French Electrical is 50!

French Electrical is celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year, and it’s a story of humble beginnings and relentless growth – they’ve been servicing the Auckland area since 1974! To mark the occasion, we asked some questions of some of the team:

  • Chris French is the current owner of French Electrical, the business his father started.
  • Kath French is Chris’ mother, married to Richard, who began the family business.
  • Nigel is French Electrical’s longest-employed certified electrician.
  • Nick was Chris’ first apprentice at French Electrical when he took over from Richard.
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From kitchen table to thriving enterprise.

French Electrical officially started on April 1st, 1974, but there’s no April Fool’s Day joke here. Richard and Kath began working from their kitchen table, managing their accounts. The journey led them to convert their garage into a half-office and, later, to a shed and a Portacom on their farmland on Gracechurch Drive in East Tamaki until 2007. The company then purchased a factory on Sir William Ave and stayed there until 2020, when they moved to their current premises on Harris Road in East Tamaki.

Before starting his apprenticeship, Chris wired up customer lights in the farm garage as a part-time job. Back then, there weren’t any recessed lights, so every light had to have about 200mm of flex on each fitting. He got paid 50 cents for each light and could do ten an hour. Nick’s earliest memory is turning up at the shed on the French Farm, where there were two vans, four guys, and the family helping the business. For the first ten minutes of every morning, it was always just him and Richard sipping their coffees. Their first apprentice was Stuart Marshall, who was very loyal; the whole time he worked for them, he only took a few days off, and that was for his dad’s funeral! Thus began a journey of loyalty from both employees and employers.

The enduring spirit of French.

For the team at French, a 50-year journey has been marked by recession. Yet, through the economic challenges, this crew has persevered.

Nigel, a veteran of multiple recessions, has seen colleagues come and go over the years, often leaving to explore overseas. In the 1976 recession, Kath recalls their apprentice Stuart painting fences around the farmhouse, keeping the property looking good. Nick appreciates the steady work, even during slower times. And Chris takes pride in never letting go of a team member during these difficult periods.

But recessions weren’t the only obstacles. Relocating to a new office always proved to be a significant undertaking. Chris admits that accumulating “stuff” over time made each move challenging. However, they settled into their current location just before the Covid lockdowns hit.

At the core of French lies the tradition of apprenticeship. Year after year, new recruits arrive, eager to learn from their experienced mentors. The turnover may be difficult, but the pride in guiding these young minds and watching them grow from novices to skilled professionals is immense. This continuous cycle of learning and teaching is the essence of French, a story of growth, camaraderie, and the passing of knowledge. This spirit has driven the company through the decades, ensuring its success and longevity in facing challenges.

Challenges are the lifeblood of the French team, particularly when faced with a client who’s been told, “It can’t be done.” Chris thrives on these moments, collaborating with the customer to find a solution. For him, French Electrical isn’t just a company; it’s a problem-solving powerhouse, always ready with a resolution.

retro van

From humble beginnings to high-tech projects.

Kath’s memory is vivid as she recalls their first client, Don Fyfe Homes, a builder contractor with a long-standing connection. When Don passed away, and Fletchers acquired the company, the relationship remained unbroken, a testament to the strength of their partnership. Nick, too, reminisces about working alongside Fyfe Homes/Fletcher Living, witnessing the industry’s transformation firsthand. Both companies evolved, embracing cutting-edge technologies and adapting to the ever-changing market demands. Through growth and challenges, they forged an unwavering commitment to excellence – a foundation that has propelled them both to success.

Chris recalls two projects in Whitford that highlighted French’s capabilities. The homes featured advanced systems, allowing owners to control everything from their phones. Due to the project’s scale, a tradesman was required on-site daily for over a year. These jobs demonstrated French’s ability to handle complex, technology-driven assignments and laid the groundwork for the tech solutions they provide today.

Where family values meet business success.

At French, the bonds within the team extend beyond the professional. Apprentices who join as teenagers grow up, and the team celebrates their milestones, from weddings to first homes. Nigel has watched the young ones master tools and skills while also witnessing their personal journeys – finding love, starting families, and building lives.

Kath and Richard found great satisfaction in mentoring apprentices, guiding them through the challenges and triumphs of their journey. Some apprentices ventured overseas or started their own businesses, while others became integral parts of the French Electrical family. During Friday night social gatherings, the workshop often echoed with laughter, where the team would bond over friendly basketball games. Christmas work events were equally memorable, bringing everyone together to celebrate and connect.

“There’s always a way,” Chris often says, “sometimes, you just need to think outside the square.” This philosophy and the tight-knit, family-like atmosphere have driven French’s success. At the heart of French Electrical lies a simple truth: employees are family. Kath paints a picture of a team that embodies professionalism, no matter their challenges.

In a world where businesses often prioritise profits over people, French is different. By treating employees as family and clients as valued partners, they have built a reputation far beyond their electrical expertise. They put people first.

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Laughter and learning – the French way.

At French Electrical, playful banter and practical jokes are part of the daily routine. One memorable prank involved moving an apprentice’s scooter to the first floor of the workshop, leaving the stairs as the only escape route. Taping a tape measure to the roof or suspending a tool belt from a rafter high above the ground – it’s all a part of the apprenticeship experience.

Nigel can’t help but laugh when he watches a new apprentice attempt to dig a trench for the first time. Whatever lessons they’re learning at home, it’s clear that proper shovel technique isn’t one of them. Introducing a novice apprentice to cable stripping is a source of amusement for Chris. They’ll observe him closely, assuming it’s a simple task. But when left to their own devices, Chris will return to find a collection of wires cut too short. The apprentice’s reaction is often along the lines of, “It’s way tougher than you made it seem.”

These moments of laughter and learning are the building blocks of the French Electrical experience. From light-hearted pranks to the trials and triumphs of mastering new skills, the team embraces the journey with a sense of humour and a commitment to growth. It’s a unique culture where hard work and camaraderie go hand in hand.

The French family legacy.

Chris worked for another company before joining the family business as an apprentice. He attended Manukau Tech for his electrical training, and Kath recalls the pride she felt when he completed a temporary pole for a job in Mangawhai.

With coiled wires for neatness and precisely positioned power points, Kath sees Chris as a reflection of his Papa and Father. He inherited their keen eye for detail and dedication to excellence, no matter the scale of the task. Chris learned from them that professionalism shines through in the smallest of actions, and he carries this family legacy forward in every project he undertakes.

However, the path wasn’t always smooth. Nick recounts a time when Richard had to put Chris in his place. Under pressure, Chris had overstepped while addressing his father. Similarly, Nigel has seen Chris do the same with his own son, Hunter. Though Hunter’s personality differs, Chris keeps him grounded by assigning him the universally dreaded Test and Tag jobs when necessary.

The story of Chris’s journey is one of growth, learning, and the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next. From his early days as an apprentice to his role as a mentor to his own son, Chris embodies the values and work ethic that have defined French Electrical for decades. It’s the power of family, the importance of humility, and the enduring impact of leading by example.

When asked about the impact of the business on his life, Chris’s response is simple yet profound: “It is my life.” The company is not just a means of livelihood for Chris; it is an all-encompassing passion that defines his existence.

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50 years of excellence.

French Electrical has thrived on strong bonds with its clients, suppliers, and team members. The company’s success is rooted in the loyalty of its clients, whose word-of-mouth endorsement has been instrumental in shaping the business into the respected entity it is today.

The French Electrical team is actively shaping the company’s future. When faced with growth challenges, they discuss solutions, with team members readily offering support and assistance. This collaborative spirit has created a sense of unity and shared purpose among the staff.

Everyone associated with French Electrical takes immense pride in being part of such an outstanding organisation. As the company marks its impressive fifty-year milestone, it is an occasion to celebrate the dedication, hard work, and commitment that have made French Electrical a true success story. Congratulations on half a century of excellence!

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