Three Generations of Merchant 1948 Men
For three generations Merchant 1948 has been perfecting the art of footwear, evolving into the beloved household name it is today.
The journey started with Guglielmo (Bill), an Italian immigrant who settled in the King Country in the 1930s. He entered the shoe business with three small shoe stores. Following the generational line, Bill's son Tony bought the stores from his father and began to grow the company.
Continuing in his father's footsteps, Tony's son Shane became involved in the late 1980s. After a couple of years of working within the company, he saw the opportunity to develop a new concept that would eventually become Overland. With footwear making in his DNA and after a few years exposure to the craft, son Oscar was inspired to establish his own sustainable sneaker brand.
As we celebrate the important men in our lives this Father's Day, we sit down with three generations of Merchant 1948 men: Tony, Shane, and Oscar Anselmi, to discuss family, business, and what makes a great shoe.
From King Country Shoes to the brand Merchant 1948 is today, it’s been an amazing journey. Can you tell us what it was like seeing Merchant 1948 evolve into the household name it is today?
In those days several factories and retail stores were owned by family businesses. They have now almost all disappeared, and Merchant 1948 is by far the largest family-owned footwear retail business in NZ. I am proud of that.
Can you tell us more about your journey expanding the business at the time? What were the highs & challenges? What was the landscape of business at the time?
I left school having just turned 16 and while born into a farming family, I knew I did not want to be a farmer. My father previously had purchased a footwear retail business. I had the opportunity to start work in the Te Kuiti store with my sister, so we ran the business with little training.
I believe my sister and I made one very important decision. We decided to join the Auckland Provincial Retailers Association and started to receive a monthly newsletter with information on how to operate a successful retail business. This is what set me up in business. I had seen my father do this. When he had a problem, he would ask everyone he saw what their solution was then he then used this information to help him make up his mind.
Mixing family and business must have its challenges. Any advice for families working together?
Mixing family and business can be a problem. I always wanted my family to decide for themselves if they wanted to work in the business. I supported them in whatever they wanted to do. The world is changing all the time and I have always believed the younger generation understand the evolving world better than the proceeding generation. They grew up in it and contributed to the changes.
What is one thing you have learnt from your father?
The importance of family (he’s got 19 grandchildren!) and the ability to work to achieve a vision. My Dad inherited his work ethic from his father Guglielmo (Bill), an Italian immigrant. Tony achieved a huge amount in footwear and farming over the years due to tenacity and sheer hard work. He’s been an inspiration to me all my life.
Describe Merchant 1948 in three words?
People, people, people. I get huge joy out of working with people and believe if we can create an organisation that inspires all who come into contact with us, that, in some way, this will make the world a better place.
How important is it to move forward with design and stay true to the heritage of Merchant 1948?
We are a design-led organisation. The more we focus on design and creating unique and inspiring ranges, the greater our point of difference and appeal to our customers.
We constantly try to put inspiring design into every touchpoint that people experience when they visit us – from our store design, online sites and our marketing & communications.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt in your career?
There have been so many. Firstly, I learnt many years ago to take personal responsibility for whatever happens in life - which means never to blame outside circumstances for whatever happens. As soon as we blame external events or the action of other people for negative outcomes, we become a victim. This causes us to give away our power to act and change things. Taking personal responsibility for everything life throws at us signals to our brains that we are in charge - and as a result, we can act and create the future we want!
This realisation helped me personally in my mid-20s when I lost businesses I’d built up, along with my home with the '87 share-market crash. I was embarrassed, felt like a failure and had to move in with my in-laws. But I still believe this was a great lesson about taking personal responsibility and this became a huge motivator that helped build the Overland Group.
What is the best advice your father has given you?
The importance of enthusiasm, optimism, and just how far you can get if you set your mind to something.
What are some lessons you have learnt from your Grandfather's experience?
That life is all about the highs and lows of the journey rather than the ultimate destination.
You have grown up immersed in footwear. Was shoemaking always your passion?
No, it didn’t spark until I had the opportunity to get involved in developing footwear. Working hands-on with teams in factories and overseeing things from design through to finished product. I loved sneakers in my teens, but it wasn’t really until my 20's when I began to realise I could actively help create products I loved.
What inspires your creative process?
I guess it can come from anywhere. I am always reminding myself to stay open and continually changing what I am consuming. I try to keep variety in what I am watching, reading, listening to.