By Holly Shan
Everyone in Mercury Bay knew ‘The Saddlery.’ It was tucked down a laneway off Albert Street and was an old shed full of feed and supplies for chooks, horses, dogs and farm animals. Children loved to visit because of the array of Schleich toys.
But The Saddlery has moved to a bigger venue and for a bigger purpose. Matt and Lisa Gearon's new store opened last Tuesday at 8/9 Joan Gaskell Drive. It is 11 times larger than the Saddlery and has a new name. No longer is it Mercury Bay Saddlery; now it is Mercury Bay Farm Supply. "The name change is important, we're not just selling things for horses,” says Lisa. “We have always been a source of supplies for the farm but that was not so well known, and the stock was always so packed in. Now we have room for a wide range of grass seeds, fertilizers, sprays fencing equipment, troughs, outdoor clothing, boots and an ever-expanding range of animal feed and supplies. It will be a one-stop shop for farmers and lifestyle block owners."
People in town can find a variety of feeds for their pets in the store. Raw and dry food for dogs and cats, collars, leads, harnesses, flea and worm treatment. There will be items to suit all kinds of pets: even bunnies, guinea pigs, birds and fish. Also, the clothing side has expanded and isn't limited to horse riders. “Our new shop has space for a bigger range of clothing. We will have Swazi, Game Gear, Betacraft, Huntech and Ringers Western, along with Carhartt work wear and boots,” says Lisa.
"When Matt and I were growing up and went to the farm store, often it was where you caught up with neighbours and all the kids would be running around and having fun while the adults chatted. We hope our store can be that for our area, a community-based one. There’s even a comfy couch and coffee machine for those that want to put their feet up for a bit."
Willie Nelson is the shop mascot: he's a 6-week-old wild piglet named after the world-famous singer and is undoubtedly the star employee helping fulfil the wish to build community spirit. Willie receives a steady stream of visitors popping in to say hi. Willie was found lost in Kūaotunu and needed a home, so Matt and Lisa were more than happy to adopt him. "Willie is part of the family and fits in perfectly with the five dogs, three cats, one possum, four ducks and two horses. It’s a bit of a circus at dinner time but we wouldn’t have it any other way."
Considering the negative impact that Covid has had on a lot of businesses across the country, Matt and Lisa's store is a different story. They moved to Whitianga from Athenree five years ago to manage a dairy farm. They started Mercury Bay Saddlery in January 2020 and turned a horse float into a mobile shop, doing pop-up shops and feed deliveries in the area. When the first nationwide lockdown happened in March 2020 the need for animal feed and hay deliveries increased dramatically. During the two periods of lockdown, Matt and Lisa expanded their delivery service across the Coromandel Peninsula and as far as Paeroa. "We clocked up about 20,000 kilometres delivering hay and feed during the lockdowns. It was crazy but so much fun meeting everyone, animals and so rewarding,” says Lisa. That was when it became clear a shop was needed. At the same time, Matt was still managing the dairy farm, and when the contract ended, they decided to concentrate on expanding the business. "Matt is a jack of all trades and he actually helped to build this new store,” says Lisa proudly.
Lisa is still working on further developing the business's online side, setting up the new website with her friend, Kyle. "Our customers contact us by phone or through our Facebook page. It works quite well but now I hope we can make ordering easier and offer a click and collect service."
Matt and Lisa are very grateful to the community for the help and support people have given them. Regular customers have become friends, for example, Jaimee. Jaimee originally came in as a customer and over time started giving Lisa a hand in the store whenever she needed it. “She's definitely an important member of the Farm Supply family and we couldn’t do without her," says Lisa. "She's been such a great help.
I can say we wouldn't be where we are now without Jaimee. She covers the shop so I can get out and about to do deliveries. Thank you to everyone who has come in to give their sincere wishes and congratulations for our success and suggestions for what we should stock. It’s been invaluable having our customers’ input."
Lisa has been thinking about what she can do to give back to the community. With this new space, she feels she has the chance. "We love supporting small local growers and producers, and this new place has enough room. Already, we are stocking locally produced honey and bee products. Next up are flowers, and fruit and veggies grown in Coroglen.” The new store is still a long way from exactly how Matt and Lisa want it to be. “Over the coming weeks, the shop will fill up with more and more stock as orders arrive, a bit of something for everyone. We are planning to hold seminars, information nights and nutritional talks etc. There will be a grand opening soon with product reps, giveaways and maybe some special guests.”
Caption: Lisa and 'Willie Nelson', a 6-week-old piglet.