Not many people realised what it meant, when a small semi-rural service station on Oropi Road became branded as a Gull station – but for owner Dee McKinley, it was the culmination of a year’s hard work.
Waimapu Garage has been operating on the corner of Pukemapu Road since the 1950s. Originally a two-generation family business, it was bought by Dee and her former husband in 2011. When the couple divorced in 2016, Dee took over Waimapu Garage in the settlement.
During her first year she engaged a business mentor through the Chamber of Commerce which she says was invaluable. “These are people who have run successful businesses themselves. They are business-savvy and their knowledge gives you great confidence.”
Since taking over in August 2016 she has worked hard to build the business up to become a Gull station, so she could offer better deals to the community she serves.
“It means people can use the discount vouchers now, and we can match the prices of other local Gull stations,” she says. Having the Gull pre-pay pumps has been enthusiastically received by locals, who can fuel up outside the normal business hours.
For many customers it is the cheerful forecourt service that keeps them coming back and Dee has no plans to change that. “We are one of the few stations with staff on hand to pump your gas,” she says. “We are part of the community and it helps keep us in touch. The rural postie often drops off parcels here for customers, and we live here, so we are serving our friends and neighbours.”
Since she took over the reins she has painted the building and is currently renovating the station interior. A new computerised fuel system has reduced the administration workload, and the new office links the fuel side with the mechanics in the workshop.
“In the last six months I’ve really put my boss shoes on and have learned how strong I am. Every morning I get up at 6am and say to myself, ‘this is for you, Dee’. It changes your thinking and gives you the energy to focus on what jobs need to be tackled.”
Running the business on her own has been hard work, but she’s got a good team on side and her philosophy is simple – “I treat people the way I want to be treated”. She does the Saturday shift herself and is on the forecourt pumping gas most days, if they’re really busy.
She has set big goals for the little station, and plans to extend the opening hours to include Sunday. In the near future she’s preparing to offer barista-made coffee and real fruit icecream. She’s already doubled the customer base and regular facebook advertising has brought in more customers, from nearby Pyes Pa.
A life and love of cars
Dee grew up around cars and remembers sleeping in the back seat of the car when her mum and dad drove in rallies. Her father was a Speedway driver and she can recall him rolling his car on the track.
Her first job was with Tauranga Windscreen Repairs, where she fitted car windscreens and made boat windscreens from Perspex. A stint in the computer room at a trucking company helped her realise she didn’t want to be stuck at a desk all day.
“I moved to Auckland to work for a hardware company, and when I was made redundant I went to the States and worked as a nanny in Washington DC for a couple of years. I came back to New Zealand with a three-week-old baby son.”
She and her ex-husband owned a panelbeating business together for 12 years before buying the service station. Dee ran the office, delivered and collected cars and parts, and raised two more children.
She’s a self-confessed petrolhead and has always driven big cars. Rebuilding a Mustang Eleanor is a long-term hobby, and she’s aiming to have it finished by the end of this year. “I’m hoping to tour the South Island in it,” she says.
Dee’s aiming to bring more commercial developments to Oropi in the future and is committed to the local community. “People here are really nice, and I’d like to think we can be a hub for community activities.”
This year Dee has finalised plans to demolish the old house behind the station and build a new one. But the highlight of recent times has been the birth of her first grandchild, Mason, in December.
“I haven’t had much time off in the past few years, so I’m aiming to reduce my hours a little so I can spend more time with him.”