Time to relax after a life of service

Stephen (left) and Chris Rawson have sold their popular fuel business in 
Stephen (left) and Chris Rawson have sold their popular fuel business in Oamaru. PHOTO: SALLY RAE
The end of an era has come for Oamaru’s Rawson family after fuelling motorists in the town for more than four decades. They talk to business editor Sally Rae about their lengthy tenure.

"Just being us."

That, according to Stephen Rawson, is the secret to running a successful business and he should know — he and his brother Chris, with their respective wives Janice and Lorraine, were the longest-running BP franchisees in New Zealand.

But after fuelling motorists in Oamaru for more than 40 years, the time has come for the family to hang up the pumps. They have sold the business to Deepak Gautam and Sumit Arora after easing into retirement with the installation of a manager several years ago.

While old habits die hard, and they continued to fill their own vehicles at the Thames St station, they laughed at how they now had to pay for both their fuel and their coffee.

The Rawson brothers — including another brother Mike, of Plunket Electrical fame — have been a North Otago business success story, their personalities and customer service legendary.

It was January 1982 when Stephen, 70, a qualified A-grade mechanic, was working at the BP station in Tees St, the site now home to St Vincent de Paul, the owner asked if he would be interested in buying it.

Chris, 65, was working at the National Bank during a time when bank transfers among staff occurred regularly. With a young family and both sets of parents living in the town, he and his wife Lorraine wanted to stay in the area.

So when Stephen approached him about going into partnership, he swapped his white collar and tie for overalls. Chris took care of the servicing side, learning to do oil changes and warrants of fitness and became "a layman mechanic" while Stephen was in the workshop.

Forget the modern-day service station convenience stores of large freezers of ice-creams and row after row of chocolate bars. There was only a small fridge but it was the only place in Oamaru where you could buy the Smurf collectible figures, which were all the rage at the time.

There were 22 petrol pump outlets in Oamaru then. Now there were five or six. At that stage, it was more about a workshop with pumps on the side but, once they moved to Thames St, it tended to be the other way around, Stephen said.

In 1988, BP bought the Thames St station from Mobil and leased it back to the community. The Rawson brothers moved to the site and took over in 1993.

The business consumed a large part of their life; during the earlier stages, they were working 12-hour days, six days a week. Then it got a bit easier, Stephen said. "And we got a bit lazier, you can’t do that forever," Chris said.

The Rawson wives were an integral part of the business, Janice looking after office administration and Lorraine pumping petrol and serving customers.

Retirement for Stephen meant pleasing himself when he got up and what he wanted to do, whether that was travel in his motorhome with Janice or a spot of fishing. He had become involved in the local men’s shed group while his wife had taken up croquet.

Chris was much the same, saying he and Lorraine now had the opportunity to "go and do stuff".

One thing that would not change would be the brothers barracking for their beloved North Otago rugby team. They were among those who revived the North Otago Rugby Supporters Club more than 20 years ago.

The Rawsons agreed it would be the people they would miss. "It’s a people’s game," Stephen said.

"What I’ll miss will be the people," Lorraine said.