Good luck and hard work key to success

Meenan and Co managing director John Eckhoff has sold the business but has not cut his long...
Meenan and Co managing director John Eckhoff has sold the business but has not cut his long-established ties to it. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Surviving in business requires an "inordinate'' amount of good luck - but the harder you work, the luckier you also get, Meenan and Co managing director John Eckhoff believes.

For 46 years, Mr Eckhoff has worked at the long-established Dunedin business - the city's oldest liquor store - which dates back to 1865. It was founded by Francis Meenan - who was born in Tulafoil, County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1835 - on a site where the Otago Medical School library is now situated.

It was recently sold to a national liquor organisation, which will take over on December 3, but it was intended to retain the current business model. The business now imported a wide range of wines and spirits from around the world and also had a small brewery.

The Eckhoff family's connection began in 1950 when his grandfather, father and uncle - Herman Sen, Herman and Dan - bought the licence from the Meenan family.

In 1969, the business was sold to Lion Breweries, but five years later the family bought the licence of F. Meenan and Company back again.

Coinciding with the "wine revolution'', a new purpose-built building was put up on Great King St - its current site - to provide more storage and space to display wines.

In the years of Eckhoff family ownership, the industry had "radically changed'': including the "temporary'' World War 1 wartime 6pm closing regulations which lasted until the 1960s, and then the advent of supermarkets into the market - 80% of beer and wine is now sold in supermarkets - and 24-hour/seven-day licensing.

It seemed to be very expensive for large multinational companies to do business in New Zealand and smaller-scale models like Meenans had retained their sources of supply and were still importing product much more effectively than their much larger counterparts.

"The model we've adapted is more suited to New Zealand's size,'' Mr Eckhoff said.

Part of that business model was handselling most of the product which allowed for close relationships to be developed with customers, some of whom were now probably fourth generation.

He had also enjoyed the relationships forged with others in the trade who faced the same challenges in the industry.

It was not an easy model to run and he was usually on-site six days a week "keeping an eye on the business''.

"Small business doesn't get any favours from anybody ... business compliance is going through the roof,'' he said.

Having reached retirement age, Mr Eckhoff was looking forward to spending more time with family.

However, he was not cutting ties with Meenans. The new owner wanted him to "have a finger in the operation'', as those taking over would need a while to get up to speed.

"People come to Dunedin now and walk in the store and ... they say, 'We haven't got anything like this in Auckland or Wellington. They think it's extraordinary.

"It's nothing a life time's work and experience can't achieve. I guess I'll still be hanging around for a while yet,'' he said.


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