Umbrella firm rides the winds of change

The Lethaby name has been synonymous with quality umbrellas for 145 years, but the business is no dinosaur – adapting and diversifying with the times.

While the Lethaby family no longer owns the business, it’s still very much a family affair. The Newman family bought the Auckland business almost 30 years ago. Four of its seven staff are Newmans: brothers Alex and Stephen are directors, their father Tom – who bought the company and formerly managed it – does the accounts, and Stephen’s daughter Georgia is an account manager.

The company sells umbrellas through retailers around the country, branded umbrellas for businesses and also makes and sells market umbrellas for hospitality businesses.

Director Stephen Newman says it has also diversified into the wholesale catering market, supplying table-top items such as cutlery and whiteware. And a year ago Lethaby bought a company that imports Arcoroc glassware.

The purchase was prompted by the recession and its lingering hangover.  “Like everyone we noticed that things got tighter and tougher. That’s why we went out and bought another company, to try and keep our income up without increasing our workload.”

The company also fitted neatly into the existing Lethaby business.  “We can do the commercial printing on the glassware and we can sell it to the catering market. It fitted into what we were doing, we did not have to go out and hunt for new clients.”

Stephen says the company prides itself on the quality of its products – you’re unlikely to find a Lethaby umbrella inside out and upside down in a rubbish bin. “Our rain umbrellas are very high-quality and very wind proof. People come into stores asking for a Lethaby umbrella – we love that.”

Moore Stephens Markhams Auckland recently bought 140 branded big golf umbrellas from the firm, and has also been a valued accounting partner for about 25 years, he says.

“They’re very professional, very thorough and they’ve never put a foot wrong. We worked with Geoff Hatten before he retired and now we work with Kiran Bhikha. They’re experts in their field and they’re very good at giving clear advice. The fact that they belong to a reasonably big national group gives us a lot of comfort, if they don’t know something themselves they can find someone in the group who does.”

While business is not back to ‘heyday’ levels, it is improving each year and Lethaby will continue to innovate and move with the market, Stephen says.

The fact the company makes its market umbrellas to order is a huge plus, he says.  Customers can choose from more than 60 colours and a big range of sizes.

“We’re always trying to come up with new ideas to keep the market umbrellas modern and fresh and making them here allows us to do that quite easily.

“Last year we introduced striped market umbrellas, which may not sound like a big thing but they look phenomenal and they have been quite successful for us.”


Published Autumn 2016

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