What’s business been like for the little red bookshop lately? I saw in Hawkes Bay Today you had an increase in spending at the end of last year?
We are a comparatively new business, under five years old so we are still building our brand, and we are still being discovered by people; so for us every year is a step forward.
We have faced very tough competition, from both the internet giants and e-reader technology, but have noticed a subtle but distinct revival in people wanting to experience a real bricks-and-mortar shop, and, of course, hold an actual book in their hands.
Whats the state of retail like in Hastings at the moment? Are there any challenges you and other retailers are facing?
There are days when the street is just deserted, which can be a little disheartening. Though in Hastings this situation is exacerbated by having an incredibly long main street, and the positioning of big block retail on the outer edge of the CBD, meaning some people need never actually ‘go to town’.
We find spending to be very seasonal, with a definite increase in customer numbers over the Christmas and summer holidays and a distinct falling away by April. Luckily we are able to balance things out with internet sales.
Have any initiatives by town stakeholders lately helped with those challenges?
The introduction of free parking has been an excellent move. It allows customers to browse without the niggle of worrying about getting a parking ticket though there is a time limit, so they still need to keep an eye on the clock.
It is always good to know that the Hastings Business Association is there, putting forward initiatives with the council, giving a voice to the retailers and in effect, working for the people of Hastings to create a pleasant and vibrant city centre which is to everyones’ benefit.
What are the advantages of being an independent store in a smaller town? Do you think being successful comes down to fostering that sense of community and loyalty in customers?
We have an excellent base of very loyal locals, but also find that a sizable number of our customers are visitors to the Bay, often here for business, but also younger folk visiting their parents and family.
I find people are actively looking for independent shops, they are looking for that special and unique shopping experience.
We do what we do, we do what we know and people seem to like it! A sense of community is the result of genuine interaction and activity. And yes, the reward is loyalty and support from our customers.
Do you have any tips for other provincial retailers on how to be successful?
Here in the provinces we have a slower pace and more time. It allows us to interact with our customers, to chat, to get to know them, locals and visitors alike appreciate that, and they will return and they do recommend us to others.
It also means we have the time to slowly build an online presence that complements rather than competes with our store.
In the end is all about creating and fostering a narrative and a history around your business and your town, something that will resonate with people who like to feel, maybe now more than ever, that they are part of something ‘real’ and tangible.
- This interview was part of a feature on provincial retailing published in issue 743 of NZRetail Magazine.