D.I.C. Opens for Business in Cashel Street, 1884

“…the advent of a new Company that will sell goods at reasonable profits for cash…”
D.I.C. Family Warehouse, Christchurch. Source: Burton Brothers, Photography studio, 1880s. Image: C.011519 Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
D.I.C. Family Warehouse, Christchurch. [1]

To the Editor of the Press.

Dear Sir,

All undertakings of a public beneficial nature, which are likely to affect the interests of others, are certain to arouse the ire and enmity of those interested, and to call forth letters with a view to injure and vilify such undertakings. In such a position is the assailment by anonymous writers of the new Direct Importing Drapery Company. There are statements in a letter, signed “Fairplay,” which require notice. It is there stated that the new Company declare that they will be able to sell at the same price, and in some cases less than the wholesale houses. Why should they not be able to do so if with their large capital they can go into the London, Manchester, and other Home or foreign markets, and ship direct here or else where, what is to prevent them selling at the same or less price than that obtained by the wholesale houses, who we know make very handsome profits. It is simply cutting off the enormous profits made by the drapers as between the wholesale houses and themselves. I presume no sane man would imagine that the new Company would state such an absurdity, that they could sell here as cheaply or less than the London or Manchester wholesale houses.

I have no connection whatever with the Direct Importing Company, but as a citizen of Christchurch with a family I have severely felt the heavy bills and enormous profits of the drapers here. I have some knowledge of the trade, and I state emphatically that the profits made here are very great, and in fancy goods, millinery and articles of that class they are simply enormous. As proof of this, there is a drapery firm in Christchurch which, in the space of about twenty three years has changed hands four times, turning out the three retiring firms at different periods, with large fortunes. Other drapery firms who have been most successful are well known. I can only say I hail with pleasure the advent of a new Company that will sell goods at reasonable profits for cash, and they will in every way receive my support.

Yours, &c.,
Self Protection [2]

The Drapery & General Importing Company of New Zealand Limited, announces it has commenced in business. Source: Page 2 Advertisements Column 3 Star , Issue 5103, 10 September 1884, Page 2. Image: Paperspast.
The Drapery & General Importing Company of New Zealand Limited, announces it has commenced in business. [3]
A Wholesale and Family Warehouse based on Co-operative Principles

The Drapery and General Importing Company of New Zealand, was floated in Dunedin in 1884, with a capital of £125,000. Mr Bendix Hallenstein, the enterprising Dunedin clothing retailer, was the Chairman of Directors. [43]

The object of the Company was to establish a ‘Wholesale and Family Warehouse’, importing direct from English manufacturers all goods that could not be produced in the Colony. These goods would be exchanged for cash with customers in the colony, who achieve a saving of 25-30%. It was based on the same co-operative principles as the Civil Service Stores in England, in which the profits were returned to the shareholders,’and therefore deserving of the greatest encouragement’. 50,000 shares were taken up by the directors with 20,000 offered to the public. No one person could take more than 200 shares and not less than 25, enabling even householders to have an interest. [5]

The large amount of capital at the Company’s command enabled it to purchase in the ‘Home and Foreign markets’ at the lowest possible rates. As the business was conducted on purely cash principles, – account books and clerks would be dispensed with in order to reduce costs – totally avoiding the danger of bad debts, all goods could be sold at the lowest prices. [6]

In 1884, the company took over the lease of ‘Fashion House’ in Cashel street, Christchurch, the former premises of Messrs E. C. Brown and Co. The old building, long known as Cashel House, was demolished. A new three storey warehouse was erected, with a frontage of 40ft and depth of nearly 200 feet. This was to be the premises of the ‘Direct Drapery Importing Company’. Their Dunedin wholesale and family warehouse had already been opened. The D.I.C. in Christchurch was the second of four branches they intended to open in New Zealand, viz., in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. [7]

The music and piano department on the ground floor of D.I.C. [ca. 1900] Source: The jubilee history of Canterbury, N.Z., 1900 / Henry A. Cowper, p. 41. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0044.
The music and piano department on the ground floor of D.I.C. ca. 1900. [8]

 

 City Improvements – The D.I.C. New Premises

The size of the building is 147 ft deep by 42ft frontage on Cashel street, and there is, in addition, buildings on what is known as Duncan’s right-of-way 90 x 30. The height from floor to ceiling on the ground floor is 14ft in the clear, that of the first floor 13ft, and of the second or work-room floor 10ft at the side and 20ft to the lantern. The front, which is plain but substantial looking, is of brick and compo, painted and lettered in gold with the name of the company, whilst the coping is surmounted by the letters D.I.C. of large size, which stand out in bold relief against the sky, and can be seen from nearly every part of the city.

The principal entrance is in Cashel street, and over the footpath immediately in front of it is a circular arched portico of iron and glass. A kind of hall divides the main portion of the warehouse from the entrance. On the right hand side of this is the counting-house, and on the left the manager’s office, both of which are commodious and well fitted. Beyond the counting-house and one right hand side of the warehouse on entering is the first department we meet with. This is for portmanteaus, travelling bags, and other requirements which are necessary on a journey, either by sea or land. This is about 20ft square. Beyond this again is an arched entrance communicating with the New Zealand Clothing Factory, which is under a different proprietary, but ease of access is provided for the convenience of customers.

DIC on Cashel street, circa 1880s, extract from photo by Burton Brothers Photographic Studio. Source: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg. No. O.002067
DIC on Cashel street, circa 1880s, extract from photo by Burton Brothers Photographic Studio. [9]
‘Quite a Sight in Itself’

This entrance is fitted with double iron fire-proof doors. The centre of the ground floor, running the entire depth of the building, is clear of all obstruction, except the counters on each side, and is quite a sight in itself. The upper floor is supported by fourteen iron columns, seven on each side, which have ornamental capitals. The Manchester department… occupies the principal portion of the right-hand side of the ground floor. It extends 80ft in length, and the counters attached to it are divided into sections, with openings between, so as to facilitate ready access. At the back of the counters are the drawers, shelves, and general fittings, all of which are very handsome. The counters are wide, with polished tops, and supported by carved brackets.

The left-hand side is the department for hosiery, kid and fabric gloves, ribbons, laces, frillings, haberdashery, &c. This department is the same length as the one we have just described, and the counters, fittings, &c, are also the same. Beyond these are the departments for upholstery and trimmings. At the end of the departments just spoken of is an arched entrance leading to the department for crockery and glass ware and ornaments. This is 40ft by 80ft, and is fitted with shelves, stands and show cases in a black and gold.

"Here is a view of the Cashel Street front of the Christchurch premises, which run in a long vista, flanked on each side by active, full-stocked departments, right through to Lichfield Street ... There is a warehouse style of street front. This plan relieves the management from the exposure and consequent deterioration of saleable goods by constant handling and from dust and weather." The jubilee history of Canterbury, N.Z., 1900 / Henry A. Cowper, p. 38. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0048 .
“Here is a view of the Cashel Street front of the Christchurch premises, which run in a long vista, flanked on each side by active, full-stocked departments, right through to Lichfield Street … There is a warehouse style of street front. This plan relieves the management from the exposure and consequent deterioration of saleable goods by constant handling and from dust and weather.” [10]
Beyond the arched entrance, and occupying 20ft of space on each side, is the furnishing department, comprising quilts, upholstery, Austrian blankets, tapestries, tablings, &c. The further end of the ground floor is occupied by the carpet department, 60ft by 20ft, having an entrance leading to that for china and glass, already described. The carpets here displayed comprise Brussels, velvet, kidder, tapestry, felt, &c. Passing through an archway from the carpet department, we come next to the packing room, about 20ft square, which will be used for the packing and delivery of goods. Close by here is the lavatory for the floor, and a gas engine of two-horse power. This latter is intended to be used for the purpose of filling the tanks, holding nearly 2000 gallons of water, which are placed on the roof. There are hydrants on each floor for fire prevention purposes, fitted with hose leading to all parts of the building. At the side of this department is a building, 50ft by 30ft, which is devoted to the floorcloth and linoleum departments.In passing, it may be noted that the Company have 40ft additional ground at the back of the building, which can be used for extension when required. On the left hand corner of the floor is the elevator by means of which the goods are taken up to the three floors. The main staircase, which is 8ft wide, starts about two-thirds down the ground floor. It is massive and handsome, and from the first landing, which is but a short distance from the floor, the staircases go right and left to the first floor. At the foot of the stairs on each side are handsome pedestal figures placed on the newels, each of which holds a gas lamp.

A Department Devoted to Umbrellas and Sunshades

The first department met with on ascending the stairs is that devoted to umbrellas and sunshades. This department runs along the whole of the front or northern end of the building. Taking the right hand side the next is an open-space, 36ft by 45ft, with cross and side counters devoted to the mantle and costume departments. It may be here noticed that throughout this floor handsome mirrors and pier glasses are scattered around the walls at short distances. Opposite to this department is that devoted to millinery, flowers and feathers, corsets, &c, extending for 75ft. The silks, yelvets, &c, are placed on the right hand side of the floor, and then we come to the dress department, in which are four counters, each 2ft 10in wide and 18ft long, with convenient entrances between. This department occupies 72ft of space, and contains amongst other articles black and colored dress fabrics, velveteene, and the thousand and one requirements of the fair sex in this respect. At the far end of the floor, and taking the full width of the building, is the fancy goods department. This is very handsomely fitted with show cases, stands &c, and a counter. This floor is lit by five windows in the front and five at the back, and there is also a large lantern, in the roof and a stained glass window on the landing of the stairs. In the centre of the floor are two wells, each a 26ft x 12ft, for giving light to the ground floor. These wells are enclosed by a handsome iron balustrading, with a wide wooden capping, which is surmounted by brass rods for the display of silk dresses and other fabrics. On the right-hand side are three rooms of equal size, 24ft x 15ft. The first of these is the fitting room, and this has been most handsomely fitted and furnished as an aesthetic drawing-room. A dado runs around the room, and the paper is of the latest aesthetic pattern. There are also lounges, mirrors, and a handsome wardrobe for the finished costumes. The panels in the wardrobe and the doors of the room are gilded, and this has a pretty effect. Communication by means of a speaking tube is had from the head dressmaker to the work rooms.

The Blanket and Flannel Department. Source: Christchurch illustrated by pen and picture, 5 p. after title page. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0050.
The Blanket and Flannel Department. [11]
A Ladies’ Retiring Room

At the extreme end is a large room, 82ft x 26ft, fitted with a circular counter, and having a handsome brass gas chandelier. This room is intended as a refreshment room for the supply of tea and coffee and refreshments to the lady patrons of the establishment. On the counter is a large urn for tea and coffee, heated by gas. The windows are fitted with Venetian blinds, and small tables are placed in the room, at which refreshments can be served. A ladies’ retiring room is also here. Between the dress and fancy departments is a door leading to the upper floor, on which are situated the work rooms. A separate entrance and staircase from the right-of-way is provided for the employes of the company, connecting on the landing opposite the entrance just spoken of, with the stairs to the second floor. The front portion of this floor, 40ft x 24ft, is devoted to the manufacture of costumes. The ventilation and lighting on this floor, it may be noted, is exceedingly good, the former being furnished by two large archimedian ventilators in the roof. Tubes communicate from this work room with the fitting room and the dress department. Beyond this again is another work room, 34ft x 12ft, for costumes, whilst beyond again is a third of the same size, devoted to millinery. Each of these workrooms is furnished with a roomy wardrobe for the finished dresses, &c., whilst the gas lamps are protected by wire shades, thus reducing the chance of accident by fire to a minimum. At the end of the floor, on the right-hand side, is a large room, in which the employees of the Company can take their meals, attached to which is a lavatory, and there are also pegs, &c, for their hats.

The household ironmongery, electro-plate, glass and crockery department of D.I.C. Source: Christchurch illustrated by pen and picture, 3 p. after title page Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0049.
The household ironmongery, electro-plate, glass and crockery department of D.I.C. [12]
Mantle Making

Commencing at the front on the left-hand side a space of 40ft x 14ft is set apart for mantle-making, and a side counter to be used for cutting out runs along the end. Next to this are the stoves for heating the irons, &c., which stand on a concrete floor. When the establishment is in full working order the accommodation provided will be sufficient for from two hundred to three hundred work-people. The remainder of the floor space, 80ft x 24ft, is devoted to the storage of reserve stock.

Throughout the whole building, it may be noticed, there is every appearance of a desire for solidity and substantiality rather than show, and the result has been the erection of a warehouse which is a credit to the city in which it stands. The gas fittings throughout are very good indeed, and have been carried out by Messrs J. and T. Danks. The contractors were Messrs Rastrick Bros., and the architect Mr C. Cuff, and it speaks well for both contractor and architect that the whole work was completed within five months from the signing of the contract. [13]

A ‘Purely Local Company’
Source: Star, Issue 4534, 4 November 1882, Page 2. Image: PapersPast
Source: Star, Issue 4534, 4 November 1882, Page 2. Image: PapersPast

Cash businesses were nothing new. In the same location had been Church’s Cash Draper. Mr Church became the first Manager of D.I.C. store. Although similar to its Dunedin counterpart, Church made the point in one of their first advertisements to point out that the company was not a branch of any Dunedin firm, but a ‘purely local company’. One of the reasons he claimed the ‘D.D.I.C’ obtained public support was because the Directors, Shareholders, Manager and all interested parties were residents in Christchurch. They didn’t get large profits to pay big dividends to non-resident shareholders, but divided the profit with the customer, as every purchaser became a participating Shareholder. To do this they relied on low rent, small expenses, cash trade, no book debts, and all goods imported direct form London, cutting out the middlemen. [14]

Within the first two years, the Christchurch business had exceeded the Directors’ expectations, necessitating an enlargement of the premises. Even though there had been ‘great shrinkage in all branches of trade throughout the colony’, the volume of business at the D.I.C., which included the founding Dunedin branch, had steadily increased throughout the 1886 year by 35% over the previous year.

Good Value and Good Taste

The Company had established a buying agency in London and, after sending the Dunedin manager, Mr Soward, ‘home’ to England, through his offices they received ‘good value’ and ‘good taste’ in his selections which enabled them to greatly increase their trade in millinery, mantles, laces, and various other fine things that appealed to “the fairer half of creation”.

Profit was over £5000, bonuses and dividends were able to be paid to shareholders, plus an additional bonus to shareholding customers based on a percentage on the amount of their purchase. Shareholders sent in their stamped invoices so the amount of the bonus could be calculated.

As sales increased, Hallenstein announced they would be able to make further reductions in favour of their customers without increasing expenditure. To do this the business needed more customers and more sales, so he encouraged his shareholding customers to bring their friends ‘and show them the advantage of becoming shareholders’.

“More frugal habits prevail, and the D.I.C. is educating people not to buy goods if they do not see their way to pay for them, thus encouraging them to live within their means.” Bendix Hallenstein [15]

The co-operative family warehouse – D.I.C. – was off to a promising start. 49,000 additional shares had been taken up and paid up capital had gone from £27,000 to £40,000.

>> Part 2: Fire Eats Out Best Block of Christchurch 1908
>> Part 3: D.I.C. 1909 – ‘An up-to-date Emporium’
  1. Burton Brothers, Photography studio, 1880s. Image: C.011519 Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
  2. Letters to the Editor, Press, Volume XLI, Issue 6099, 4 April 1885, Page 6.
  3. Page 2 Advertisements Column 3, Star, Issue 5103, 10 September 1884, Page 2. Image: Paperspast.
  4. Extensive Land Speculation, Dunedin – Star, Issue 4974, 12 April 1884, Page 4.
  5. New Zealand Tablet, Volume XII, Issue 2, 2 May 1884, Page 14.
  6.  Untitled, Clutha Leader, Volume XI, Issue 524, 1 August 1884, Page 5. ‘Untitled’, Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XIV, Issue 4780, 3 February 1887, Page 2.
  7. News of the Day – Press, Volume XL, Issue 5842, 4 June 1884, Page 2.
  8. The jubilee history of Canterbury, N.Z., 1900 / Henry A. Cowper, p. 41. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0044.
  9. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Reg. No. O.002067
  10. The jubilee history of Canterbury, N.Z., 1900 / Henry A. Cowper, p. 38. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0048.
  11. Christchurch illustrated by pen and picture, 5 p. after title page. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0050.
  12. Christchurch illustrated by pen and picture, 3 p. after title page. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL PhotoCD 10, IMG0049.
  13. CITY IMPROVEMENTS. Press, Volume XLI, Issue 6090, 24 March 1885, Page 3.
  14. Page 2 Advertisements Column 3, Star, Issue 5285, 15 April 1885, Page 2.
  15. Otago Daily Times , Issue 7701, 23 October 1886, Page 3.
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One Comment Add yours

  1. Dot Skewes says:

    Hi Wendy

    My great grandparents – Samuel and Jane Swaine – owned a habadashery business in Christchurch briefly in 1883. According to ads in the Star they sold the business to Mr Church in December 1883. Their ads note they are located next to Mr. Simpson Bookseller. Is there any possibility I am looking at their business in the photo (DIC on Cashel Street far left) on your website?

    Like

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