federation’s glossy magazine "The Retailers Window" featured much industry news, promotions and advertisements - 4,000 copies were printed and distributed each month.

For many years the Federation, through its subsidiary organisation, the New Zealand College of Retailing, was very active in staff training. In the 1960's it extended its work to include retail-management training, particularly for smaller store owners.

Below is the Federation's mandate from 1966, which in essence still stands true today:

The Federation watches out for members' interests, disseminates useful information to retailers, fosters efficient retailing and service to consumers, encourages high ethical standards, and acts as a negotiator and authoritative link between the Government, State Departments, manufacturers, and wholesalers. The Federation also keeps a close watch on economic trends and advises members on matters governed by economic fluctuations and on Government policies and legislation. Proposed legislation is scrutinised and relevant retailers' views are submitted to the Government.


Some recent history of Retail NZ


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June 1987 - Final AGM of the NZ Retailers Federation - last President John Nelson (of James Smiths department store - Wellington).

July 1987 - Rebranded as 'Retail & Wholesale Merchants Assn'. Change was voted on and won. The desire was to include everyone in retail, distribution and wholesale. It would cover over 130,000 people in over 30,000 units. Alan Main became the first president. The magazine became 'The Merchant'. For a time 'Wholesale' dropped from name and known as Retail Merchants Association.

In 1989 the first Top Shop awards focusing on Retail Excellence were held. Top Shop has always been a highly anticipated event and the awards themselves are coveted by the industry. Much friendly competition takes place over the Top Shop Awards season!

In 2002 we were renamed as the New Zealand Retailers Association. By this time all district Associations had merged into one large nationwide group with regional representation.

In 2015 the New Zealand Retailers Association became Retail NZ and rebranded into the organisation you know today.

Retail NZ members range from smaller retailers located out of the hustle of major centres to some of NZ's largest businesses, from seasoned retailers to those just starting out, from retailers looking to expand to those finding the current environment tough going. Retail NZ have ridden through the highs and lows of the history of retailing in New Zealand. By its very nature retailing is challenging, trends have come and gone, competition has been fierce and there have been storms and natural disasters to contend with. Technology today is unprecedented but so too back in history were steam trains, radio and television in their day. All of these things have had a significant impact on retailers. Retail NZ look forward to being of service to New Zealand retailers for many years to come.


Sources: Papers Past