These Kiwi footwear businesses have been in the family for decades

Michelle Menzies outside the Pat Menzies store in Auckland's historic St Kevin's Arcade.

Michelle Menzies outside the Pat Menzies store in Auckland's historic St Kevin's Arcade.

Pat Menzies was 19 when he got a job at Spencer Wade shoe store in the then brand new Canterbury Arcade on Auckland's Queen Street.

Just a few years later, in the early 1970s, Wade offered his employee the opportunity to take over the business, and in 1975 the shoe shop was reopened as Pat Menzies Shoes for Men.

The 'for Men' part got dropped not long after, when he made the decision to bring in unisex shoe styles - this was the 'swinging seventies' after all.

The young entrepreneur had an eye on what was happening overseas in the fashion industry, and it wasn't long before Pat Menzies became New Zealand's first stockist of Dr Martens.

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The Robertson family have been in the footwear business for 70 years with Mervyn Adams, Kumfs and most recently Ziera.

The Robertson family have been in the footwear business for 70 years with Mervyn Adams, Kumfs and most recently Ziera.

Fast forward 40 years and I'm speaking to his daughter Michelle from the second Pat Menzies store, which she and her dad opened last year in another historic Auckland arcade - St Kevin's - on Karangahape Road.

"I guess that was his first adventurous move," she says of the decision to stock the British shoe brand - which had cult status even then.

"Back then, to import them you had to have a license, and it cost money, but he got that happening, approaching Dr Martens in England himself, and he was actually the first person to bring it to New Zealand."

"And then as Dr Martens blew up he started bringing in these platforms and quite outrageous styles, that no one else here would go near."

"Dad's always been a great buyer, in terms of brands he brought on, and seeing trends coming and going."

Though the Queen Street store was a hangout for her and her brother during school holidays, Michelle came on board in an official capacity just a few years back, but says Pat Menzies has always been very much a family business.
"My dad's partner - also called Michelle - worked on the shop floor for years and then my half brother has worked there from the time he was 13 until he was 21."
David Robertson helping Helen Clark with some new shoes.

David Robertson helping Helen Clark with some new shoes.

"I have an advertising background, but when I started having kids and while they were still really young I felt like I needed to get my head into something. I saw what was happening with online, websites and social media and said to dad, 'If you don't jump in now you're going to miss the boat."

"And after a while when he could see that it was all working really well, I think he just relaxed a bit more and started seeing that we could work together really well.

"He's worked on shop floor right from when he was 19, and he's nearly 70 now, and he'll still do the odd day, if we need him to come in - it's pretty cool, people come in and they're like, 'Oh, is that Pat?!"

Shane Anselmi in one of the family's Mi Piaci stores.
Lawrence Smith

Shane Anselmi in one of the family's Mi Piaci stores.

"He's definitely still across what we're doing, he's just more on strategic stuff."

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And while Michelle's own children, at 4 and 5, are far too young to be thinking business, they're already kitted out in shoes from the store.

'They do wear Dr Martens, they wear all the brands - Mila my daughter wore little gold Docs to school every day in winter, they were calling her the girl with the golden shoes!"

Another shoe business with a firm family history is Ziera, who last year celebrated 70 years of trade.

"Being a family business I think we're all somewhat involved since birth," jokes managing director Andrew Robertson, whose grandfather David founded the company with his brother-in-law Mervyn Adams in 1946.

"They saw that ill-fitting and uncomfortable footwear damaged feet and made life a misery," says Andrew.

"Their dream was to improve the foot health and happiness of women in New Zealand."

Back then the company was called Mervyn Adams Arch Supporting, and such was the success of the range that in 1950 they opened their first shop in Hamilton specialising in shoes that were both comfortable and stylish.

In 1966, they took a step into manufacturing - taking on the design and production of the women's shoe brand that would later be known as Kumfs, and in 2010 rebranded to Ziera.

Andrew joined in 1992; his father John, Ziera's sales director, came on board in 1966.

"I think we both joined the company as a natural progression of wanting to continue the story of the business," says Andrew.

"We've continued my grandfather's dream with Ziera by creating extremely comfortable, good-looking footwear. We really want women to feel unstoppable and empowered to live their lives the way they want to."

Andrew says family businesses have "a unique advantage of providing leadership from a stable group that lasts decades."

"By having consistent guidance we foster a sense of 'family' with all of our team. We've been so lucky to have so many longstanding people on our team, and their experience and loyalty are a real benefit to the business."

While many Kiwis will be familiar with footwear company Overland - who recently rebranded to Merchant 1948 - they may not know that the nationwide retail chain has been in one family since it was founded by Guglielmo Anselmi, known as Bill, in the late 1940s.

Newly arrived in New Zealand, Anselmi saw the opportunity to introduce his native Italian craftsmanship to a burgeoning young country, founding King Country Shoes with three stores in 1948.

Bill's son Tony left school at 16 to work full-time in the family trade, by 18 had taken on a managerial role in the business. Not long after he launched a series of his own stores, named Shane's Shoe Town (for his son Shane), into Auckland and Hamilton.

Having first studied agriculture and trying his own hand in the shoe trade, at 26 Shane was asked by his dad to help him with the family business, and in 1990 Shane ditched the discount Shoe Town model and brought a more bespoke, personalised retail concept into play, opening the first new store (which they still own) in Auckland's 277 shopping centre.

In 2002, he added another new brand, Mi Piaci, to the mix, targeting the top end of the footwear market.

There are currently more than 30 Merchant 1948 and 13 Mi Piaci stores around New Zealand, and the family tradition has continued, with all of Shane's three children, sons Oscar and William and daughter Bella involved in variety of ways.

 - Stuff

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