New Zealanders have always prided themselves on our 'number 8 wire' mentality, and one Kiwi business that has perfectly showcased that original innovative attitude for 75 years now is Resene. And while the local paint and wallpaper brand has been a household name for more than seven decades, the details of its long and colourful (pun intended) history is perhaps lesser known.
So to celebrate such a momentous birthday, we caught up with current Resene CEO (and grandson of its founder) Nick Nightingale for a walk down memory lane and a rifle through the archives to find out more about the much-loved Kiwi company.
Resene was started back in 1946 by Eastbourne builder Ted Nightingale, who needed an alkali resistant paint to cover his concrete buildings. Finding nothing available, Ted simply rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into developing his own – in a cement-mixer in his garage. In response to demand from other builders, Ted commenced producing his paint on a commercial basis under the brand name Stipplecote.
As well as Stipplecote, Ted manufactured a range of admixtures, such as No Bond and Curecrete, which are still around today. The initial garage production facility was superseded by the establishment of Resene's first factory in an old stable in Tinakori. In 1951, he launched the first waterborne paint in New Zealand under the brand name 'Resene' - a name derived from the main ingredient of paint - resin.
In 1970, chemist Colin Gooch, who had emigrated from England a few years earlier, was hired by Tony Nightingale, Ted's son, as Resene's chief chemist.
"There was just a sales manager at the time, an accountant, Tony and I – so it was a pretty lean machine," Colin recalls. More than 50 years on, Colin still works for the company as technical director. "New Zealand was certainly a land of opportunity for me. I'm sure I never would have been able to occupy a role such as I do now had I stayed in England," he says.
Resene's first retail stores
In 1972, Tony took over the operation of the company, and in 1975 Resene opened the doors on its first of a national chain of retail stores. The move into retail occurred almost by accident – Tony bought a wallpaper company that happened to own a store in Marion Street, Wellington, and it was at this site that the first Resene store was established. Building on its overwhelming success, the ColorShop concept was conceived and duplicated in other regions. Soon there were ColorShops in Auckland, Hawke's Bay, Dunedin, Hamilton and Christchurch. (These days there are more than 65!)
Taking the lead on clever paint technologies and innovations
As well as its always-buzzing, trail-blazing ColorShops, Resene has continued to build and maintain its reputation as the country's paint colour leader with a number of firsts across the years.
In 1969, Resene set up a new system of colour, the British Standard Specification colour range (BS2660 range), which provided a range of strong colours at a time when Kiwis were used to pastel colours. The stronger BS4800 range followed in 1973, while the launch of the BS5252 colour range in 1976 as a decorative paint collection was a world first.
As well as myriad new paint technologies and innovations, Resene pioneered the development of coloured paint bases, where previously only white was used, and in 1981 was the first New Zealand company to offer a full range of testpots.
In the 1990s, Resene joined the Environmental Choice programme (and continues to showcase an extensive Environmental Choice approved paint range), and in 1999, Resene delivered virtual painting technology into thousands of homes with the launch of Resene EzyPaint, available on CD or as a free download from the Resene website. Virtual painting later expanded to virtual reality with Resene ColourVision enabling a whole home to be virtually painted using a smartphone and VR headset.
In the 2000s Resene launched its PaintWise recycling and recovering programme to sustainably deal with unused and unwanted paint and containers.
Did Nick grow up surrounded by paint and all things paint-related?
"Yes and no…" he says. "Business was always discussed around the table and Tony and Dave Allen who was dad's first cousin and also Resene's sales manager would discuss the business, I would sit and listen, at least until they wanted to tell a joke! I would also be required to act as barman – and did learn how to pour a good gin!
"I've worked in the business at least one week in each school holiday since I was six years old," says Nick. I worked in the factory, doing all sorts of roles, including tipping the mistinted paint into a big tub to make a fence paint. At university I worked in our Marion Street ColorShop in the holidays and on Saturdays, and picked up a few contracts painting houses, employing a few of my varsity friends along the way. I always worked on the sunny side!"
After finishing his studies and travelling overseas, Nick decided a career in finance was not for him and started at Resene as an architectural sales rep. "I worked in our marketing area for a while before taking on a territory management role looking after the business in the lower North Island. In 1999 I assumed the role of general manager reporting to Tony. Dad passed away a few years later and I took over running the wider group as well."
The path to success
He believes what sets Resene apart and has made it such a successful brand for 75 years is "that it's a family business and there is real passion there. Many of the staff become equally passionate too. We are innovative and quality conscious, it drives us right across the business. Our colour system is developed here in New Zealand and we control it and manufacture it here. All our research and development is undertaken in New Zealand too."
"We've also been lucky to have Colin here at Resene," says Nick. "Colin has been the backbone of our technical team for over 50 years and is responsible for the many technical developments and innovations that have helped set Resene on the path to success based on quality and innovation.
He and my father challenged each other in a way that I can only describe as creative tension. They often argued, but ultimately each spurred the other on. The challenges of innovation and the desire to be the best drove them, both had a love of colour. The combination of the two, without the strict boundaries imposed by larger-international companies, has resulted in the culture we enjoy (and thrive on) and the many great products and colours we sell."
This article was created for Resene.