The Early Years

Millers Limited was founded in Greymouth in 1924 by Mr Leslie Beaumont Miller. In a small store measuring just 12ft (3.6m) x 20ft (6m) the company originally traded in drapery merchandise. But Leslie Miller was a visionary and had much grander aspirations for his store…
  • Millers, founded in Greymouth in 1924

    Millers, founded in Greymouth in 1924

    The store at 46 Mawhera Quay was in the main shopping street, however in 1926 Leslie convinced a builder to put in a block of shops in Mackay Street, a secondary street in the town not generally considered a good shopping area. Leslie took on one of these shops himself closing his ears to the predictions of doom from his competitors. Leslie Miller was proven right and today this area is considered the main shopping area of Greymouth. Leslie’s aspiration was for Millers to be renowned for “supplying its customers with a quality article at a competitive price”, and with large purchases from manufacturers both in NZ and abroad and on the principle of a quick turnover, Leslie soon made a name for himself.
  • Looking down Colombo Street 1920s

    Looking down Colombo Street 1920s

    In 1928 Leslie Miller set up two small shops in Strange’s Arcade (Corner High Street and Lichfield Street), Christchurch. At the same time an open warehouse was operating at 451 Colombo Street. The warehouse was a one story temporary building which had been erected until more permanent premises already under reconstruction in Strange’s building, were ready for occupation. When Leslie Miller set up in Christchurch he stayed for a period of around six months. During this time the other traders in Greymouth put their heads together to see how they could put this fellow Miller out of business. The traders decided to discount a few items each creating a serious downturn in the Millers’ stores. Arriving back in Greymouth Leslie was met by his bank manager who said the business was through and that he was closing the company up. Leslie pleaded with the Bank Manager to grant a few months grace as Leslie had all his purchases coming from England by sea. This extra time was allowed, and when the new stock hit the Greymouth market place with costs well below the local traders the tables were turned and the company never looked back.
  • Staff Sewing in Shop Window in  1930s

    Staff Sewing in Shop Window in 1930s

    When Millers started in Christchurch it was during the dim days of the world depression, times were difficult and many were unemployed. Money was scarce and the going hard, but by a policy of “low prices and good value”, Millers gained a fair share of the business being done, building the business on the foundation of a quick turnover. Millers’ standard percentage mark-up was 25%. Given that most firms worked on a mark-up of 33%, and even up to 50%, Millers proved attractive to many customers. Millers also gained publicity and drew customers through the quality of their merchandise. It was recognised that if one shopped at Millers they would receive a cheap article but it would be of good quality. This way of doing business was to make Millers a household name.
  • Millers Head Office 1934

    Millers Head Office 1934

    In 1931 Millers moved its entire operation into Strange’s building after it was extensively modernised. Strange’s building was home to Millers for retail, offices, cutting room and factory for 13 years. Much of the development and establishment of the organisation took place in these premises.
  • Making and selling merchandise direct to the public

    Making and selling merchandise direct to the public

    Right from the start Leslie envisaged a plan of making and selling merchandise direct to the public and as time went on this policy was put into operation, co-ordinating a manufacturing and retail business. The ground floor of the Strange’s building was occupied by the retail division and the two upper floors were devoted to manufacturing. The latest machinery and cutting equipment were purchased and the whole plant was organised on up-to-date lines. The success of this enterprise soon became apparent in the demands for the goods produced and resulted in rapid development of the factory and the opening of branch retail shops throughout New Zealand.
  • Carding Machine - Rosedale Mill

    Carding Machine - Rosedale Mill

    However the development of the manufacturing department brought with it its own problems in relation to the supply of primary materials. This led to the purchase and re-organisation in 1931 of the Rosedale Woollen Mills in Southland, allowing Millers to control all phases of the manufacturing process. With characteristic thoroughness Leslie turned an almost derelict concern into a modern woollen manufacturing plant.
  • Carding Machine - Rosedale Mill

    Carding Machine - Rosedale Mill

    This new plant provided manufactured woollen goods at reasonable prices, and piece goods for garment manufacture in the Christchurch factory including woollen blankets, tweed sports coats and woollen knitted underwear. The Rosedale Mill operated successfully using approximately 370,000 lbs (168,000kg) of wool per year, all of which was purchased at South Island wool sales.
  • From the Sheep's Back to the Customer's Back

    From the Sheep's Back to the Customer's Back

    Assuming all functions of the trade – buying, selling, and manufacturing, on a bulk basis, provided Millers minimum buying prices, maximum manufacturing output and a known and certain distribution capacity. This was another step towards the company’s objective of serving the public to the best advantage by the use of every modern facility for the economic production and distribution of goods. And thus, Millers’ catch phrase “from the sheep’s back to the customer’s back” was born.
  • Millers, age of rapid development

    Millers, age of rapid development

    The rapid development of the organisation soon made it obvious that within a short time more space would be required. With this necessity in view the Tuam St site was acquired in 1934. Leslie’s original plan was to erect a small factory in the Tuam Street section. While he was away overseas on business in 1936, preparations for a new factory had begun. However, the store received a cable instructing them to “stop everything” until he came back. He had seen a newspaper building, in the Bauhaus style of architecture in Manchester. In 1937 Leslie employed an architect, GEJ Hart, and told him of the design he wanted. Although it was originally thought an impossible task, Hart came up with the design and employed consulting engineers Messrs Campbell and Morrison.
  • Leslie Miller

    Leslie Miller

    Leslie loved to be at the heart of everything and would climb around the rafters and joists of the Tuam St building at night to see how the construction was developing. He used to take invited guests with him and it is believed many of them were not too keen about walking across girders 9 – 12m high. After a few climbing expeditions he went to the contractor and said he did not think the building was being constructed fast enough. He said to put the men on a bonus, which was done, and so helped to finish the job quickly. The building was to be the second largest in New Zealand at the time and was constructed by B Moore and Co. at a cost of £89,000. It took only ten months to complete, a record for New Zealand at the time, and a tremendous feat considering the tools of the day.
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