150th Anniversary for Otago Furniture!
By Otago Daily Times | Posted: Monday December 3, 2018
Congratulations to the Otago Furniture team who have hit a huge milestone of 150 years running!
Otago Furniture has joined an elite club of Dunedin businesses that have survived in the city for 150 years.
Significantly, the university remains an important customer of Otago Furniture. That relationship, the long term association they have with Ryman Healthcare, and other commercial work, account for a large part of the company’s output.
But they also manufacture their own ranges of furniture for retail, with Harvey Norman being an important outlet.
It’s an impressive mix for a unique company that often flies beneath the radar, even in the city it has called home for 150 years now. Manager Roye Haugh is a fourth generation descendant of the company’s founder: Francis Butterfield. Fifth, and now even sixth, generations of the family are also involved.
Haugh says there is a sense of pride and wonderment in reaching the company’s sesquicentennial.
But while it’s important to recognise the anniversary, the focus remains on Otago Furniture’s future. ‘‘It’s good to get here,’’ Haugh says. ‘‘It’s a good solid base to build on, but you can’t just stay in the past. You’ve got to look to the future. Times are changing pretty rapidly, and we have to be
prepared to make that change on top of the firm base that’s there already.’’
Otago Furniture employs 28 staff in its factory, across woodworking, upholstery, polishing, design, sales, and management.
The company has been in it’s Teviot St premises since the mid1980s—not long after the name was changed from the original Otago Chair Company. Haugh’s earliest memories of the previous factory, which covered over an acre of land where the Centre City supermarket between Great King and Cumberland Sts is now, are that ‘‘It was a rabbit warren. All the passages and dark stairways, and barrows to ride on and trolleys to scoot down the ramps on —it was a magic playground when I was a kid.’’
In 1995 Haugh began working for Otago Furniture, at a time of both political and economic change, and when the nature of the company had recently changed. Deregulation by successive Labour and National governments in the 1980s and 1990s put pressure on the manufacturing sector. The company had recently exited retail under the Butterfields name to concentrate on its manufacturing.
‘‘The factory was in a position where it had to stand on its own two feet,’’ Haugh says. ‘‘It couldn’t
automatically sell to the Butterfields’ shops. There was a lot of learning our way around the commercial sales area and developing new networks. It was moving more upmarket from what we’d had.’’
After her arrival, and that of retail sales manager David Smythe not long after, that shift upmarket continued. With cheaper imported furniture available, the opposite direction was the obvious path. But while the nature of the industry, and customer demands, continually change, the essence of what Otago Furniture does remains remarkably similar to what they’ve done since 1868.
‘‘It’s still the same—taking a raw piece of timber and making something useful for the household,’’ Haugh observes. ‘‘Essentially you’re starting with the same material. But the process of getting from the raw timber to the end product is different.’’ In its 150th year, Otago Furniture
relies on an interesting combination of traditional craftsmanship and high tech processes. They also offer a fairly unique mix of woodworking, polishing and upholstery.
‘‘Flexibility is key,’’ Smythe says. ‘‘We cover a wide range of products we’re making, from upholstery to solid timber to manmade board, giving us the ability to be flexible and to respond to customer demands. That’s key to success in a small market like New Zealand.’’
The mix of products that Otago Furniture is able to manufacture enables them to do entire it outs. This means they can serve as a onestop shop for commercial clients, which is unusual for a furniture company.
‘‘The market requires that we have flexibility,’’ commercial manager Gary Didham says. While it has been discussed over the years, moving the company away from Dunedin has never been a serious option. Although it’s a tradeoff, the benefits of remaining in the city have always been obvious. ‘‘It’s been a nice place to work in, a goodsize town,’’ Haugh says. ‘‘There’s no intense rivalry, more cooperation, which is good.’’
A dinner at the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday night for current and some former staff, and others who have been associated with the company, was the main celebration for the 150th anniversary. But Haugh says that having marked the occasion, it is now back to ‘‘business as usual’’ for Otago Furniture.
Article thanks to the Otago Daily Times.