Safety Warehouse boss Andrew Thorn denies fake money claims as backlash grows

The underfire boss of Safety Warehouse has defended yesterday’s controversial giveaway at Aotea Square, saying it has been unfairly characterised as an event with “fake money”.

Chaos erupted at the Auckland event when a crowd surged forward to catch what they thought was part of a $100,000 cash giveaway promotion called “The Drop”. At least 1000 people packed Aotea Square but few reported receiving real money and those who did only received small denominations.

Instead participants walked away with vouchers that looked similar to $5 notes, giving customers discounts to Safety Warehouse products. Many were upset, and angry crowds demanded “real money”.

Managing director Andrew Thorn said his company did distribute “real funds” and his event has been “unfairly characterised” as one with fake money.

“In truth, real funds were given away as anticipated. The vouchers that were also presented at the event were in addition to the cash that was given away. We never could have expected the inclusion of the vouchers would have created such hostility and a
misunderstood narrative.

“There was no intent to deprive, mislead or embarrass any person of any demographic or race.

“We wanted anyone and everyone to attend and to be a part of a great event.

“It was a first of this scale in New Zealand and unfortunately, a group ruined it for all.

“The Safety Warehouse stands by our marketing and what was issued at the event.”

Despite some people saying they had to pay for tickets to The Drop, Thorn said it was a free event to say thank you to the people of New Zealand.

“The actions of a few individuals and various onlookers was not characteristic of the
overall mood of the event,” he said. “A select few ruined the tone of the day for everyone, but they were by no means the norm – just a few people who did not obtain as much value as they had hoped, for whatever reason.”

Man who travelled from Palmerston North for sick son given helping hand

Meanwhile, a Palmerston North man who travelled to Auckland hoping to get money for his ill son was overwhelmed when a stranger came forward with real money.

Wayne Lynch was one of more than 1000 people who gathered in Auckland’s Aotea Square yesterday.

Lynch said he was hoping for a windfall for his son’s after care from eye surgery after driving to the city yesterday with his partner.

However, after gathering a handful of $5 discount vouchers made to look like $5 notes, Lynch wasn’t sure if he could even afford to get back to Palmerston North.

“We were stressing about that and the whole stress of the surgery as well,” he told Newshub.

Fortunately for Lynch, David Letele heard of his bad luck and stepped in with $1200, food and accommodation, saying “it’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up, brother”.

Lynch said he wanted the organisers of what he calls a fake cash drop to be held accountable.

Pay back petition set up

Another disgusted attendee has started a Change.org petition demanding people with vouchers be paid real money and planned a police complaint.

Levin’s John Murphy, called the event a waste of time, and claimed many attendees were from impoverished backgrounds who felt duped.

But Murphy said attendees only received coupons designed to look like $5 notes.

“I attended the event expecting it to be the highlight of my short Auckland trip, only for it to be a disaster,” Murphy said.

He has since initiated a petition, which has more than 280 signatories, demanding The Safety Warehouse convert vouchers dispensed at the event into real cash.

“I know people from outside Auckland who got stranded. Many of us including myself suffered injuries,” Murphy added.

“People pushed, shoved and threw themselves over each other in an attempt to get what looked like real money.”

He said one person who appeared to be an organiser shared a laughable suggestion that the $5 vouchers could be redeemed for real money at the bank.

Murphy also said he would ask police to investigate if the vouchers could be declared counterfeit notes.

And he said an employee was hospitalised after the crowd grew angry and an object thrown through a company car’s rear window smashed glass into his eyes.

'Oversold' gimmick

A Massey University marketing professor said the company should apologise, and hire a good public relations company to help salvage its reputation.

Malcolm Wright told Radio New Zealand the stunt had breached customers’ trust.

“I don’t think they would have been setting out to deceive, of course they wouldn’t have been setting out to deceive. Somebody just oversold it and went a bit far.”

But some attendees were furious.

“Wasted my petrol, time and money … I could have spent the day doing something more productive,” a Papakura woman wrote on Murphy’s petition.

“Time wasted, babies hurt, scammed all of us, made us look like fools,” another signatory said.

Cam Hore wrote: “What a bloody disgrace. Every one who attended this event should be compensated and the company should be fined for misleading people.”

Jon Duffy, Consumer NZ chief executive, said any company running a promotion had to ensure it could honour terms of the promotion.

“If the company didn’t actually give away $100,000 in cash at this event then they could be in breach of the bait advertising provisions of the Fair Trading Act.”

The fair trading law banned anybody from advertising goods or services at a specified price if they did not intend to supply those goods.

“Bait advertising is where you advertise something that’s a really good offer to get people in the door, but then don’t follow through,” Duffy said.

“Once you’ve got them there, you try and upsell them to something else.”

“And we understand that people were getting vouchers with the fake money that was being distributed here that gave them a kind of special deal,” Duffy added.

“If that’s all that was on offer, then this offer could be misleading. I guess we’ll just have to see what plays out.

“I haven’t seen the actual money [but] it sounds like the event didn’t go the way the company hoped it would.

“And clearly, people didn’t get what they thought they were getting.”

The event was ostensibly held to thank New Zealanders for their support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thorn said he started the Safety Warehouse business through his Christchurch-based company Greenback Capital, to supply workwear, then moved into masks, hand sanitiser and other equipment when the Covid-19 pandemic started.


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