Viscount Electronics: Memories of personal computer retailing in the early to mid-1980s in New Zealand
The early 1980s saw a new type of retail store appear in towns and cities throughout New Zealand (and indeed, the world!). These shops specialised in importing, then retailing, novel electronic devices which would change society. These devices were personal computers, or "microcomputers" as they were called back then.
At the beginning of the 1980s, New Zealand lacked the large computer-stocked electronic chain stores found overseas, such as Radio Shack and Dick Smith Ltd. The latter eventually arrived around 1982 but prior to that and throughout the 1980s, owner-operator computer shops catered to a growing market. Not only did the stores sell and service personal computers, but also provided peripherals, software and magazines. One could argue that they also acted as a convenient meeting place for the local computer-enthusiasts (i.e. geeks!) of the time.
Sometime in mid-1981, I purchased my first computer (a Dick Smith System 80) from just such a store. That wasn't the end of the relationship however. For at least a couple of years subsequent to my "impulse" purchase I'd visit the store at least once a week to check out the new goods on display, talk to others there and perhaps buy the odd peripheral and a magazine or two. For a while that retail outlet was a regular part of my life. That store was called Viscount Electronics.
Figure 1. Inside Viscount Electronics, December, 1981, showing Frank Goldingham checking one of his computers
(Photo from the Manawatu Evening Standard, Dec 1st, 1981)
The owner of Viscount Electronics was Frank Goldingham. Frank started out in the printing business. Seeing the benefits of increasing computerization in that industry in the late 1970s got Frank thinking that perhaps there was a retail market for personal computers? After selling his newspaper printing business to INL (now Fairfax) in 1980, he used the proceeds to establish Viscount Electronics which opened as a retail computer store located in Church Street, west of the Square in Palmerston North. It was the second such outlet in the country, the first being David Reid Electronics in Auckland.
Figure 2. Frank Goldingham, owner of Viscount Electronics
The store was gradually expanded during 1981, selling a wide range of computer makes and models to the business and home markets. In the mid-1980s, Frank franchised the business, changing its name to Computer Village and eventually overseeing or assisting with a number of these branded stores throughout New Zealand.
Impact and significance
I consider Viscount Electronics as having a place in New Zealand personal computing history. Certainly, it was of significance in my home town of Palmerston North but even in the early days, the business sold goods nationally and eventually became a nationwide franchise under the Computer Village brand. Consequently, I decided it would be worthwhile capturing its history in the form of an interview with Frank. The interview not only throws light on his own experience, but also covers some of the issues faced by owner-operator computer retailers during that exciting period of rapid change.
Interview with Frank
You can listen to the interview here (47 mins), or right-click this direct link to download the mp3 file. The first 5 minutes or so is a summary of what's in the text above so the audio can "stand alone" in the absence of this webpage. The rest is Frank and I.
More on Viscount Electronics
In addition, check out this 1981 Viscount Computers catalogue, which shows the wide range of makes and models on offer.
Finally, take a look at some press clippings. There is this June, 1981 Dominion newspaper article on Viscount Electronics, this Manawatu Evening Standard Supplement from December 1981 covering a re-vamp of the store and this Manawatu Standard piece (date unknown) on the Computer Village franchise.
27th August, 2018