Farmers Trading Company
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|Founded||1909; 107 years ago|
|Headquarters||Flat Bush, Auckland, New Zealand|
Number of locations
|Owner||Anne Norman and Family|
|Parent||James Pascoe Ltd|
The Farmers Trading Company Ltd (branded as Farmers) is a New Zealand mid-market department store chain. Based in Flat Bush, Auckland, Farmers operates 56 stores across New Zealand, specialising in family fashion, beauty, homewares, furniture, electronics and large appliances/whiteware.
The company was founded by Robert Laidlaw in 1909 as 'Laidlaw Leeds' and sold agricultural related goods through mail order catalogues, following a successful American model. In 1918 Laidlaw Leeds merged with The Farmers Union Trading Company, which was then renamed The Farmers Trading Company. The company expanded into retail and adopted the department store model.
The centre of operations was a high rise warehouse and office complex in Auckland's Hobson Street. In 1920 a retail space was opened to the public in the building. In the 1930s a large wing was built onto the older 1914 building which included the impressive Harbour View Tea Rooms. The architect involved, R. A. Lippencott, also gave the enlarged building a new facade in the new modern Art-Deco style. Hobson Street was not a very good position for a department store, so copying similar arrangement by stores in American cities, Laidlaw arranged for a free bus to shuttle people from Queen Street to the Hobson Street store. This was later augmented by a free tram to Karangahape Road.
Over successive years the adjacent sites were covered with warehouses and administration blocks for the growing business. Laidlaw, a teetotaler, made a point of buying the pub directly next door, The Grosvenor, and turning it into offices. As well as its roof top playground and tearooms Farmer was also noted for its high-rise parking building connected to the shop by an elevated sky way. Like many buildings from the 1920s onwards it had electric lifts which multiplied in number as the building grew in size. The store also boasted the first escalators in Auckland which were opened in 1955 by the Mayor of Auckland, Mr J H Luxford and Mrs Luxford. The Mayor cut the ribbon and the official party travelled up the escalators followed by a crowd of curious Aucklanders, along with the store's mascot Hector the parrot. The eight banks of escalators were the largest installation in the Southern Hemisphere. (New Zealand Film Archive ref F49681)[specify]
After closing in 1991, the large downtown store stood empty for several years before it was converted into an upscale hotel which opened in 1998. Currently, most Farmers stores are anchor stores in shopping malls, with their larger stores in the suburbs.
The company grew from one store during the 1910s to 56 by 1990 through opportunism and take-overs. Farmers and the DEKA discount merchandise chain were joined as Farmers Deka Ltd from 1992. The DEKA chain closed in July 2001 after financial difficulty in competing with The Warehouse discount stores. Farmers Deka Ltd was then renamed Farmers Holdings Ltd.
Farmers has traditionally been a middle market retailer, on par with Sears or J C Penney in the United States. With the recent development of The Warehouse (a Walmart type store), Farmers made a decision to become a far more fashionable shopping destination, ranging an increasing amount of branded product. Where Farmers once would have faced competition from The Warehouse (nationwide) and various small chain stores, they've established themselves well apart from this discount retailer. Farmers still face competition from remaining department stores Smith & Caughey's, Ballantynes, and H & J Smith's, none of which are nationwide.
Farmers closed its Queen Street store in rented premises in 2014. It has since been announced the building located on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets and occupied by the Whitcoulls Stationer would be renovated as a three level Farmer's Department store. It is also owned by the James Pascoe Group and was formerly the John Courts Department Store building. John Courts Department Store was formerly a Farmers Trading Company competitor until its demise. Ironically this will reunite Farmers with the former Farmer's Santa which was hung on the Farmers Hobson Street store from 1960 until the early 1990s.
Farmers departments include Womenswear, Beauty, including Serviced Cosmetics, Fine Fragrance, Health & Beauty and SPECIALeyes; Lingerie, including Sleepwear; Menswear including Mercery; Accessories, Footwear, and Luggage; Home, including Kitchen, Table Top, Giftware and Laundry; Manchester including Bathroom; Small Appliances; Children's including Childrenswear, Nursery, and Toys; Furniture; with Electronics and Large Appliances/Whiteware in flagship stores such as Albany and St Lukes. Christmas Shop and Confectionery appear October–December. Fellow James Pascoe Group companies Goldmark (previously fellow JPG brand Prouds) and Stevens also have 'Store-within-a-store outlets within selected Farmers stores.
Since the 2003 purchase by the James Pascoe Group, the chain has focussed on the lucrative fashion apparel and beauty categories. Unprofitable and loss-making departments such as hardware and computers were discontinued.
Farmers Holdings Ltd is privately owned by the James Pascoe Group, in turn owned by Anne Norman and family. James Pascoe Ltd and Fisher & Paykel Finance bought Farmers on 6 November 2003 from Foodlands Associates for NZ$311m. The business was split into the retail and finance arms with James Pascoe holding the retail arm and Fisher & Paykel Finance the finance arm which includes the Farmers Finance Card.
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