Vicki Lee became chief executive of Hospitality New Zealand in April this year. Given that the hospitality industry has many overlaps with retail, we had a chat with her about emerging issues that affect both industries.
1. Many hospitality businesses have a retail arm as well. Tell us about the wants and needs you’re hearing from those businesspeople?
Since starting in the role I have begun to view the hospitality industry less from a customer perspective and more from the view of the operator and how the business environment can have positive and negative impacts. Through this lens I have also developed a greater appreciation for the synergies between hospitality and retail, particularly as many hospitality businesses cross over into the retail space. This is akin to wineries that have fantastic restaurants and also sell their wine to guests as they leave, or a cafe that happens to have a rather delicious deli attached to it, there are many times that the two sectors intersect. It all comes down to service regardless of if you are serving food and selling a retail product. The guest/customer wants quality service, from knowledgeable staff that are passionate about the product. With that comes the need to attain, train, develop and retain good staff. Unfortunately hospitality and, I would imagine retail, suffer from the ‘its not a real job’ issue. What both industries need to do is provide career pathways and development opportunities so people do see it as a viable career of choice.
2. Is the current difficult retail trading environment hitting businesses like these hard or are they being adequately supported by the buoyant hospitality scene?
Hospitality, retail and traditional retail have different drivers for customer wants and needs. Generally for hospitality we are tracking upwards. We are lucky that tourism visitor numbers are at an all time high and these visitors want to eat, drink, sleep and create lifelong holiday memories – all services the hospitality industry can offer.
3. Earlier this year, HNZ supported the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill. What other legislative issues are you involved in that will impact retailers?
We did support the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill on the basis that if shops were allowed to be open, it was our view that restaurants and bars etc should be allowed to open also. Our view was that why, on some of the best holiday days of year, should people not be allowed to catch-up with friends and family over brunch or at their local, after all isn’t that what public holidays are all about? Other legislation we both support is ongoing advocacy around employment legislation – with so many of our members being small to medium sized businesses, often without the resource of a dedicated HR department – the legislation needs to be much clearer and simpler to understand and implement.
4. Since there are many parallels between hospitality and retail, provide us with your take on what Kiwi retailers are doing well, and what they can further improve?
From talking to many Hospitality New Zealand members over the last few weeks, it is clear that they work in the industry because they are passionate about what they do. This is further supported through mentoring and instilling that passion in their employees. Looking at the retail sector, like hospitality, there are clearly some operators who do things extremely well and they reap the rewards. You can often see this through engaged, happy staff and the general positivity you feel when entering a shop. And you most certainly feel it when the staff are disengaged and you’re largely ignored. The same can be said for hospitality, we are in the customer service industry, the clue is in the title ‘customer’ and we mustn’t lose sight of that.
5. Are there any lessons from hospitality that you wish more retailers would pick up on?
Striving for the ethos that it’s a profession, not just a job and there are genuine career pathways that can be pursued.
6. Tell us about some of your favourite local retailers. What is it you like about them?
With over 3,000 members, many who cross over into the retail space, it would be unwise to pick just one. To be honest I really couldn’t as there are so many great businesses out there. I personally love the pubs, cafés and restaurants that provide the best balance of product and service – where good food, beverage and service go hand in hand. I also love watching the fine art of staff upselling that dessert I really didn’t need or the suggestion of a sticky wine to go with it. Before you know it, you’ve spent much more that you intended to but have had a wonderful night out. That’s where I see hospitality and retail really working hand in hand.
7. What’s the biggest challenge retailers and hospitality operators are going to face, throughout 2016?
Having access to the right people and retaining that talent within the businesses. This in turn feeds into increasing labour costs. Wages are going to go up, particularly if you want to attract and keep great staff and operators need to be strategic on how that is accounted for within the day-to-day operation of a business and how that is then passed on to the customer. Our industry, like retail, is very competitive and this is not easy to do as people will walk down the road if they feel they can get the same thing cheaper. This probably isn’t as big an issue for hospitality as it is for retail, especially with the online trading environment that retail has to contend with, but it certainly does exist.