In 1963 Keith Holyoake was Prime Minister of New Zealand, John F Kennedy was assassinated, the Beatles released their first single and White Heather opened its doors in Taranaki. They’re still going strong, Peta Stavelli reports.
When Wendy and Geoff Button found an empty bottle of White Heather whisky among the rubble they were clearing to extend their fledgling caravan business (also called White Heather), they took it as a good omen — and they were right. The Gods were indeed smiling on the young couple, who are still going strong after 50 years.
White heather is a good luck symbol in Scotland. Wendy was given a sprig at her leaving do as the couple prepared to leave Scotland, where they lived for 18 months prior to immigrating to New Zealand from the UK.
When they arrived in New Zealand, caravanning was in in its infancy. The couple wanted to set up a business together and, after seeing a gap in the market, bought a Starliner caravan to rent. Business was so brisk they were soon looking around for others to rent. Then began the demand from customers who were looking for vehicles to buy.
Button’s Caravans didn’t really have the ring to it that they sought from their business name. They searched around for a name which would be memorable and lasting — even if the business changed hands. White Heather was born in Hawera and continues next door in Normanby.
So far there has been no change of hands. White Heather remains in the same ownership and the couple’s son, Ross, who has been with the business all his working life and hopes to take it over when Geoff and Wendy retire.
They bought the current site on the edge of Hawera just three years into their business operations. It was a leap of faith that has long defied the crowings of doubt from everyone who said they’d be better off in the township. But Wendy and Geoff thought the site on SH3 gave them perfect exposure. They’ve since bought two neighbouring houses and a dairy to extend their business, which now includes the original sales yard, into a park-like yard comprising workshops, grooming bay, shop, sales, and offices.
White Heather sells both new and used caravans. It is an agent for Jayco and also sells New Zealand-made trailers. Its camping division stocks camping and tramping equipment, including the trusted brand, Coleman. Tents and awnings can be seen erected as part of a year-round expo. It also manufactures and repairs awnings and has an extensive mail order business for camping equipment and caravan accessories.
“We have tried to cover every aspect of camping and caravanning, so people can come along and get everything they need in the one place. We now also sell a lot of parts and equipment online,” says Wendy.
Meanwhile, Geoff still tinkers with inventions to make camping and tenting easier. In his workshop he has the original prototypes of new inventions, like extendable tent poles. Many of his inventions were patented and have gone on to revolutionise the industry. Sadly, though patented, canny imitators circumvented the patents by altering minor details. Geoff also imports late-model, low-mileage pristine cars for sale.
Wendy laughs when she says, “Only the very best will do for him! He has a showroom full of them.”
Over the years they have weathered many storms, like the introduction of the caravan tax and the introduction of GST, but the couple has always been committed to adjusting to the vagaries of the economic climate.
Reflecting on the longevity of their business, Wendy says, “We would like to acknowledge the loyalty of our staff, two of whom have been with us over 25 years! They are an invaluable part of our thriving business.”
Customers also come in for special praise. “We recognise, too, that our customers are our lifeblood, so the utmost in service both before and after sale is a priority.”
Wendy and Geoff continue to look for gaps in the market and move into high gear to fill them, with seemingly unflaffing energy, despite the fact the couple is well beyond retirement age.
As always, they look to the future with a watchful eye.
Courtesy of Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations magazine .