When Covid-19 forced Placemakers Oamaru joint venture operator Geoff Brown to do a bit of “soul-searching”, he came to a conclusion – more than three decades was enough.
Mr Brown plans to step down in September after 32 years’ involvement with the company, the last 19 of which have been spent heading the Oamaru site.
Born and bred in Oamaru, Mr Brown was educated at St Kevin’s College before a brief stint at university, which eventually led him on a path to the construction industry.
“It’s not like I had this huge desire to be an engineer or anything. And it was quite hard to get into, so I just went and had a couple of enjoyable years at varsity. I think these days .. you’ve got to be more dedicated and focused. I sort of regretted that a little bit afterwards.”
It was during university holidays he started working on a construction site in Twizel.
He loved it so much he dropped out of university and stayed for another four years, then did some forestry contract work before returning to Oamaru.
Mr Brown worked for an Oamaru-based transport operator for a couple of years before moving with a friend to Australia where he worked for four years.
When he returned to Oamaru he met his future wife, before uprooting once again and heading for Christchurch, again for work.
When his mother died in 1988, he knew it was time to come back.
Then a job at Placemakers came along.
“I did some night school stuff, accounting and economics, and they were looking for a credit manager, so I took that on.
“I was reasonably young, so of course I’m dealing with all these older builders that have been building for years and there’s this new young whippersnapper talking to them about their finances.
“You learn very quickly how to be diplomatic and how to deal with customers.”
Mr Brown was made branch accountant in the early 1990s when Placemakers was owned by Fletchers and was essentially an outlet for its building products.
“It probably wasn’t hugely successful. They weren’t too focused on it, it was just a small part of the company.”
When Fletchers brought in a joint-venture operation system ownership model keen to become involved and, in the mid-1990s, linked up with Rick Wilson and Bill Taylor.
The trio ran the business until 1997, when Mr Wilson moved to Christchurch and Mr Taylor died.
Mr Brown carried on and entered his own joint -venture agreement in 2001 after managing the store for three years under Fletchers.
“It was really tough times,” he recalled.
“It was all about just keeping the business going and keeping a little bit of a profit .. we are governed by the local economy a little bit.”
He said his decision to walk away was not easy, but he felt the time was right, and he had achieved his major goal – a complete store rebuild completed in 2018.
“I love the place. I love the brand and the people that work for me.
“After 30-odd years you’re probably getting a little bit stale. I guess I was starting to feel like that a little bit three or four years ago, but I always wanted to build a new branch on this site. It really reinvigorated me to get it done.
“I was due to roll over my contract in another year, but I guess with all this Covid thing and the potential for another couple of years of tough times I thought enough to battle through it again?’
“I’ve been through it before. From Fletchers’ point of view, they need a partner who is young and enthusiastic, and has drive. At 63, I don’t know if I’ve got that time.
“We have always tried to do a lot and give back. That’s what you have got to do in a small town. You can’t sit back and expect people to support you if you are not prepared to do it back.”
Placemakers Oamaru will become part of a hub, together with PlaceMakers Timaru and Twizel, which he said would allow staff to share resources to benefit customers.
Mr Brown plans to pick up some part-time work to keep himself occupied, visit family in Australia and play more golf, as well as tending to his lifestyle block near Weston.