Sir Stephen Tindall could not help himself, calling into the Red Shed at Rolleston.
The founder of The Warehouse, though he is taking a year out of his business, could not drive past.
He calls it part of the culture, the boss dropping in for a chat.
And he says “culture eats strategy for breakfast” any day.
Sir Stephen was in Ashburton to talk to the annual celebration of the Advance Ashburton Community Foundation, considered one of the top three such foundations in New Zealand.
He was here 14 years ago when it was set up and rates it one of the best in New Zealand.
But before he stepped on to the stage at the Ashburton Trust Event Centre to talk about business, philanthropy and his role in preparing Team New Zealand to defend the America’s Cup, he opened up about big business and the rise of offshore retail giants like Amazon.
Sir Stephen said the United States and the United Kingdom were good benchmarks for New Zealand, and often four to five years ahead in trends.
There, there had been a massive decline in bricks and mortar retailing; whole malls were going out of business.
He said there would always be a place for shops, but they had to be focused on service – and the customer.
Online retailing accounted for around nine per cent of sales here – and that would rise – but he doubted it would get to the 30 per cent seen now in the United Kingdom.
For The Warehouse, that meant consolidation.
Already, some Warehouse Stationery stores had been put into Red Sheds, and also some Noel Leeming stores.
For the Warehouse, it also meant fewer lines and more space.
Sir Stephen said service was key – and cited a clothing store used by his wife Margaret.
He said Amazon was already using robots to load stock; some accounting and law would be done automatically, replacing in some instances clerks.
But he still had faith that automation would not kill jobs completely “but we have to adapt”.
He said there would be massive change in the next decade, citing the upheaval now in the media.
Sir Stephen said schools/learning had to change, and learning by rote “is not what you need any more”.
He said the sad thing about online giants was that profits went offshore, as had happened in banking.
“If people buy offshore we could see a bit of a decimation; we will have to see adaption.”
He said companies like The Warehouse were “putting it back” for New Zealand.
Also “putting it back” were foundations like Advance Ashburton, which kept growing, investing donated money for the future benefit of the area.
The good thing for donors, he said, was that they could direct their money to a particular field of interest, and the principal kept on working to provide income – interest – for the future.