The Rockermans | Lifelong passion starts as hobby and builds to booming business

For more than 45 years, Stu Robbie has been crafting bespoke timber furniture – and what started out as a hobby has turned into a life-long career.

From the age of five, Stu has had a hammer in his hand. “My parents were into working with timber and I loved it from a very early age. I did a joinery and furniture apprenticeship in Waimate and when I qualified, I moved to Dunedin and started my own business at age 21. I’ve followed my passion and have been working with timber ever since,” says Stu.

Affectionately known as the ‘Rockerman’, Stu creates a variety of chairs, loungers, stools and benches, but is perhaps best known for his rocking chairs. On any given weekend, you’ll find him travelling the length of the country in a truck fully laden with his high-end rustic furniture, destined for fairs and fetes. He attends 80 shows a year throughout both the South and North Islands.

“Rockers are my main business and I would have the biggest range in the country,” he says. “My love of them goes back to my grandmother who had a rocker on her verandah. People love them – they’re relaxing to sit in, they’re comfortable and there’s nothing like whiling away some time under a tree in a beautiful rocking chair.”

Stu’s rockers, like his other furniture, are made in a variety of shapes, sizes and finishes. Many feature cowhide, leather and sheepskin, and all are made from handpicked macrocarpa heart timber. Such is the demand for his furniture, Stu has three staff plus a contractor working for him.

“Every day I’m either making or selling. I’m flat out selling during Show season and then when that comes to an end and things quieten down, I can get back in the workshop. It’s very seasonal.”

The majority of Stu’s customers live rurally. “They are significant pieces of furniture and you need to have the room for them. But town people buy them too.”

It was only a year ago that Stu met Markhams Otago director Denise Gow. He says from their very first conversation he knew she was the right accountant for him.

“I was looking for a new accountant and once I got talking to Denise I knew she was the right person for my business and we went from there. I had got my business to a certain point and felt I needed to develop it further. Denise has given me the encouragement and information to push it to the next level.”

Denise manages the Rockerman’s financial business including its taxation and accounts, but Stu says she is “much more”, and values her input into his business.

“There is a lot more to Denise that just doing the books. She gives me invaluable advice and mentoring and is helping me to understand the financial side of my business. I’m a cabinet maker not an accountant and until now, I’ve got through. But that’s not enough anymore.

“Denise has put me on the right track, and I can relate to her. It’s a fantastic relationship.”

therockerman.co.nz