A friend told Ron Tombs that he should check out a shop in Blockhouse Bay which had been vacant for 18 months. It was good advice and Ron, whose business was on a monthly lease in Birkenhead, soon made the move to Blockhouse Bay.
That was twenty-seven years ago, and LARS Mart has been a popular icon in Blockhouse Bay ever since. Now it’s time for a change of pace for Ron, and an upcoming lease renewal has made ‘retirement’ an easy decision. That and the 35,000kms he and his wife put on their motorhome over the last two years: the freedom of the open road is beckoning strongly.
Ron’s been in the bag business since 1969. He started his business fifty years ago, and in its heyday, Ron had four shops on Queen Street, with another in Birkenhead. His first shop was where Sky City is now.
Then came “Black Monday” – the stock market crash of 1987. Ron was on a beach in Waikiki at the time, blissfully unaware of the global events that had been unfolding, and the flow-on effect it would have on his business. “It effectively killed off four of my five shops”, he said. “I hung on for three years, but it got me in the end”.
Ron was left with the one shop in Birkenhead, on a monthly lease. He started buying all sorts of items at liquidation auctions - from $1 packs of pencils to $20-30 wicker baskets and chairs - and selling them at discounted prices.
The possum and merino products happened rather by accident, but really took off as most other shops were tourist outlets with higher prices.
He called his business “Liquidation and Receivership Sales Market” – LARS Mart. “Yes, I did occasionally have people think my name was Lars”, he says with a grin.
Ron starts each day at 6am delivering flyers for an hour and a half. Over three months he delivers to 20,000 houses.
Since ‘87 Ron has changed his outlook on business. He believes there’s really only big or small businesses nowadays. Medium-sized businesses such as his Queen Street stores really got hammered by the advent of “big box” stores. “I still sell lots of luggage, but we used to sell three times as much before the big box stores came along.”
Another factor which has helped Ron make his decision to give up the lease on the shop premises is the downturn in foot traffic in Blockhouse Bay village since two of the three banks left. The mainstays of his business - luggage and the possum and merino products – have been operating successfully online for some time now, and Ron will keep that going. He also has an idea for marketing the possum-merino products directly to retirement villages.
LARS Mart will finally close its doors on Christmas Eve. As the word has been getting around, Ron is surprised to find how popular the shop actually is. “It’s really quite moving, people are genuinely disappointed”, he says. “Blockhouse Bay has been good for Larsmart, and we hope we have been good for the Bay. Our sincere thanks to all our loyal customers for their support over the years.”