THE idea for Adrienne Pierce’s current business came to her when she was sitting in the sun watching her pool being built in 2003.
It was “a new chapter “for the Havelock North businesswoman, who had recently sold out of PORSE.
“It was time to get freehold and have a nice holiday and put in a new pool,” she said.
“There was a tradesman cutting the tiles around our beautiful new swimming pool and he stopped every few minutes because his phone kept ringing. It rang 15 times that afternoon and every time he had to stop work and take off his safety gear to answer.
“At 5pm I poured him a beer and asked him where he was going to be tomorrow.
“I’m going to be at your place.”
“You told six people you could be on their job tomorrow. Why would you upset all those people?”
“What else am I going to do? Anyway I’m the only one around who does this type of work.”
“Why don’t you get someone to answer your phone?”
“I’m not going to pay someone for 40 hours a week to do nothing. Anyway, my customers want to talk to me.”
“No they don’t because you never call them back and you never do what you say.
“What do you charge for your average job?”
“I don’t know, probably about $1000.”
“So you took 15 calls today, and say 10 of them were worth $1000, that’s $10,000 except you will upset six people.”
The conversation inspired her to start office services company Smart Business.
“There was a real trend towards outsourcing at the time. People were going to Bangladesh for call centres but I thought that wouldn’t really work – what about outsourcing in New Zealand? What would it look like and how could I make a dollar out of it? So we answer your phone, pick up your mail and do your mailing, do your payroll and bookkeeping.”
The tile cutter was “first on the list”when Smart was launched.
“I was going to charge him something like $75 a week – the fees are similar today – but no, he couldn’t get his head around it.”
Courage Unlike her first business there was very little planning.
“There was no research, but at the end of the day you have to have the balls to just do it.
The more you research something the more frightened you can become. So you just have to have the courage.”
She needed courage in 1991 when she left Te Kuiti with two young sons after a “marriage meltdown”.
Her father was from Hawke’s Bay “so it was familiar”.
A trained nurse, she said would have needed to work night shifts to make ends meet and reluctantly went on the Domestic Purposes Benefit.
She arrived in January and after completing a Be Your Own Boss course started her first business in September.
“I wanted something so I could be available to my sons.”
She heard of a woman operating a Christchurch nursing agency.
“So I phoned her up, I went down and we had lunch. She told me everything. So I came back and set that business up in Hastings.
“I registered 60 nurses in the first two weeks. Temp nursing was a foreign concept in Hawke’s Bay at that time.”
With a sublet office from Direct Imports, Bay Nursing Network supplied relief staff to rest homes, then ACC and the Napier and Hastings hospitals.
“I had a laptop and a cell phone. It was a brick – I just missed the suitcase.”
That “morphed” into her second business, Bay Nanny Childcare Network, after multiple inquiries for childcare.
“I had student nurses who were willing to care for children at the parents’ homes. It was a bit more than babysitting, it was more nannying for women who wanted to go back to work.”
She was introduced to a friend of a friend, Jenny Yule, who was tutoring a nanny course at EIT.
Over a bottle of red wine they hatched a plan to go into competition with charity childcare provider Barnardos.
“The trick of that business was the government funding. It meant we had good regular cash flow.”
She sold her nursing contracts and in 1996, bought the first of several houses on Heretaunga St East in Hastings.
Through a Jenny Yule contact an office was opened in Auckland, placing Auckland University of Technology nanny graduates into jobs.
The company’s name was changed to National Nanny Childcare Network and it was contacted by organisations throughout the country wishing to work with it. The decision was made to sell franchises.
With 15 areas sold she said it was time for a well-earned rest and a fresh challenge, so she sold out of Porse.
“At the time I couldn’t see how the government funding could continue, but of course it continued to increase.”
She has been active outside her own business as a Young Enterprise Scheme mentor, a Hawke’s Bay Opera House Fundraising Committee member, Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce board member, Havelock North Business Association president, a founding trustee for Foundation for Youth Development, a Local Government NZ Te Maruata Maori Committee member and received a Ministerial appointment to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment’s Small Business Development Group.
Two years ago her husband Alan encouraged her to put her money where her mouth was and enter politics.
They were both single in 1995, meeting through their sons’ cricket team, and were married in 1997.
A commercial lawyer, he works with Smart and is a consultant to law firm Bannister & von Dadelszen after being a partner for more than 20 years.
She was disappointed to not be chosen as the National Party’s Napier candidate in (pre) the general election. Her house was on the market so she could live in the electorate.
“I wanted it pretty bad but Napier people couldn’t reconcile themselves to someone who lived in Havelock North.
Surprised At first she was surprised to be elected to the Hastings District Council, with just four billboards and a Facebook Page.
“It showed me people remember a history. Some have a theory that the one with the most billboards wins, but people aren’t stupid.”
Smart has also embraced the franchise model and has branches in Christchurch and Auckland, but it is her political career that she finds “invigorating” and “character building”.
“I’m very questioning and it takes me back to the nursing days, asking why we do things a particular way – why can’t family stay with a child while it’s dying?”
She keeps an eye on the childcare industry.
Porse has been bought by an Australian company that had an oversubscribed listing on the New Zealand stock exchange last year. Porse was part of an extensive list of early childhood education businesses.
“They aren’t doing it for the health and welfare of New Zealand children. They are doing it because the business of childcare is hugely profitable.
“Childcare businesses are bulk-funded like primary and high schools. Millions of dollars drop in from the taxpayer quarterly. You couldn’t stuff up if you tried, because the cash is so amazing. You can make a heap of mistakes if you know another $5 million is coming in three months.”
But the industry is not a sure thing. The government could “pull the rug” at any time.
“I am hoping they might because I think we can get better value for money.
“I think we need to give parents the opportunity to stay at home with their children where they receive the support of an early childhood programme and possibly be reimbursed for following it.
“We would get more bang for our buck and have less stress in our parents and children.
“I feel pretty strongly about that and I have the next model on a big piece of paper at home – NurtureAotearoa.”
“Becoming a MP might help me to get that idea off the ground.”
– Hawkes Bay Today
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