Ilam New World

Distance no barrier to business success

The grocery industry is in Phill Blackburn’s blood.  As a young boy he would spend hours pushing trolleys and stocking shelves in his father’s Auckland Pak’nSave supermarket.


“Dad’s supermarket is where I cut my teeth,” says Phill.  “I was immersed in the grocery industry from a young age and as an adult I worked for dad for four years to learn the business on the ground before going to university.  But it was always my dream to own my own supermarket.”

Phill left Auckland and moved to Christchurch to work for Shell, then on to Wanaka for three years before settling in Balclutha with wife Sarah.  The Blackburns owned the town’s New World for five years before an opportunity to own a new supermarket in Christchurch landed on Phill’s desk.

“The chance to own a bigger, newly built store came through Foodstuffs and we leapt at it.  Moving to Christchurch represented a big step for us in our grocery career.  Christchurch was getting back on its feet and the time seemed right to move and take advantage of the opportunity,” he explains.

The couple has owned the Ilam supermarket for the last four and a half years and love being in Christchurch.  Phill works long days and loves being on the ‘shop floor’ connecting with his customers, but tries to keep weekends free to spend time with Sarah and their four children, aged from 5 to 13.  “It’s a really cool region and we love getting out and about,” he says.

The Ilam New World is a medium-sized supermarket comparatively speaking.  “It’s extremely modern with its black ceiling and exposed concrete flooring.  It’s a high-end supermarket, but with a very mixed clientele.  Our shoppers include families, students, as Canterbury University is just around the corner, and the elderly.  There’s a lovely mix and the store has a real community feel.”

Living and owning a business in Christchurch while his accountant is located in Dunedin hasn’t proved any problem for Phill.   “We met Markhams Otago director Barry O’Donnell when we set up our Balclutha New World.  He came highly recommended from another supermarket owner.   He’s great – he definitely understands the grocery business,” he says.

Phill and Barry meet up two or three times every year at the store when Barry is up in Christchurch.  “It’s very convenient and suits us to stay working with Barry as he has been with us since we owned our first supermarket.”

Before the Blackburn’s financial information reaches Barry for review, Phill says he knows exactly where they stand.  “Financial information is at our fingertips every day. Foodstuffs’ financial systems are such that we get daily reports that show us who is coming through the door and how our business is performing.

By the time our financial reports reach Markhams they are in a format that Barry can work with for our tax obligations.

“We also use Barry as a sounding board and run any questions or problems we have by him.  He knows our business intimately and is always at the end of the phone for advice.”

Phill says he isn’t ruling out purchasing another supermarket in the future.  “If the right opportunity came up we would carefully consider it.  And it wouldn’t matter where it is – we’d still rely on Barry for financial advice.”

Published Winter 2016

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