Vodafone is buying its biggest specialist dealer chain, First Mobile, for an undisclosed sum.
First Mobile runs 77 Vodafone-branded stores, some of which are franchised, including nine in the Wellington region, and is believed to employ about 500 staff. Lower Hutt businessman Sean Hannan bought the firm from former chairman Richard Pallesen three years ago.
Vodafone's decision to buy was opportunistic, spokesman Paul Brislen said. "Sean was ready to sell, and we are always keen to get closer to customers, so it made perfect sense."
He would not comment on claims Vodafone dealers were doing it tough because of the economic downturn and a squeeze on margins.
Vodafone's next biggest specialist dealer is Digital Mobile, which has about 25 stores. Vodafone owns just under a quarter of the firm.
Brislen says other channel partners should not fear they might be disadvantaged, as Vodafone already owned 18 of its own stores and First Mobile would be run as a "standalone business".
Rival mobile network operator 2degrees is expected to set up its own network of retail stores by Christmas.