Mum fights uniform monopoly


Wakatipu High faces Commerce Commission complaint.

A Queenstown mum is complaining to the Commerce Commission over “exorbitant” prices from a local shop with a school uniform monopoly.

Rebecca Thompson says she and her partner have to stump up almost $1500 for their two children’s Wakatipu High uniforms at local supplier Rockies – and she’s angry she can’t go elsewhere to get them cheaper.

Thompson wants Wakatipu High to let Postie Plus – with a nationwide school uniform range – sell the same outfits at $700 less.

She and a group of other parents will confront the next Parent Teacher Association meeting about there being just one store in Queens­town stocking the uniform.

“It’s daylight robbery,” the mum-of-four says.

“We feel we are being trapped into having to go into this expensive shop and buy clothing that is out of our price range.

“They’ve put me in a predicament – in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be lucky enough if I’ve got money for groceries because I’ve got to find huge amounts of money for new uniforms.”

Thompson has spent the past couple of months trying to find uniforms for her son and daughter, who are both new to Wakatipu High.

Long-time supplier Rockies on Beach Street charges $752 for summer, winter and PE kit for her daughter and $668 for her son, she says.

Remarkables Park Shopping Centre’s Postie Plus doesn’t currently supply all items of the local uniform but according to its SchoolTex catalogue, the chain charges $423 for a full girl’s summer, winter and PE uniform and $290 for a boy’s.

By comparison, Dunedin’s Kaikorai Valley College boy’s uniform – summer and winter – is $227 at Postie Plus and $304 at Arthur Barnett, and a girl’s uniform is $462 at Arthur Barnett and $397 at Postie Plus. (Postie Plus doesn’t supply the kilt.)

SchoolTex also donates up to 10 per cent back to schools for each garment sold.

Currently, the only difference in what’s supplied by Postie Plus is that its items don’t carry the Wakatipu High logo – but they can if the school makes them an official supplier.

Thompson – who can’t work because she has to take one of her children to Auckland’s Starship Hos­­­­pital or Wellington Hospital each month – says she wants to “see some change”.

She says the school told her to buy second-hand items but “I have not been able to find [clothing] that wasn’t drawn on or stained or ripped”.

“I want to see parents have the option to go to [Rockies] or to go to a cheaper shop.”

The Commerce Com­mission last month issued guidelines for schools signing uniform contracts with suppliers.

“The Commerce Act prohibits conduct that restricts competition,” says commission director of competition Deborah Battell.

Wakatipu High board chairman Peter Doyle isn’t budging.

“Over the years, Rockies has been great – they’ve managed to stock everything that the school needs and I would be loathe to all of a sudden [cancel the contract] just because somebody’s going to offer 10 per cent to the school.”

Does Doyle think there should be an alternative provider?

“That’s a silly question because we have a contract [with Rockies]. It’s not relevant at the moment. Once the contract is over then … we would consider all the options.”

He says the school doesn’t get a cut out of the exclusive deal with Rockies.

SchoolTex divisional boss Garth Sutherland says his Queens­­­­town store manager gets daily feedback from parents wanting a cheaper option.

He plans to talk to Wakatipu High about the issue soon.

Rockies co-owner Ngaire Hayes stands by her New Zealand-made products.

She says parents can apply to the JR McKenzie Youth Education Fund or Work & Income NZ for grants if they can’t pay.

“We do our best to supply the uniform and it’s a lot of hard work.

“Obviously, we don’t do it not to make any money but we make it so it’s acceptable to parents. We are very price-conscious with what we do and where we get our supplies from and we believe we offer a very good service to the community.”