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Glad to be back . . . The Warehouse Oamaru store manager Nigel McCleery loves living in Oamaru. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

A man who set up The Warehouse in Oamaru more than two decades ago is now the store manager. Reporter Sally Brooker speaks to Nigel McCleery.

Q When did you become involved with The Warehouse?
I started out as a schoolboy with The Warehouse in Invercargill. I worked there part-time while I was at university, studying for a Bachelor of Commerce. I had great plans of being an accountant. My first boss, who I still look up to – he was a great mentor – offered me management training. I caught the retail bug. And it is a bug. Every day is different – you’re always talking to a lot of people. I finished my degree, because I don’t like to leave things unfinished, and my first job was with The Warehouse. I joined the store development team in 1994 and we built the first Warehouse in Timaru. It was very exciting. The next one was here in Oamaru.

Q When was that?
It was 1995. It was a great time. I lived in a house just behind the site.

Q Is your family here with you this time?
There’s just me in Oamaru at the moment. My family’s in Dunedin, so there’s a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing. I’ve got children doing NCEA. One thing about The Warehouse is that it’s family first. I’ve got staff members who have had surgery and are recuperating; they’re paid during that time.

Q How did the recent clean-up at the Waitaki Community Gardens go?
It was really awesome. We’ve also donated a couple of things to Fire and Steam. We’ve got six school kids starting a work programme with us. They might see retail as a career. They come here one day a week. I’ve done this in every store I’ve been in. They come to understand the logistics – the shop doesn’t fill itself!

Q How hard is it to compete with online shopping?
Online will never replace shops. People like to see things for themselves and try things on. And online allows us to offer much more stock than we can carry here in the store. It’s a matter of how we can combine both. It’s exciting.

Q If you were prime minister for a day, what would you do?
I’d incentivise people to move to the regions. But I’d cap it.

Q Who would you invite to dinner?
Nelson Mandela – he has the most integrity. I’m a big cricket man, so I’d invite my man Brendon McCullum. And Colin Meads – I met him on a few occasions; he was the epitome of a great New Zealander.