Barry Muir - A life in retail

Barry Muir has had recycled rimu from Tauranga’s old police building and hospital maternity ward made into new furniture.

“One lady told me she’d given birth to six children in the maternity ward, and wanted a piece of this furniture,” he say. “Another came in and said ‘I want a certificate to be sure it’s authentic’.

“We were able to do that, as her father was head of police here years ago.

“It’s good for people to know it doesn’t get burned. It’s part of Tauranga.”

Made to measure, there are rimu tables, chairs and a sideboard on display at Barry’s Furniture Gallery at the Mount.

The shop, on Maunganui Road, has an  extensive range.

In the bedding department, one corner features a wall display of photographs, capturing some family moments from the past.

Bedding expert Bill Strang has been working for Barry for 30 years and has a photo of his grandfather’s business - Strang’s Furniture Factory - in Invercargill on display.

The factory is no longer there.

There are also photos of Barry’s son in a speedway car, and Bill’s father Archie Strang with George Nepia. Archie and George played in the same All Blacks team - Archie being the first All Blacks captain to win the Bledisloe Cup, in 1931.

The photo’s frame comes from a totara fence batten from the old family farm.

Upstairs, Barry has more albums and photos of staff members covering more than 40 years.

When his parents arrived in Tauranga in 1948, they were unable to find a state house, so his father built their home in Greerton.

“I went to the Boys’ College, and for an after-school and holiday job I worked for Greerton Furnishing,” says Barry. “The original owners were John and George Sherwin and Ray Stratford.

“Just before I was due to go into the fourth form, Ray said to me ‘I want to teach you the retail trade’. I said ‘Ray, I’m not leaving school until I’ve made the first 15. And he said to me ‘Barry, that’s good, but I’ll teach you more than you’ll ever learn at school’. That’s a promise he kept.

“I went to Mr Nicholson, the headmaster, and he told me to take the opportunity. I started at Greerton Furnishing in 1955.

“Ray said to me ‘I want you to remember Aloysius Chumley’s Chipwhistle. That stands for Ask, Choose and Concentrate’. And that’s how I was taught to be a salesman.

“You ask, you choose and you concentrate on what that person may be interested in.

“Ray taught me that when it comes to the closing of the sale, if the customer is looking at a lounge suite, he would say to them ‘would you like it in green?’ and then shut up.

“The next person to talk has got to be the customer. They will say ‘no, I don’t want it in green’ and then you’re straight in because you know they’re ready to buy.”

Barry won a one-year scholarship to David Jones in Sydney.

“I was what they called a senior executive trainee,” he explains. “I had to wear a suit after 10am. I had a little white tin carnation and we were called the tin gods, because we could sign credits and sign overtime. I trained in all of their different departments.

“I remembered going down to the wharf to the goods inwards area. My boss put some money in my pocket, and told me at lunchtime, when the wharfies come in to the pub, go over and shout them. We get our gear quicker and we get it all in one piece.”

Greerton Furnishing grew, and Barry remembers when it turned over $1 million dollars one year, between April and November.

Eventually it was turning over that amount  per month.

“That really started because Tauranga, Oropi and Pyes Pa were being split up into kiwifruit blocks,” he says. “Each block had to have a house built. Originally, about 20 metres of carpet would do an average lounge, three bedrooms and a hallway.

“But the house sizes grew, with the 20m carpet only doing the lounge, dining and family room.

“And there wasn’t one television set, but two per house.”

Furniture fairs, waiting lists for automatic washing machines, the Phillips K9 colour television sets – it was a busy time.

Barry brought back new ideas, such as  mobile showrooms, from his annual trips to Australia and America, and introduced them here, extending the reach of the business into the Waikato.

Ray sent him to summer school to learn advertising and marketing. The company continued to grow until there were 110 staff members, including 25 in the sewing room, and by that time turnover was $1 million per month.

After the original owners died, Greerton Furnishing was eventually sold to Smith City Group, then Forlongs, and Barry, Bill Hislop and Eric Upton set up a new business on Newton Street.

Unable to retail from the building due to council restrictions, Furniture Save moved to Maunganui Road, changing its name to Furniture Gallery.

Sean Reed, who has worked at Furniture Gallery for nearly a decade, has travelled with Barry to China on buying trips and works in sales.

“You learn a lot from these guys,” he says.

“Not just the trade, but more about personality and the way to do business. You get a lot of generic salespeople that are only after one thing, but this place is more family-oriented.”