Vinod Kumar’s dad was a canny businessman. He couldn’t read or write, but that didn’t seem to be a problem. He knew tailoring, and he knew people, and he knew what they wanted. He could see gaps in the market and trends in fashion, and would set out to meet those needs before they were known.
Dad though, had the foresight of educating his children.
As a young man Vinod came to Auckland in 1975 to study civil engineering, returning seven years later with his degree and a couple of years’ internship under his belt to take up a position with Fletcher Construction on the Denarau project. He loved the work and never counted the hours.
After four years Vinod applied for permanent residency in New Zealand, but always with the intention to eventually return to the ‘good life’ in Fiji. He began working for Hawkins in January 1987, then in May that year Fiji was thrown into turmoil with the coup d’état led by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. It was decided after watching events unfold that the remaining family – Vinod’s parents and siblings – should move to New Zealand.
Two years later the recession of 1989 hit. He couldn’t afford to buy a home with interest rates at 23%, so he decided to build his own home. He purchased land in Blockhouse Bay and designed and built it over 18 months after work and at weekends, with a budget of $50,000. Upon completion it was valued at $250,000.
Vinod knew it was only a matter of time before he lost his job, so with the future in mind - and despite his wife’s doubts – he purchased a Mitre 10 store in Henderson using his house as collateral. His thinking was that as an engineer he knew hardware, so he could sell it.
Turns out he could, and his business grew, eventually outgrowing the premises. Vinod then built the first purpose-built Mitre 10 in the country. He started importing at a time when Mitre 10 was 100% buying local, introducing kitchens, flooring and lighting departments, and imported Formica benchtops from the UK. He got a local factory to build the kitchen cabinets. Kitchens became one of the top five departments in Mitre 10.
Vinod then built a Mitre 10 in Westgate. It was the first business in the area, virtually sitting alone in a paddock, but Vinod predicted that its would do well because of its proximity to farmers in the area. Turns out he was right about that too. Mark Gunton had plans to build the Westgate shopping centre some years later, but brought his plans forward because the Mitre 10 store was doing so well.
Then Bunnings came along. Mitre 10 originated in Australia and had 650 stores there, all privately owned. When Bunnings came on the scene, they closed down one by one.
Vinod called all the Auckland region owners together and asked them, “Who’s going to close their shop first?” He had a plan to fight Bunnings by importing in bulk and working together. The team travelled the world looking at big box stores eventually coming up with the concept of Mitre 10 Mega, and Vinod put his hand up to build the first one. Mitre 10 are still ahead of Bunnings today.
Over the years Vinod gathered many contacts from his travels around the world, and for several years nurtured the idea of opening a furniture store – he even had the land. He sold out of Mitre 10 and set about financing his next big idea. In spite of his solid history, no banks would lend him the money to build the massive furniture and homeware retail store he had in mind.
He decided to sell the property and use that to finance the operations. A syndicate of 250 mum and dad investors were found, and Nido was finally on its way.
With a ten-year incubation from idea to opening, Nido, the biggest retail store in the country finally opened its doors in Henderson on Queen’s Birthday Weekend.
The whole Kumar family is involved in operations: Daughter Akshita is head of marketing, her husband Paresh is head of retail and customer experience and her sister Rachna looks after payroll. Vinod’s brother is a buyer and investor, sister Sunita is a chartered accountant and her husband Pravin is head of IT. This is a family with a very useful skill base!
Sitting with this softly spoken Lynfield man in a local café, now poised on the biggest venture of his life, hearing him describe his time spent in his dad’s tailor shop in Lautoka, Fiji and it’s not hard to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.