Returning home from interviewing Kerry and Sharon Radford for this issue’s Tradie Profile, I was thinking of a suitable few words to encapsulate this remarkable Mangawhai couple’s story. And there it was, right before my eyes, on the back of a Mainfreight truck: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

The words to describe their work are varied and include mechanic, panel beater, painter, inventor, builder, landscaper, boat importer, baker, and charter boat operator. Offsite, they are also divers, anglers, boaties, and classic vehicle enthusiasts!

The trade aspects of Kerry’s life began when he qualified as a mechanic out of school, working for his parents in their Auckland garage. When they eventually sold, he became a business owner in his own right, purchasing Redwood Automotive in St. Lukes. Panel and paint work was part of the gig, along with vehicle repairs, WoFs, etc.

Sharon’s parents lived in Mangawhai, and it was one Sunday, as the Radfords returned to the Auckland rat race and were caught in traffic, they remarked that they were “bloody crazy” living with all the hustle and bustle of city life.

“The next morning, we were on our way back up north to see what opportunities there might be, and that was when running a bakery and cafe presented itself as an option,” Kerry says.

“Sharon’s dad Bill Carleton was a baker, and that swayed us to do some due diligence on a potential site at Te Hana on SH1.”

They had located an old factory sitting idle for some time. Undertaking a traffic count, the Radfords determined that if just one per cent of the vehicles stopped, they would have a viable café/ bakery business. But they had been badly mistaken if they thought they were moving north to a more casual lifestyle!

Stripping out the building and converting it into a bakery and café saw them put in some huge hours, even before the doors had opened. And that was just the start.

“It was baptism by fire. We had no baking experience and relied on Bill to get us underway. We somehow fumbled our way through, but when we had a count up at the end of our first week, we had doubled our turnover target.”

By now, Kerry had picked up a hammer instead of a wrench and worked as a builder. He would do a day on the tools and then go straight to the bakery, which eventually moved to Wellsford. A few years later, they picked up sticks and shifted to Mangawhai Heads, where they established the Head Rock Bakery on Wood Street.

It was then time for another significant change. The Mangawhai region was growing in popularity, not just as a holiday destination, but with people keen to get away from city life and live by the sea.

Selling the bakery, the Radfords by twin 115 Mercury outboards and proved a bulletproof boat well suited to charter and dry-hire work.

Encouraged by its performance, Kerry went to the Broadbill factory, where he ordered a custom eight-metre hull powered by twin Styr 160HP diesel engines. Christened Painted Black, perhaps in hindsight she should have been named Double Trouble! Despite having done his homework, the vessel proved to have been a ‘Monday’ boat. He encountered problems right from the start.

The build was meant to have taken six months, but it was delivered ten months late. The engines were problematic – with issues around cooling, aspiration, and access to the oil filters. Water leaked into the fuel tank via a rivet that had not sealed properly, capping the challenges off.

Kerry was still building all this time, ending up selling the problem child in 2008 after five years of grief. The Kenny Rogers song The Gambler – ‘Know formed a building company in 1995, and there was no shortage of work. It finally led to the establishment of Mangawhai Landscaping in 2008, which Kerry says as a business had far fewer rules and compliance issues. But there were a few more diverse steps to take before that happened.

Kerry had always been into fishing, so as a side hustle, he and his brother Wayne set up a charter launch called ‘R’n’R’. Wayne eventually brought out his brother’s share while Kerry established PK Charters and Boat Hire with a 6.1-metre Broadbill catamaran named Waipai Magic, imported from across the Tasman. She was powered when to hold ‘em, know when to fold em’ – springs to mind. Any thoughts of setting up a NZ agency for the marque had gone down the gurgler.

With the boat sold and the building company wound up, Kerry was looking for something to do that still gave him a close association with the sea and an income. He researched several options, coming across the French-made Sealver boats. Son Corey, by now a qualified builder and a keen jetskier, was the main driver behind this.

Sealver boats are hybrid personal watercraft (PWC) powered hulls that offer the best of both worlds. The PWC can be used normally, and when coupled up to an alloy, GRP, or inflatable Sealver hull, you have a hybrid vessel powered and steered via the ‘ski.

“I booked a flight to France and went through the factory. The build quality was superb, with the fibreglass being hand-laid, the concept created by an Italian superyacht designer. It was something that I recognised as suitable for our conditions. The boats rode well, were dry, comfortable and handled the Mangawhai bar conditions safely. Easily launched, they are rated for ten passengers.”

Kerry was awarded the sole agency. An order for eight boats was placed, with space booked at the Hutchwilco NZ Boat Show and NZ Fieldays. The Radfords were now in the marine importing business.

“We had them out to the Mokohinaus and used the demonstrator for fishing and diving trips for which they were well suited. We were encouraged by the feedback at the boat show where we sold the first one.”

Thinking they were on a winner, the brand started to get some traction but everything went pear-shaped with the arrival of the COVID pandemic.

“At the time, you couldn’t buy a personal watercraft (PWC) for love nor money, and our transport costs from Europe went through the roof, making the landed cost prohibitive.”

Just as quickly as Kerry and Corey had entered the import business, they were out of it. “It was hugely disappointing and is still an opportunity going begging.”

Back in the real world, the Radfords started making a name for themselves as landscapers, having wound up the building company. With Mangawhai continuing to expand, their services were in demand. Licensed Building Practitioners, they could do everything from retaining and plumbing/ drainage work to custom-built garden and pool sheds, carports, pergolas, concreting, and even filleting benches!

“What I love about landscaping is the lack of rules. Building is all rules and documentation; with landscaping, the regulations are minimal, mainly around retaining works. You can get on with the job, the client’s money going into what you see on the ground rather than compliance.”

Sharon does the plant selection and layout for the projects, with Kerry, Corey and their crew doing the construction and earthworks. In between this, she is involved in several community groups. For 20 years, Sharon was a St. Johns Ambulance volunteer and was heavily involved in fundraising for the new ambulance base: starting up the opshop, which provides good funding for the Mangawhai-based service.

The Radfords enjoy boating, shing, and diving in their spare time, with Kerry also regularly tinkering under the a fencing tool that he patented and entered into the Fieldays competition.

“It was all about making things easier and more cost-effective.” bonnet of his classic vehicles. Pride of place is a 1957 Pontiac Starchief V8, a vehicle at one time used by the American police because of its highspeed performance. At the same time, Sharon keeps their extensive garden up to scratch.

More recently, Sharon took up a role with Civil Defence, coordinating the organisation’s efforts with emergency services. With the recent cyclones and a weather bomb that saw Mangawhai hit by over 300mm of rain in a few hours, Sharon has been particularly busy lately.

And the inventor bit?

Kerry created a fencing tool that he patented and entered into the Fieldays competition. “It was all about making things easier and more cost-effective.” The Radfords have been able to adapt to a changing landscape, making a success of various ventures where they have seen opportunity. Their business today involves son Corey and wife Kendra, daughter Jade and husband Neil, along with a dedicated crew – there’s one more truism that applies here: “Teamwork makes the dream work”.