Car Dealer Committed to Central City
Written by Jo Bailey | February 2012
John Hutchinson thought seriously about moving Team Hutchinson Ford's operation after the February earthquake but has no regrets about continuing to do business right on the edge of the Red Zone.
"We spent two days looking at alternative sites immediately after the disaster but knew we could never replicate what we have at Tuam Street. We have been there over 80 years and moving even on a temporary basis didn't make any real sense to me or our managers."
Almost a year on from the devastating event, the company's site is still bounded by the cordon.
Just across Tuam Street is the heavily boarded up old Christchurch City Council building but Team Hutchinson Ford is immediately surrounded by more cleared demolition sites than broken buildings these days. The company was locked inside the cordon for 11 weeks after the February 22 which had a big impact on its vehicle servicing operation. However its sales staff continued to work remotely during this time and kept sales ticking over.
"We were humbled by the incredible support of our customers. We even had two instances where people from Auckland bought new cars from us because they wanted to support a Christchurch business. It was quite amazing."
Hutchinson says Christchurch City Council and Civil Defence did the best they could to assist the company towards reopening under "very difficult circumstances."
The company returned to its site in May which was accessed via a temporary driveway off St Asaph Street for several months. There is now easy access off Tuam Street just past Colombo Street, when approaching from the west. Hutchinson says staff were "understandably nervous and apprehensive" about returning to work initially.
Several had been badly affected by the disaster, either through personal loss, or by the scenes they had witnessed in the aftermath of the earthquake. "We offered all our staff professional counselling and invited them and their wives, husbands and partners onto the site before we reopened to make sure they were comfortable with the work environment." He says the company has lost a few customers, particularly central city workers "who are now scattered all over Christchurch", but overall its huge customer base has been "very loyal."
The biggest challenge has been letting the public know that it's "business as usual."
"We heard that some people thought we had closed and it was the end of the road for Hutchies. That really struck a nerve so upped our advertising effort to get the message out there."
Although Team Hutchinson Ford's main building survived the shakes well, a decision was made to demolish rather than repair the adjacent building.
"We've had a crew from Parsons Construction with us full-time since we returned to the site who along with several other contractors, have worked really hard to get us up and running again."
Hutchinson says plans are just being signed off for a new replacement building that will house the company's sales team, an expanded paint and panel shop and new staff cafe, as well as a remodelled showroom and service reception area. He says he is "excited" the company is in the heart of the CBD rebuild. "Right now we have no idea who our neighbours will be which is seriously exciting. We have been operating in central Christchurch for over 80 years. It's where we belong and we are committed to staying."