Rick Selfe, in conjunction with wife Jan and sons Blair, Brad and Leighton, runs one of the most successful family businesses in town. Oamaru Honda, which today includes a Stihl shop, opened in 1972, and this year marks 45 years in the motorcycle and farm bike sales and service industry. Oamaru Mail reporter Daniel Birchfield catches up with Rick to find out more about his life and career.
Q: Are you from Oamaru originally?
I’m born and bred in Oamaru. I went to South School (now Fenwick School) and then on to Waitaki Boys’. School was not me, so the less said the better. When I left school at the end of the fifth form, I had three options for three apprenticeships. I wanted to be a car mechanic, but my dad had two phone calls from friends of his, electricians and builders, that wanted to offer me a job. That’s what it was like in 1965 – that’s changed a bit.
Q: What was your childhood like?
Very good. We grew up in Avon St. There was five in the family – two girls and three boys – and we were all very close.
Q: What was it that drew you to motorcycles?
I have a brother and a brother-in-law who are into racing, so that drew me towards it, and I thought bikes would be cheaper. I think that’s what sort of started it. I think I just grew into it over a period of time . . . being in awe of what they were doing. I got given a book on the Isle of Man races which I’ve still got – I would have been 10 or 12, I suppose. I read it and looked at those pictures and I suppose if there was a defining moment, that would have been it.
Q: How did you get involved in the industry to start with?
I couldn’t get a motorcycle apprenticeship in town, so I ended up with a car apprenticeship. I actually started at a farm machinery repair business in town. I worked there for three years, but they closed down and made me redundant. I ended up at the local Ford garage and finished off my apprenticeship there. Then I went to Timaru – a guy had opened a lawnmower and chainsaw shop so away I went up there. Later, an opportunity arose back in town and I ended up being a business partner with a guy and we opened up here on April 1, 1972. That lasted about 14, 15 or 16 months and we bought his share out and it became our own, Jan’s and mine.
Q: What can you tell me about your boys and your time working with them?
Blair joined from school. He did his apprenticeship with bike repairs and he spent five years in Europe in the late ’90s, mechanicking for Josh Coppins. He learned heaps, he really did. Brad had a few jobs .. then when Blair was away, the pressure came on and he’d had a bad day one day and I said, “Right, you can start next week,” and he’s been with us ever since. He’s now looking after the Stihl shop side of things. Leighton also had a few jobs and ended up in Australia before he came back. He’s the gift-of-the-gab salesman. Working with them has been, for me, absolutely humbling and brilliant. I think if I’d had a goal in life, that would have been it. The way it’s happened, it’s absolutely brilliant. They all have their strengths and they all respect each other. They’re the ones who in the last 10 years have taken our business another 10 steps up the ladder.
Q: What’s behind the success of the business?
I was once asked at a conference what the secrets were, or so-called secrets. I think a lot of my life has been modelled on sayings that my dear mum used to say and one of those things was, “If you’ve got to tell lies, you’ve got to have a good memory”. And “Treat people the way you want to be treated”. Those very basic sayings and lots of little bits and pieces you pick up in life are what you model yourself on.
Q: How has the business changed over the years?
The business would not be where it is today without farm bikes. Sadly, the whole motorcycle industry in New Zealand wouldn’t be where it is without farm bikes. The road bike industry is hard, and the motocross market. It’s not a busy market. In the ’70s, a lot of farmers were buying bikes. Instead of taking all day to get around their sheep, they could take an hour and get on with doing other things instead of spending all day doing it. Farm bikes evolved from that.
Q: What are your thoughts on the North Oamaru Business Park?
We looked at that very closely. I think that’s great. The problem for us is that it appears there’s not too much retail going on out there and that’s what we need. I think if the likes of the big box stores like Bunnings or Mitre 10 Mega opened up out there, that’s when we would think very seriously about one day setting up out there.
Q: What are your impressions of Oamaru today?
I’m absolutely blown away with Oamaru. Over the last 10 or 20 years, look how far we’ve come. What the penguins have done for the town, what Steampunk’s done for the town – I’m really blown away. The vibe in the town wasn’t there years ago. It’s absolutely brilliant, that’s for sure.
Q: What are your hobbies outside of work?
Well, I’m learning to play the guitar and that’s been a lot of fun. Otherwise, and I know this sounds a bit sad, I like playing around with motorcycles and building them. That’s what I love doing.