Hard time for focused small firm
Cotters Electrical managing director Allister Cotter says this is the toughest trading period the family business has operated in since the Great Depression.
The Christchurch appliance business was founded in 1919 by his Irish-born grandfather Christopher Cotter, who worked his passage to New Zealand as a ship's engineer in 1910. After several years in Reefton working as an electrician for Turnbull and Jones, he moved to Christchurch and started Cotters Electrical in the garage of his Ferry Rd property in 1919.
The business later moved to 158 High St, which became known as the Cotters Building.
In the 1960s the business did a lot of electrical contracting, wiring homes, but that changed in the early 70s to a focus on commercial cleaning appliances.
The business passed to his son Jim Cotter, and now, grandson Allister.
In April 2009 it moved to Tuam St for better access for its service vans and better parking for customers.
Now trading conditions are the most difficult since the Great Depression - except perhaps during the war - when the business ended up selling cosmetics because it didn't have any electrical goods to sell, he said.
General business conditions in New Zealand, coupled with the earthquakes here in Christchurch, made for a very tough market, Cotter said.
A lot of people were still hesitant to come into town.
The February 2012 quake left Cotters' workshop a foot and a half deep in liquefaction. The building itself held up well but would require structural repair work. He was waiting for engineering reports on the building.
Cotters' premises were inside the cordoned-off central city red zone for eight weeks after the February earthquake, but he had business interruption insurance in place with Vero.
The business serves a mix of domestic and commercial customers and its commercial customers had been hit particularly hard, with Cotters in turn losing business.
A lot of commercial cleaning companies had relied on one big building in the city for most of their work, and the earthquake had meant they lost their entire contract, and for some their entire stock of cleaning equipment as well.
Finding new contracts was not easy because when former inner city businesses moved into new premises after the quake, often the building they moved into already had another cleaning company contracted to service that building, and the first cleaning company lost out.
Cotters was trading at about 15 to 20 per cent below where it had been before the earthquakes. The business had cut costs to keep going and two staff who had left had not been replaced.
However, there were now signs of new businesses emerging and last month some companies bought equipment for the first time in 18 months, Cotter said. More customers were returning to the inner city.
Cotters competed against large companies like Harvey Norman by focussing on the niche market of selling and servicing cleaning equipment and servicing upmarket brand small appliances and, despite being a small business, it was still able to be competitive on price.
"If you do well enough you can still move enough numbers so you get good deals from suppliers."
Recover Canterbury was providing business support and would help Cotters with its website development and mentoring.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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