Ernest Munns began the business in 1918 after an unsuccessful search for work, following the end of World War 1. The small shop at 257 Manchester Street was a one man operation until young Carl Smith joined the business to help with the sales.
During the next few years as Mr Munns health deteriorated, Mr Smith took a greater responsibility in running the shop and managed it after Mr Munns died in 1927.
During the Great Depression in the early 1930s there was no money to waste on non-essentials. One of the things deemed unnecessary was heating. Consequently winter was tough for those retailers who managed to keep trading. “We found it very difficult to keep warm because we couldn’t afford the heating for the whole shop,” Carl Smith, owner of Munns for 60 years remembered. All we had was a small heater in the tiny cubby-hole we used for lunch.”
“So we decided to buy a skipping rope and we set up a competition between the two of us, Noel Hapgood and myself. “I believe we got up to 1500 skips without a break and we did all the fancy steps, crossovers and the like.”
“Customers were invited to join in and a number of them did!”
Times were tough during the Depression but the business survived and in 1933, Munns moved to the central premises at the corner of Colombo and Gloucester streets, which in time became known as ‘Munns Corner”
Business was quiet during the first year and Mr Smith felt it may have been a mistake.
However trade picked up in 1934 and two years later the shop was modernized.
In 1940 Mr Smith bought the business and during the next few years two adjoining shops were taken over and a tailoring workshop was stablished.
The years of the Great Depression were hard on business and many did not make it. Looking back in 1950, Carl observed that there were days during that time when the till at Munns scarcely opened, day after day. To try and swell the takings he would pack a bag every Tuesday and peddle a few clothes out at one of the freezing works.
The Suit Hire was established in 1965 – Mr Smith having association with the great English hire firm of Moss Bros.
Munns The Mans Store continued operating on Colombo Street until the mid-1980’s when the building was earmarked for demolition. It was at this stage that Carl Smith, having been involved in over 60 years, sold the business to Barry Souter and his then partner David Corn. In 1987 the business moved to 154 Armah Street, Christchurch and in 1993 Barry Souter took over the sole ownership of the business.
In June 1997 the Suit Hire was further expanded and moved to a new location at 150 Armagh Street.
August 2002, saw the Company looking to venture into the North Island. This became a reality with the opportunity to purchase the Hugh Wright stores in Queen Street, Auckland, and Willis Street, Wellington. This expansion brought into the Company another shareholder, Peter Lucas.
On 22nd February 2011, the company’s head office and Armagh St store were devastated by the Christchurch earthquake. Although badly shaken fortunately there were no injuries, the staff rallied themselves and continued to trade in the Christchurch Tower Junction store.
Later on that year, Barry Souter retired and Wally Wilson took over his interest and directorship in the company. The company continues today looking forward to a great future paved by the integrity and experience of those who came before.