The generations behind a design-led lighting business - People NZ
The generations behind a design-led lighting business

The generations behind a design-led lighting business

From helping out at the family business growing up, to taking over the brand – Richard Coombes has a close relationship with Coombes + Gabbie’s long history of selling sophisticated lighting products. One thing that has never changed for the business though, is the value of family.

Words by Cassie Birrer

Established by Richard’s father, Roland 'Roly' Coombes, in 1963 when he saw a gap in New Zealand’s market for lighting, the company was originally named Hamilton Lighthouse. “My grandmother, Mavis Coombes, named it which was a little ironic as Hamilton is in the middle of the country, so to have a lighthouse would be a little bit unusual,” laughs Richard.

In the early days, Roly’s father and siblings all got involved as “every pound and shilling counted”.

“Dad did sell a few TVs and washing machines, but ended up really concentrating on lighting. One of the issues in those days was supply, so he made things happen with what he could get,” says Richard.

“We originally started in a prominent place in Hamilton called Hood Street, and then Dad saw the opportunity to move to another site where they could get the showroom more custom ready for showing the light fittings, and follow the movement of Hamilton’s CBD. From there they started some manufacturing themselves, and then Mum and Dad had five children – I'm in the middle and all of us have worked in the lighting company. Our pay was to get a takeaway lunch, which would be a pie and a sandwich.”

Today, Richard Coombes is the managing director at Coombes + Gabbie.
One of the issues in those days was supply, so he made things happen with what he could get.

Out of all the children, including a sixth brother that came along a little later, Richard found himself to be the one to purchase Coombes + Gabbie from his parents in 2000 – newly married and with a child of his own on the way.

“That’s been the biggest highlight,” he says. “Dad was still involved in the business then, and it hasn’t been until probably the last five or so years that he’s stepped back – he’s now coming up to 87 years old and still takes an interest, but from a distance as the arms and legs don’t quite work like they used to. My grandmother was also around when I bought the company, so it was special to have all three generations there at the time.”

Richard isn’t exactly sure why he was the one to take over the business, with it all starting with him sweeping the floors for pocket money. Similar to his father though, he has always had a keen eye for business.

“I was fortunate enough to play some rugby overseas and it opened my eyes up to a whole new world where we could import unique lighting products. After that, I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I’ve just continued to where I am today as general manager.”

From left to right, Richard Coombes, Cecilia Coombes, Roland 'Roly' Coombes and Mavis Coombes, photographed in May 1996 at Tristram Street, Hamilton.
The company was originally named Hamilton Lighthouse: “My grandmother, Mavis Coombes, named it which was a little ironic as Hamilton is in the middle of the country, so to have a lighthouse would be a little bit unusual."
We actually care about [the people we work with] and what happens to them, and we genuinely ask how their week is going. It is always about the people.
Many of the world’s leading lighting brands are now part of Coombes + Gabbie’s repertoire.
The Coombes + Gabbie team design lighting plans for residential and commercial projects.

In the past two decades, Richard has continued to grow the company by importing designs of all styles, with many of the world’s leading lighting brands now part of Coombes + Gabbie’s repertoire – including those from local designers in Aotearoa.

While it is a priority to stay up-to -ate with the latest trends, technology, and lighting innovations, the most important thing for Richard has been honouring his father and mother’s value of family within the business.

“I really enjoy the company of the people that we have here. We've just had a good friend of ours who worked for us for quite a while pass away. She was part of what we call the Coombes + Gabby family,” shares Richard.

“It's not only the people that we work with here at the company, it's all the other people that we work with as well, including all of our wonderful suppliers – the ones that we've formed relationships with. We actually care about them and what happens to them, and we genuinely ask how their week is going.

“It is always about the people.”

Sadly, before this article was published, Roly Coombes passed away. The Coombes + Gabbie team says that his legacy and family values will continue on at the heart of the business. ArchiPro expresses its sincerest condolences to the Coombes family and members of the wider Coombes + Gabbie company family.

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