MEET PETE. PETE IS THE COLOURFUL CHARACTER AND FAMILIAR LOCAL FACE BEHIND PETE’S PICNIC TABLES. HE RECENTLY GAVE US A FEW MOMENTS OF HIS TIME TO SHARE HIS THOUGHTS ON WHAT IT MEANS TO HIM TO LIVE AND WORK IN LYALL BAY.
With deadlines to meet, Pete chips away at his next set of tables as we chat. Having spent 18 years honing his skills its evident the process now runs like clockwork - not bad for a man with no formal training in woodworking "I'm actually a butcher by trade. Believe it or not I used to hate woodwork at school. I hated the sanding part and all the mucking around, but I just kind of grew into it I suppose and I love working with wood now"
His start in woodworking initially began as a bit of a hobby from home during the summer months, whilst managing the Foodtown butchery (now Countdown) in Lower Hutt. It soon became a viable full time pursuit as demand grew "I had more and more people knocking on the door when I wasn't doing it asking if I had any picnic tables so I thought why not". For the first 6 years Pete was doing it all from his home in Lyall Bay, selling from the front yard to passer-by's. He has been in his current Kingsford Smith Street workshop and showroom for almost 12 years.
Pete's points of difference to others in the industry is that his furniture is made for the tough Wellington environment, he knows his product inside out (evident in the frantic pace he gets through his work as we speak) and he stands by the quality "My point of difference is that mine is solid, it doesn't wobble and it's made for the environment. I considered it, I'm a big guy and a lot of the stuff you buy isn't made for your regular kiwi bloke or the Wellington conditions. My furniture is built on that principle, people say I'm a good salesperson but it's more the fact that I'm selling a good product and it sells itself. Everybody now knows where I live too so I have to make an honest product haha"
Lyall Bay has played an integral part in the development of Pete's furniture. The harsh coastal environment is literally the reason he started building furniture in the first place "I got sick of coming home from work and doing the typical job of having to find the furniture first then chuck in an extra screw or nail to fix it up" This repetitive process persuaded Pete to build his own picnic table, which he then sold on to a friend. He made another and put a 'for sale' sign on it. It sold within half an hour - he hadn't even thought of a price. "That's where it all started I suppose. I guess I can thank Lyall Bay for that because I saw the potential in what I was doing in the area. For the first 6 years I was doing it from home, selling from my front yard to people walking and driving past, so I can put that down to Lyall Bay, definitely."
Having lived in Lyall Bay consistently now for the last 20 years Pete has seen his fair share of changes in the area, the biggest of which being the redevelopment of the wastewater treatment plant "In my opinion one of the defining changes was when they did up the wastewater treatment plant. When I was younger, before they did it up, it was pretty much raw sewerage going out at Moa Point. You'd walk round there and there'd just be this stink. You'd be out there surfing, touching all sorts of nasty stuff and in your head you'd be thinking 'I hope that's a jellyfish'. So back in those early days Lyall Bay even on a good day was pretty deserted. Once that changed people started coming back"
The revitalisation of Lyall Bay, in Pete's opinion, has been a flow on effect to this change. People now flock to Lyall Bay on a good day and a number of new business have followed suit. "There's more people coming here, cafes have started to pop up, the shopping complex across the road has bought more people out this way. Things have changed. Nowadays the surf can be pretty much non-existent and there's still truckloads of people out there. So it's good and bad in that sense I guess"
An avid fan of the water Pete makes good use of the bays seaside location and can often be seen out in the surf in his kayak (be sure to ask him about the time he tried to get barrelled in his kayak). Running his own business means downtime is fairly sporadic for Pete but when he does get some he enjoys getting round in his campervan, checking out New Zealand's forests and the wood he actually works with. "I like the water. I love walking. Since I work with wood I like to actually see some the trees I'm working with, your rimu's, kauris etc" This love of the New Zealand environment and landscape is something Pete also appreciates about living and working in the Bay. With the airport, entrance to the harbour and busy surf community there's a lot to soak up in Lyall Bay "The thing about Lyall Bay is that it's always got something to look at. I think the advantage of Lyall Bay over all the other southern coast bays is the airport. Everything is lit up at night so you can sit at the window and watch the planes come in, watch the ferries and cruise liners go across, you can even see the surf coming in at night."
A Lyall Bay stalwart Pete has become a familiar face in the community and gets a real sense of satisfaction from his notoriety "I'll be travelling round town and people wave. Kids point at the supermarket and say 'There's the picnic man' which is cool. So I get appreciation financially and through people. It blows me away. It's what keeps me going I guess, keeps the passion up" - A sentiment I'm sure many around the community can relate to.
Although a one man band Pete attributes much of his success to his better half Alison. The old adage “Behind every great man there’s a great women” rings true with Alison who has played a huge supporting role in the growth of Pete’s Picnics Tables over the years. No man is an island and Pete is one man who doesn’t escape this notion.
For more information on Pete's Picnic Tables check out the website, or alternatively pay Pete a visit.
Pete's workshop has now moved to 306 Hebden cres, Kelson, Lower Hutt.