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Earning their stripes

Owning a successful business can provide a good living, but it comes with sacrifice and stress, according to first-time business owners Nathan and Kelly Sargent, who took over their Wairarapa motorcycle business in 2008.

“We started out small and thought we’d keep things simple with just one or two staff. But the customers kept coming and the business kept growing. In 2020 we moved into our third workshop and there are 16 people working here now,” says Kelly.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on turnover, with struggles to bring in new stock and source available parts. Sales have slumped noticeably.
“But we have been very busy in the workshop. If people can’t buy a new one then they need to repair the old. It’s been a difficult time but most people have been very good about it,” says Nathan.

Customers come from the local towns and rural communities, including a growing influx of lifestylers and weekenders.

“More people seem to be moving here from Wellington. They buy a quad bike or a recreational bike from us and that has helped our Polaris and Yamaha sales. It was particularly noticeable at the beginning of last year. We have also been selling more children’s bikes in the past couple of years.”

Sargent Motorcycles also has a strong online outlet, selling motorcycles, accessories and parts and sending them out around the country.

Costly NIMBYism

All in all, the couple say the last few years have been pretty challenging, and followed on from a particularly stressful few years as they tried to get their new premises up and running.

In 2015, the business was operating out of two sites in Carterton and they had begun looking for a larger, single site.

“Word got out that South Wairarapa Auto Services, which, like us, ran a 24-hour tow and salvage service, was moving out of their premises on the main road. It was a large site, with room to extend the building. We were told by the council the area was zoned residential with commercial use. So we thought it would be a good fit,” explained Nathan.

“The council told us it would be simple.” Quite wrong.

“We put all the plans into the council, they were accepted and we began building the 600-square-metre workshop that would join the existing building.
“A neighbour became concerned by the height of the roof and went in to complain. All the trusses and framework were up but the council discovered they had given us permission for something that was outside of the rules for that area. So we had to get it all re-engineered and put a hip in to reduce the height from the boundary fence,” explains Nathan.

Kelly says the neighbour still wasn’t happy and the council issued a ‘stop work’ notice. Then a property developer at the back got involved – he was selling sections for new houses.

“We ended up having to buy the neighbour’s house and get the other neighbours to agree to our building. But the developer kept going with his action and we ended up in mediation.”

Since the council had made the costly mistake there was also some legal action, which the Sargents can’t discuss.

The final outcome was the project was held up for about 18 months; they had to put in a fence and plant some trees along the rear boundary of the new property development and go through
a long period of noise monitoring.

Kelly says, “Looking back, it all worked out. We are really grateful to the banks, which kept lending us the money we needed. We managed to rent out the house we bought. The person who bought our other building let us stay on as tenants until we could move in to the new place. But we were in a world of debt.”

The business now has the building consent it needed and has approval to work out of the building. “But we still don’t have resource consent - and won’t get it until the noise monitoring ends in a few months,” says Kelly. They are not expecting it to become a further hurdle.

“In some ways, we were really lucky. If we were trying to do this today, the new financing laws would stop us getting the extra money we needed.”