Gunnedah Coles staff notch up 84 years employment

Robyn Northey and Gai Selway have been familiar faces at Gunnedah Coles since the 1970s.
Robyn Northey and Gai Selway have been familiar faces at Gunnedah Coles since the 1970s.

Robyn Northey and Gai Selway know the Gunnedah Coles store like the back of their hands.

The local pair both started their employment at the age of 15, with Robyn clocking up 38 years and Gai marking 46 years, making her the longest-serving Gunnedah team member.

Both women have seen immense change, with Coles Variety Store becoming Coles New World which then bought Shoey’s in 1988 and merged it with their store in Conadilly Street, re-branding as Bi-Lo. Bi-Lo was closed on New Year’s Eve in 2005 and re-branded as Coles, with works beginning on a new store on Little Conadilly Street. The new store opened in November 2006.

Robyn was still at school when she began working at Coles Variety Store in March 1979. She was a checkout operator on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings and later became an office assistant.

“I worked at the check-outs after school on Thursdays and I remember packing groceries into paper bags and entering each individual price into the register,” she said.

“When I was in the office, everything was manual; manual pays.”

When Coles purchased Shoey’s and temporarily closed in 1988, Robyn was sent to Taree to learn “the Shoey’s office ways” before the store reopened.

When the store was rebranded as Bi-Lo, Robyn was appointed assistant store manager. She later resigned from the position so she could spend more time at home, and took on the role of Point of Sales coordinator. She has continued in this role which includes pricing and ticketing.

Gai started out in 1971 at Coles Variety Store and sold apparel, hardware and kitchenware. 

“The store even had an ice-cream bar and self-serve lollies that you would weigh at the registers,” she said.

Store manager Jeanie Baxter (centre) has shared 35 years at Coles with fellow employees Robyn Northey and Gai Selway.

Store manager Jeanie Baxter (centre) has shared 35 years at Coles with fellow employees Robyn Northey and Gai Selway.

Gai worked full-time until 1986, then cut back her hours to part-time. During the construction of the new Coles building, she worked in the Tamworth and Coonabarabran stores, returning to full-time hours when the new store opened.

The staff member is a dab hand when it comes to store layout, which is one of her main roles.

“I love doing layouts, changing aisles, putting new lines on. I really enjoy it,” she said.

“Each day is really different. It’s a challenge.”

When she did layouts in the past, Gai said planning was more hands-on, but now they print the layouts. Another big change has been the store’s products.

“I’ve noticed a lot of the apparel has gone out. It’s less apparel and gone into groceries,” she said.

Both women said one of the biggest changes they’d seen in the store was technology.

“When I started out [on the cash registers], you had to add up and work it out,” Gai said.

“Now the computer does it all.

“Computers – I used to think, ‘I’ll never learn these’ but I am, slowly.”

Fellow long-time employee and store manager, Jeanie Baxter said she had enjoyed working with Robyn and Gai for such an extensive period.

“It’s an amazing career and [Coles] do give you the steps to move around and step up,” Jeanie said.

“It’s a solid employment.”