Farrell Chrystal Shearing

May 2017

Shearing runs in the blood for Farrell and Connie Chrystal. In 2003 they took the opportunity to buy the family shearing business and haven’t looked back.

Shearing runs in the blood for Farrell and Connie Chrystal. In 2003 they took the opportunity to buy the family shearing business and haven’t looked back. The couple has achieved substantial growth within their business – all while growing their own family and giving back to their whānau and community through a number of different endeavours. 

Farrell’s father, Barney Chrystal, was a Tūtira farmer who started Chrystal Shearing during the 1980s farming downturn. Barney taught all his sons to shear. Connie is also part of a shearing family – the daughter of the legendary shearer and record breaker Charlie Pearse. Today Farrell works with the sons of farmers his father contracted to – men he remembers as a boy. 

In 2003, Barney was looking for an exit strategy and an opportunity to return to his farm and his dog trialing. For Farrell and his wife, Connie, continuing Barney’s legacy was important. They made the decision to buy the business.

It was not long after this that they met Paul Harris, who’d bought a farm in the area. Over a shared meal Paul asked “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. Neither had thought about it – they felt they were living the dream with 150 acres and the new business. The question started them on a pathway to grow themselves and their business. 

Within a year, with their second child having just arrived, the local Tūtira Store came up for sale. The store appealed as it came with a 3 bedroom home and they were at the point of having outgrown their “shack” on their land at Tūtira. They ‘ummed and ahed’ about buying the store and Farrell headed down the road to see Paul. Paul advised that while the business wouldn’t make them serious money it would provide them with good opportunities to hone their business management skills – so they bought the store. The store was to become a key part of the expansion of their shearing business, although it has since been sold. 

Connie and Farrell admit they both love a challenge and thrive on hard work. When they took on the shearing business neither had a grand vision of expansion, but with business mentorship they quickly gained the skills and relished the challenges that came with growing the business. 

When they purchased the business, they were running one shearing gang made up of Farrell and his brothers. A year later they took the opportunity to buy a shearing run with a number of contracts around the Hastings area. In 12 years they have grown the business from 1 to 5 gangs and their reach now extends from their original patch at Tūtira and Northern Hawkes Bay, down through central Hawkes Bay. In this same time they’ve also grown their family to 5 kids and 2 grandchildren.

Farrell found his work in their store vital for up-skilling himself and for developing the confidence and skills for dealing with a broad variety of people. In turn the store became a networking centre for them to grow their shearing contracts – “we’re the local information centre”. Both say that they seemed to attract opportunities. 

The Chrystals credit business-mentor Paul Harris with helping them to realise they could do anything they put their minds to. “We met Paul and our vision changed”. 

Paul passed on the need for them to put strong structures in place, maintaining that a good business should be able to run without you there. He also encouraged the couple to identify leaders as they couldn’t do everything themselves. 

Both concede shearing is a “hard trade” with long hours and people management is key. They’re constantly looking to better their team building and people management skills, with Farrell recently completing a Kellogg’s Leadership course. 

Working with family and managing people throws up some knotty issues. “Things don’t always pan out”, they say. They learnt through Paul to “take things on the chin” and don’t take anything personally. 

Managing over 60 employees at various locations depends on keeping ahead of the game and reading between the lines. They work to predict staffing issues and to call and text reminders to the staff. 

While Farrell initially worked alongside his brothers and nephews, they have now expanded to include more family, partners and friends of the crew and beyond. The crews work predominantly on day shifts and are driven to each location, although 3 of their big contracts involve overnighting and catering. 

Farrell now plays a quality control and shearing instructor role – though occasionally “I have to step in and pick up a hand-piece”, he says with a grin. 

Farrell wants to pass on their learning, working with their staff to help them goal set and to manage money. He wants the gang to know that there is a future for them in this field. 

They like to take on newcomers and help them through the ranks from operating the press and handling sheep, to ‘rousing’ and then into the junior/intermediate/senior and open shearing positions.

They work to assure their loyal, core crew have work across the year, pacing out work so that families can be assured of an income in the down months. To this end they also run docking crews so people can keep their heads above water. 

He talks of the satisfaction of “getting hold of a young fellow who dropped out of school and watching him grow and excel”. He gives an example of a “gun shearer” he has on the crew at present. He saw the young man had a strong work ethic and pushed him. Now they’ve employed his wife at the kohunga and they’ve helped them into a home. 

Team building is a conscious part of their business plan. Initiatives include out of work activities like indoor netball and touch teams and encouraging their top shearers to enter competitions. In turn they always try to make sure that the younger ones can accompany the older shearers to competitions, to get a taste of where they can go. 

Team meetings to work through issues are also held regularly. 

Identifying potential has been a core part of their strategy. While the couple manages all the administration and logistics for the business they’ve now brought in another manager – Maxine. Maxine has been with them since Barney’s day and she has built a great rapport with farmers and shearers. “You can’t crack the whip by yourself all the time” Farrell says. 

The Chrystal’s speak a lot of family and community – it’s part of their upbringing and culture – a sense of whanaungatanga. Whanaungatanga is more than family ties - the kinship extends to the community group and comes with an obligation to help out and lift others up. 

When Farrell’s mother Pani Morris died, Connie took up the management of the kohanga Reo that Pani had started. Pani had just succeeded in getting a new building for the inaugural Hawkes Bay Kohanga and both felt a need to keep her vision alive – again protecting and nurturing their family legacy was important. “We watched how much she put into it, someone had to take it up”, Connie says. 

Recently the couple also went into a business venture with a friend Candis Timms and her friend Sarah King. Serendipitously they had invested in a large building on the outskirts of Hastings when Candis was talking to them about her vision to create something for the local community – like setting up some indoor netball courts. From this the Weston Sports Centre was born – Connie and Farrell are ‘noisy silent partners’ and Farrell has his office within the centre. The centre is named to honour the legacy of baby Weston.

Weston Sports centre is sustaining itself and serving people from Hastings and Flaxmere. 

Farrell himself is becoming sought after as a business mentor in his own right. “Everyone wants to get ahead and do something”. Farrell enjoys helping out, “The best part having a coffee with and helping others – they’ll take it onboard or they won’t –and I’m clear our way is not gospel, this is just the pathway we followed.” 

When I ask about their ‘giving back’ Connie and Farrell look surprised and say it’s just a value they’ve learnt from their own families. 

This remarkable business couple don’t see themselves as successful – they humbly maintain that keeping things real and remembering who they are and where they’re from, is the most important thing.