Pat Menzies breathed life into the once orthodox and unoriginal footwear industry in New Zealand. Now, fifty years after his namesake company, Pat Menzies, first opened their doors, the entrepreneur reflects on his time in the industry and how it has transformed before his very eyes.
Menzies created a unique niche in an otherwise conservative market and appealed to the rebellious youth of the 1970s. He took risks by investing in designers whose collections were out of the box. “It was pretty conservative when I started, and I was the youngest guy in town. I was a bit of a rebel, but when I started bringing in all this wild footwear it really paid off,” said Menzie. Kiwis were ready for something new, and Menzies jumped on the call of New Zealand youth for a footwear retailer which encapsulated their fun-loving attitudes. His stock ranged from platforms to Jodphur boots, with a western theme that ran strongly through the company. But the brand found their big break when Menzies invested in what would become some of New Zealand’s most popular footwear houses. The footwear giant was responsible for bringing Chuck Taylors and Dr Martens into New Zealand, brands that have expanded exponentially throughout the country in the last half a century.
The footwear giant has put his success down to a willingness to branch out, to not be afraid of bizarre or exotic designs. “Some of the stuff we used to sell I would just have to scratch my head at. Then some other designs I thought would sell out, just didn’t work out, you’d just have to dig a hole and bury them.” A willingness to adapt to your consumers wants, and an understanding that with successes come failures was crucial for the company. “The best advice I got was from my parents. And that was to put something away for a rainy day, and that’s where a lot of people got in trouble,” he added. The entrepreneur watched overconfidence take down a number over his competitors, who did not account for the ups and downs of the fashion industry.
But as the footwear industry has grown, New Zealand has seen an astronomical increase in wholesalers and imports, while home-grown businesses and manufacturers have almost gone extinct. Menzies spoke of his disappointment with the direction of the industry, and his concerns for future New Zealand retailers who are looking for a way to make their business stand out in a flooded market. “Wholesalers came and opened up shop right on my doorstep. It was the most disappointing thing in my life, after being so loyal to them to have their shops try and push me out. I was their biggest account,” explained Menzie. “But that’s life I suppose, that’s what happens these days. Corporates are the powerhouses.”
Competition has become fierce, and according to Menzie, smaller retailers are simply not given the time of day. “It’s a different world out there in retail now. A lot tougher, more competition. The big trend now is to be vertical: wholesale to retail. And people like me are becoming dinosaurs.”
These changes have been detrimental to small retailers, but he believes the industry as a whole is suffering. “You don’t get that personal touch anymore. My shop was very underground, it had an atmosphere and a nice laid-back attitude, whereas some places are just very sterile.” For Menzie, creating a business that was not only profitable but reflected his values was crucial. He put much of the success of his company down to the way he treated those who worked with him, from his wholesalers to his staff to his loyal customers. “If you respect your staff and look after them, then they will work for you and work well. They were an essential part of the success of the business.”
Menzies has retired but his business continues to thrive, despite uncertainty in the industry. “I had the opportunity to get out, and you don’t get that much these days. But I’ve still got a passion for shoes, believe it or not. It’s in my blood. I’m a shoe-acholic.” For retailers looking for advice, Menzies spoke honestly about the future of the industry and issued a somewhat ominous warning. “It’s bloody hard, and I know it’s hard. Competition is hard. I really don’t know what advice I could give. The market has changed. All I can say is good luck and hang in there if you can.”