Fifty years ago, Décor Gardenworld in Bethlehem was little more than a flat paddock. It was a blank canvas awaiting the germinating vision of two friends, Laurie Clark and Bob Banyard who met while working for Auckland City Council’s Parks and Reserves.
Laurie had decorated gardens for many dignitaries including the Queen, several Lord Mayors of London and the King of Thailand. Both men had very good jobs but decided to chuck them in and start a new adventure centred around their love of plants.
It was 1967, and at that time garden centres had barely made a mark on New Zealand’s landscape. They were a 'relatively new idea', says Laurie Clark.
“Stan Palmer had just opened a garden centre at Mount Eden and I said to Bob, why don’t we open one?” Tauranga seemed a good place and Bob had some land on Moffat Road which is still the original site for Décor. So on May 7, 1967, Laurie and Bob and their respective wives Lois and Jean, opened Décor Garden Centre. Later it was to become Décor Greenworld and today it is Décor Gardenworld.
“In the 1960’s, Tauranga was pretty much a holiday town but many people were starting to come here to retire. Moffat Road was largely rural. However the ‘townies’ used to come in the weekends to buy fresh produce. Every few metres they could stop and get things such as fresh eggs or vegetables. The garden centre eventually became a popular stopping place for them too” says Laurie.
As new people came in and built houses they needed to develop and plant their gardens. So a big part of Décor’s business then, and still is today, was landscaping.
Both Laurie and Bob were visionaries and were always looking for ways to expand the business. They hit upon an idea to start up plant hire as part of the business. This again was something that was not common in New Zealand. At the time most people had their wedding receptions in drab local halls and they needed decorating – something the pair had a flair for having worked for Parks and Reserves. Hardly a weekend would go by without the Décor team having to decorate a venue. Laurie recalls one weekend there were four weddings and they didn’t have enough plants. So they would wait until one wedding was finished before grabbing the plants and shooting off to the next one. They also hired out plants to businesses. This became so successful that an Auckland company called Brewsters bought them out.
The next burst of growth for Décor was establishing a purpose-built Café in 1994. Again this was a fresh idea and garden centre owners from other cities and even some from Australia came to see it. "This has become a big draw card", he says. In the same year that the Café was built, Décor won the best retailer award in the Kiwi Coast Business of the Year Awards.
Décor was also behind the first Garden and Art Fest which has become a high profile event for the region, with Décor still a major sponsor of the Garden Trails section of the festival. All the labour involved in the inaugural event in 1997 was voluntary and the patron artist continues to be Kate Jones Madill.
Today the Garden Centre is still fresh and vibrant and a destination for many Tauranga residents, offering a wide range of gifts and art for the home and garden, as well as top quality plants. It is also one of few family-owned garden centres left in New Zealand.
As published in the Bay of Plenty Times Wednesday May 16 2007.