Nostalgia and word play with Paul Little.
The store that always put it right.
Before there was shopping online or delivery by drones and couriers in a hurry, there was mail-order shopping, as brought to a peak of perfection by appliance retailer LV Martin & Son. It gets a bit confusing because the chap everyone remembers from the LV Martin ads that ran on TV so frequently in the 60s and 70s wasn’t LV (Leo) but his son, Alan. And then Alan’s son, Neil, took over the business – and the ads.
LV started his mini-empire in 1934 with a music store that added other items to the stock until it became a pre-eminent appliance retailer. According to industry mag Wares, the always service- and customerfocused Leo’s innovations included offering his own hire purchase deals and 12-month guarantees.
Son Alan joined his father in the firm in 1944, but the story of the business was not always one of happy families. Their disagreements grew to the point that, when Leo suggested if Alan wasn’t happy he should open his own shop, Martin Jr took the advice – and the money his new wife was expecting to see used as the deposit on a house – and started his own store, also in Wellington’s CBD.
It gets more confusing. Ruffled feathers were somehow smoothed, and for a while father and son shared advertisements and the name LV Martin & Son, even though they were commercially in opposition. When Leo retired, Alan took over and reunited both businesses.
Alan created newspaper ads that used line drawings rather than photographs of the products, accompanied by copious text. This format endured until well into the 1980s. Personal guarantees were always part of Alan’s philosophy and took up a large part of his ads as he promised breathlessly: “Goods sent immediately… If goods damaged on arrival, we will “put it right” at no cost to you… Full refund on goods returned within 14 days… 60-day right of exchange... LV Martin’s 12-month guarantee… You also get the manufacturer’s guarantee.”
Products’ virtues were described at length, such as a car hi-fi system’s “reverse cassette function [that] automatically plays the 2nd side after the 1st side, giving you distractionfree listening and driving”.
In the early 60s, Alan wrote, starred in and directed some of New Zealand’s first TV ads, including his slogan: “If it’s not right we’ll put it right and it’s the putting right that counts.”
Alan’s son, Neil, had grown up with the business and joined in 1978. “We ran a seven-days-a-week after-hours service,” he told North & South in 1994, which meant customers could ring the family’s home phone number – shown in its ads – at any time of the day or night.
Neil’s innovations included LV Martin’s large catalogues, launched in 1979, with 200,000 copies mailed seven times a year. It was as though the company was trying to provide an online service before the internet had been invented: back then, the browser was a person sitting on a couch in their living room.
The business went through several more stages before Smiths City purchased a majority shareholding in 2004. It’s remembered now for its idiosyncratic ads and a commitment to customers and service that few other retailers have equalled, or even attempted to emulate.