Wander into any souvenir store these days, and it’s a fair bet that with so much made in China, many items are as authentically Kiwi as a pair of chopsticks. For a serious gift and souvenir store, stocking mainly genuine New Zealand-made products is something of a struggle, but it’s one that Ian and Lisa New of the Mount Maunganui store Kiwiana Gifts & Souvenirs gladly enter.
Ian New says it can be pretty difficult to source items that are genuinely Kiwi-made, but he estimates that a large 70% of their stock fits the category. We like to know who made the product and its background, he explains, “so we can tell our customers a bit about it, rather than just say its New Zealand made...” A number of stores, he says, stock items that are labelled ‘designed and marketed in New Zealand’ or ‘100% New Zealand-owned.’ “You’ll see that on an item and it’s (really) made in China.”
The pair are completely up front about identifying the few items in their store which are made overseas, and are strong on “product knowledge” where the New Zealand crafts and collectables are concerned. If it’s a wood or bone carving – the News can tell you who the carver is, and where he lives. Customers shopping for souvenirs of their trip like to know such things.
The pair have serious credentials when it comes to Kiwiana. They started their first Kiwiana store in Otorohanga in the Waikato several years ago, the Kiwiana capital of New Zealand, and decided to bring the concept to the beach. “We’ve worked hard at Kiwiana Craft in Otorohanga, but it’s an awesome challenge working in the heart of Mount Maunganui,” says Ian. The work is paying off with Kiwiana Craft has already been named as a finalist in the 2008 Top Shop Awards.
One of the challenges for the couple is space to accommodate their thousands of items – with the Mount store smaller than the Waikato one. But judging from the numbers of passersby who stop to look in the window – if not browse inside – there’s a definite market for good Kiwiana at the Mount.
What do they sell that’s one of a kind? Ian New cites their greenstone, noting that much of what is sold as New Zealand greenstone, even on the West Coast of the South Island, is in fact imported. Their own pendants and other greenstone pieces are from Hokitika and hand- picked, sometimes from the carver himself.
At cheaper end of the souvenir market, are a big range of key rings that Kiwiana sells by the hundred. And the popularity of one or two slightly more expensive items have surprised the News. When a sales rep first showed the couple the ‘Sheep Shagger’ novelty shot glasses, Ian says they turned them down – for fear of offending some of their more elderly customers. They needn’t have worried, as many have been among the buyers of the naughty glasses. “Australians love them,” laughs Ian, “as a way of getting at us.”
In a similar vein, is the book titled Favourite New Zealand Jokes About Australians. The iconic, historic Edmonds Cook Book is a good seller, along with completely natural skin care products, and possum-merino scarves and gloves that are bought by European and American tourists. You can buy drink coasters and clocks made from native woods like Rimu, and children love the novelty ‘Kiwi Poo’ and ‘Squashed Possum’ novelty lollies. The store also stocks a range of Selke brand, shepherd-style hats from the South Island.
Naturally you can buy a wooden buzzy bee – a favourite of Kiwi kids for decades – and there is a range of All Black clothing and accessories for children. High on one wall are the couple’s ‘Top NZ T-shirts.’ If you don’t know your buzzy bees from your tikis, your gumboots from your jandals, your hokey pokey from your Marmite... Kiwiana will put you straight, mate.
Kiwiana is at 134 Maunganui Road, downtown Mount Maunganui, tel 574 5740.