You can't choose your family, but you can choose whether
to go into business with them, although sometimes getting out
of business with them can be messy. Brent Weatherall talks to
Debbie Porteous about how sharing a business philosophy with
your family does not necessarily mean you can share a
Brent Weatherall refers to his father as Keith. Not dad or
father. Just Keith.
Keith, he says, was a hard man and they were not close at the
In fact, Keith Weatherall never set foot in his son's
jewellery store before his death in 2007.
He was intending to, Brent said; he just did not have the
physical strength in his last days.
You get the sense Brent would have been chuffed to show his
old man around his glitzy George St store; to show him how
well he had done, that he could do it too.
Especially because just a few years earlier, Keith Weatherall
fired his son.
After more than 20 years in the business, Brent was invited
to a meeting with his father, where he was given a letter
making him redundant.
Brent had worked for Keith since he was a runner on a bicycle
making deliveries between Keith's Dunedin jewellery stores.
From the age of 12 he worked during school holidays in the
workshop of Weatherall's flagship store in central George St,
making tea and cleaning up. He eventually became an
apprentice jeweller at 16, and finished his apprenticeship in
three and-half years.
When Brent was 21, Keith made him the manager.
He had worked for the company for more than 20 years when his
father, then in his late 60s, sacked him after an argument
about how the business could be run differently.
Keith was a hard worker, and hard man, who tended to flash
his success about, his son said.
''He was always saying 'In my day' this and that, 'we had to
work so hard' etc. He used to ram it down people's throats.''
His father lived and breathed the work, although it had come
at the cost of his family.
The older Weatherall started in business as a 22-year-old in
1956 with an upstairs workshop in the Octagon (he had learned
the craft as an apprentice watchmaker with the Dick family
business), from which he gradually got more into selling
jewellery on behalf of wholesalers.
With the gift of the gab, he was soon too big for his
workshop and bought a building at 278 George St in 1961,
split it in two, sold one half and started Weatherall
Jewellers in the other half.
He decided to source his own stock, and caught the travel
''Jewellery opened his eyes to a whole new big world.''
He was soon bringing home diamonds, Dresden china, figurines
and opals: his love of the latter developed into two- to
three-week pilgrimages to Australia each year to go mining
While he was on his adventures and buying trips, his friend
and store manager Bo Cockroft was running things in Dunedin.
In the 1970s Keith Weatherall was heavily into expansion.
He owned four stores in Dunedin and started jewellery stores
within a store at DIC department stores in Dunedin, Hamilton
At one point, he owned five stores plus the DIC outlets, and
employed more than 20 people.
''He was impulsive and would act on a whim, and he was very
He still loved travelling the world, but had to rein it in
after several incidents of staff stealing from him.
''I've often said to him, 'You've created a monster,' but he
thought it was fantastic.''
In the 1980s Keith suddenly retrenched, retaining only the
store in George St.
He moved into the Meridian mall in 1997 and traded there,
working seven days a week until his retirement in 2005.
Being in the jewellery industry was like being in the mafia,
Brent said. It was all in the family.
He started his career with the Weatherall name, and the
family name was as important as anything else.
He had always wanted to be a jeweller.
''I never had a doubt. It was something I enjoyed; I was born
into it. I'm still into it.''
His father had always focused on the nuts and bolts of the
industry, and concentrated on providing a service.
''He had a slogan - `We sell the best and service the rest' -
which I suppose is my philosophy. I do believe in it
Through the years, he and his father had many differences of
opinion with regards to how the shop was evolving.
He believed one of them had to go; he had simply not expected
that one of them would be him.
''To my shock, he made me redundant. I was out of a job in
He did nothing for six months.
''I suppose I was soul-searching. I had to clear my head and
I was in a state of shock; I had to take time out.''
But during that time, something was growing inside him.
''Keith Weatherall put a fire in my belly. I started to think
to myself, `I'll show him'.''
His father had trained him well, taught him everything he
knew, but it was time to do things his own way.
''In December 2002, I secured the lease on 153 George St. I
went into the bank and asked for $100,000. My experience and
skill was their security. I told them they were plan A and I
went down to plan D ... which was crap, because I didn't even
really have a plan B.''
He asked his father to be guarantor, but Keith refused.
He even refused to guarantee his son's shares in Weatherall
Finally, with a guarantee from his mother, Brent got the
loan, but there was not enough for stock, so he used the
Weatherall name with ''the mafia'', and come opening day had
enough stock on consignment to fill his shiny new cases.
Knowing it was going to be a bone of contention, he deferred
putting up the signs for his new store until opening day.
He received a letter from his father's lawyer two days before
the opening, saying if he used the Weatherall name in the
title, his father would sue him.
''I spent $800 I didn't have to get a legal opinion to make
sure we were not going to be in trouble.''
For the first three years of trading, it was just him and his
wife Jo, but since then they have expanded into what Brent
says is now a multimillion-dollar venture.
He knows running an opposition store to his father's for
three and a-half years must have hurt his father's business,
but the pair did make amends before his father's death from
cancer at age 74.
On reflection, he is well aware of the irony of his success.
''Although there was conflict between my father and me, and
it was well publicised, I couldn't have done it without him.
Although I also feel like he couldn't have done it without
''I only wish my father was alive today to see me ... and
this,'' he said, indicating his store.
''He was coming, but he never set foot in the door; he wasn't
strong enough to leave the hospice.
''I think he would have been very proud of what we've done.
Keith definitely did it his way, but the time was right for
Brent to do it, too.''