Business mentor helps ‘courageous’ first-time Hawke’s Bay retailers in their 60s stay afloat

Running a small retail business with no experience, let alone doing it when you’re nearing retirement age, is no easy task. Add cyclones, the cost of living, and a pandemic to the mix, and you’d think many wouldn’t even bother setting up shop.

Onekawa Books & Gifts shop owners Chris and Tracey Abrehamsen are both in their mid 60s and their story of determination and tenacity prove you’re never too old to leap into a new challenge or ask for help.

To say that Chris and Tracey Abrehamsen have had a challenging few years would be an understatement.

After the labourer of 15 years faced work disruptions due to Covid lockdowns and nearing retirement age, he and his wife decided to take a punt and purchase a Napier book and craft business at the height of the 2022 pandemic.

While they had plenty of experience as self-employed individuals and Tracey was passionate about craft, they had never worked in retail or run a business before.

“It’s been a huge learning curve. Cleaning up the place was challenging. Nothing was on a computer, and it was a cash business,” Abrehamsen said.

Cyclone Gabrielle’s knock-on has impacted expenses and supply, and the economic fallout from the pandemic continues to cause issues for the pair.

They said they doubt they would have coped this long without their business mentor, Leonie Wallwork, a Business Mentors New Zealand volunteer.

The non-profit organisation has paired mentors with business owners nationwide for over three decades. Business owners pay an annual membership fee of $295 to receive hands-on guidance and support.

“We’ve built a friendship over the years with Leonie, and it’s been incredible,” Abrehamsen said.

“She’s been wonderful with a depth of understanding and a persuasive technique to help guide us on our journey.”

Wallwork acted as a sounding board and reflected what the retail industry is like, helping get the pair back on track six months into their journey when they were already struggling.

“Chris and Tracey were allocated to me as mentees a few years ago, and I’ve been working closely with them through all the trials and tribulations of the floods, Covid and the cyclone,” she said.

“They are an amazing couple. Tenacious through some pretty trying times for a small business.”

Wallwork said it was a “very courageous” step to invest in one’s own business later in life.

“I admire their courage and tenacity to take that step and contribute to the community, hopefully setting themselves up for later in life if they stop getting these curveballs thrown at them.”


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First published by Hawke’s Bay Today. Click here to read the full article.