'When we first started in Dunedin, it was just muddy streets'

Otago Furniture manager Roye Haugh shares a lighter moment with staff during a morning tea break...
Otago Furniture manager Roye Haugh shares a lighter moment with staff during a morning tea break at the Teviot St factory in Dunedin. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
For 150 years, one Dunedin business has been part of the city's furniture.

Otago Furniture, which celebrates its sesquicentennial this month, has traded through many historic milestones.

When manager Roye Haugh (nee Butterfield) stopped to reflect on the firm's longevity, it was that timeframe that struck her.

"When I look back over the things that have happened ... when we first started up in Dunedin, it was just muddy old streets," she said.

The business was established by Mrs Haugh's great-grandfather, Francis J. Butterfield, originally from Tasmania, who jumped ship and settled in Dunedin.

Successive generations of the Butterfield family have been involved - and continue to be involved - in the firm that now operates from Teviot St.

The company previously had a retail presence in the Octagon.

Mrs Haugh, the daughter of Monty Butterfield, joined the business in 1995.

Her sister, Kay Sneddon, brother-in-law Geoff Sneddon and nephew John Sneddon were all involved, along with her brother Warwick Butterfield. The sixth-generation has also done some part-time work.

Retailing had become difficult in recent years because of imports. Otago Furniture still had a good presence at national retailer Harvey Norman and other independent retailers.

On the commercial side, it was moving more into hotel fit-outs and refurbishments, mostly around Otago and Southland.

It was interior furniture provider to Ryman Healthcare, a relationship that reached back to the 1990s.

This year, for the first time, the firm had employed a designer as it endeavoured to get more design detail into its products.

Every year brought its own challenges.

Economic highs and lows - such as the boom period post-World War 2 and the impact of Rogernomics in the 1980s - "we didn't know we would get through that ... but we managed" - had all been part of it.

Staff had always provided a motivation to keep going and Mrs Haugh acknowledged she felt a sense of responsibility.

"I'd hate to be the one that finished it, not so much from a family point of view, but these guys," she said, indicating the 22 staff on the factory floor. Two employees had worked there more than 45 years.

Mrs Haugh did sound a note of caution around rising property values, saying the Dunedin City Council needed to decide how it was going to attract and keep manufacturing businesses in the city in light of increasing rents.

Appropriately, in the year marking the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand, women had always played a role in the business from the beginning, Mrs Haugh said.

Otago Furniture was marking its 150 years with a staff dinner at the Dunedin Town Hall.

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