Para Rubber

Anybody's business flagship store for a watertight brand

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PARA RUBBER remains one of New Zealand's best known retail brands despite its chequered history.

The company was founded in 1910 by Christchurch businessman George Skellerup, mainly to supply a wide range of rubber- based products to farmers. After World War II, Skellerup also founded Skellerup Industries which made many of the products sold in the Para Rubber stores.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the chain grew steadily and its shops, with their eclectic mix of foam mattresses, gumboots, jandals and ubiquitous Para Pools, became a fixture in most big towns and suburban shopping centres.

But the chain started on a slow decline after it was acquired by Brierley Investments in the 1980s, and the individual stores were franchised. Over the next 20 years it went through several changes in its ownership structure and by the time it was acquired by Auckland businessman Ross Van Horn in 2000 there were just eight stores left, none of them in Auckland.

In 2003, Van Horn opened a Para outlet at Mt Roskill in Auckland as the flagship store and kept the franchise for it himself.

But last year he sold the Para Rubber master franchise to the Plastic Box retail chain, a co- operative of 33 owner operated stores. It intends to revitalise the Para brand and expects to eventually have about 35 Para stores throughout the country.

The Mt Roskill store is now well established and Van Horn has decided to sell that also and concentrate on his other business, a bathroom supplies maker.

He said the store was now turning over more than $1 million a year and was very profitable.

He said he had been running it under management and had stayed in the background with "my foot on the chequebook", but said a hands-on husband and wife team assisted by a couple of staff could "pull out $100,000 a year quite comfortably".

The prices of the goods sold range from $15,000 for a large Para Pool package to just a few cents for the rubber feet for table and chair legs.

The biggest product category by turnover is the pools, though sales have been hit by this summer's weather.

The next biggest category is foam and rubber sheeting, sold as ready-made products such as mattresses or by the piece, which is cut to order for people doing their own upholstery work.

Footwear is also a big seller - gumboots and jandals sell equally well all year round, as do cheap canvas topped sneakers, a mainstay since the 1970s.

Van Horn has listed the business for sale as a going concern with Jeff Bracegirdle of Re/Max Central at $410,000 including stock.