The real estate firm, Barfoot & Thompson, was founded by Val Barfoot in Newmarket, 1923. Unable to find work in his chosen career due to an economic downturn, the 25-year-old mechanical engineer purchased an existing real estate business for £75, and set about developing his one-person firm.
His first sale was in Wheturangi Rd, Greenlane. Others followed, typically in the suburbs around Newmarket-Remuera, Epsom, Greenlane, One Tree Hill, Meadowbank-as the young entrepreneur capitalised on the urbanisation occurring in Auckland city. Using the New Zealand Herald to advertise property, he cultivated a precise advertising style, with small, two and three-line advertisements. In 1924, he was joined by his brother Kelland, and together they expanded the firm into letting and rental services.
The brothers ambitiously moved to expensive Queen St offices in 1929, little knowing that the Depression was about to start. With a marked fall off in property sales, the firm survived on revenue from its letting and rental services. In 1934, Maurice Thompson, (who was to become a partner in 1940) also joined the firm. Having been a top salesman at farm-supplies company, Wright Stevenson & Co., Thompson brought proven sales and team leadership skills to the firm.
Like other land agencies in Auckland, Barfoot & Thompson made little headway during the Second World War due to government imposed price limits on real estate sales. Fortunately for the partners, their letting and valuation services kept the firm afloat until 1949, when a National Government lifted property sales restrictions. Property prices and sales volume lifted rapidly, and the partners responded by implementing a determined policy of branch expansion.
Employing a highly decentralised management structure which allowed branch managers significant scope over property promotion and staff management, within ten years the firm had over fifteen locations across Auckland. Noted Val Barfoot:
"Our present system works well with a large number of branches of which the managers are paid in proportion to the profits of their branches. This gives a satisfactory system of decentralisation with each manager handling a small field which he understands."
Val Barfoot, 1962
As new suburbs were developed through state housing and government subsidised loans in the 1950s and 1960s, Barfoot & Thompson continued its multiple branch expansion. Between 1960 and 1970 turnover in the firm trebled. During this time the business passed on to the next generation; sons Monty Thompson, John Thompson, Garth Barfoot, and Chris Barfoot all rising to management positions in the family partnership.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Barfoot and Thompson found themselves struggling against increased competition from new firms and innovative marketing practices. In the 1990s they invested heavily in a computer system and adopted vendor-contributions toward property marketing. Slowly, they regained lost market share, continuing to open further branches. By 2004, the firm remained in family hands, headed by Peter Thompson and Garth Barfoot with 60 branches and more than 1000 sales staff.
From left; Chris Barfoot, Monty Thompson, Garth Barfoot, and John Thompson, at the managers meeting, 1980.
Second-generation Garth Barfoot at work.