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New World under new management

After 35 years in the supermarket and retail industry – during which time he’s only taken three weeks’ holiday, and not a single Christmas off – Clive Webber is taking the opportunity to see what else life has to offer.

For the past six years, Webber and his wife Wonita have owned and operated Masterton’s New World, which has provided “a pretty good, cool window” into the town they’re adamant they’re going to remain in. Well, after getting some travelling under their belts, “which we’ve never really done”.

Given Webber seems to have been a cheerful workaholic – “I’m an ‘old fashioned worker’,” he said. “It’s always been six days a week, 12 hours a day. I’ve never regarded it as a job, and I’ve always loved coming into the store” – it remains to be seen how well the new lifestyle suits. But when the Times-Age caught up with the couple after they had just returned from a jaunt to Taupō, they both seemed happy, relaxed, and bubbling with enthusiasm about what’s next.

“You know, you get to an age when you begin to wonder whether you’ve been missing out on something, so here’s a chance to find out,” Webber said with a grin.

After taking a break – which may include getting a panel van to travel around America next year – ‘finding out’ involves the intention to do “something more community driven. There are lots of opportunities to make a contribution,” Webber said, and the number of organisations that New World Masterton has worked with under his management – “We supported around 150 charities in various ways in the past year” – have given him a shrewd idea where some of those opportunities lie.

What brought the couple to Masterton in the first place was a hankering to escape the “intensity” of Auckland for life in a rural town that was “a little more relaxed”, so they leapt at the chance when the Masterton store came up for sale at a time their youngest son was just on the cusp of starting high school. It was a move that also gave them the chance to have a property that could house more animals, “which we love”, Wonita beamed.

Still, it hasn’t been completely idyllic.

There’s been the recent spike in retail crime, Webber noted, although “hats off to [former Wairarapa and now Labour list MP] Kieran McAnulty – he did get stuck into the youth crime problem and he came through, setting up a system that stopped crime and helped kids”.

And then there’s the increase in some customers’ aggression towards staff, which Webber attributed at least part of to the previous government’s focus on the supermarket duopoly and its suggestion there’s systemic price gouging in the sector – a view he put down to a misunderstanding about the economics of running supermarkets, which he said have an average return on investment of five per cent.

As it is, Webber suggested, Masterton is “quite lucky” with its five supermarkets, all of which provide different offerings – adding that at New World, “we’ve always focused on customer service”, a natural fit for someone who is so clearly a ‘people person’. [Webber also mentioned that one of his biggest pleasures was working with the young staff: “It was great to see them grow.”]

That focus on people is one of several things that looks unlikely to change under the outlet’s new management – in fact, that’s what attracted new owner/operator Kaylea Bradshaw to New World parent company Foodstuffs in the first place.

Having graduated with a degree in sports management, Bradshaw headed overseas in time for the 1999 Rugby World Cup after managing a rugby club in Orewa. On her return to New Zealand years later, she ended up taking a job at Foodstuffs, in part because of Gary Christini, who had owned Orewa’s New World and provided sponsorship for her club.

“I knew him really well and admired him. So many clubs there wouldn’t have survived without his support. Yes, he had a supermarket, but he was always about the community.”

Finding that Foodstuffs had a similar philosophy – in a very welcome contrast to the cutthroat corporate world she’d found in London – is a major reason Bradshaw worked at the company for over a decade, she said.

Five years ago, Bradshaw and husband Nick took on running a New World store in Napier, where they became an integral part of the city’s emergency response during this year’s cyclone, opening their doors to allow Civil Defence workers to take what they needed.

Like the Webbers, the Bradshaws decided to make the move to Masterton due to a desire to connect with a smaller community and, like them, they’re keen to make a contribution, she said.

In fact, one of the few things that will definitely change at New World Masterton under Bradshaw’s ownership is the position of the desk in the office that she’s inherited from Webber.

The office overlooks the supermarket’s floor, but when sitting at the desk, Bradshaw’s back is to the internal window.

“I’ve got to get this turned around,” she laughed. “I don’t know how Clive could stand it – it’s such a fantastic view!”

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