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2020 vision: How Cambridge retail will perform this year

As part of a series looking at seven regional centres to consider what regional retail looks like this year, we’re considering Cambridge.

The rural heartland town of Cambridge, in the Waikato, is taking off. Since the four-lane Cambridge section of the Waikato Expressway came to town in 2015, the population has grown by 1200 people, to around 20,400. 

The Expressway linked Cambridge to Hamilton, Auckland, Taupō, Tauranga and Rotorua, bringing new people and companies keen on commercial expansion. Waipā District Council expects nearly 10,000 more people to arrive in the next decade, and is planning several retail hubs and housing developments. 

Cambridge was named 2019’s NZ’s Most Beautiful Large Town, and the CBD is flourishing. Since the relentless snake of State Highway 1 traffic got re-routed from the main street, footfall in the central retail zone has increased by 12 percent year on year (2017-2018; Cambridge Chamber of Commerce).

Tourism is a massive success story for the region. Infometrics figures show visitor activity Waipā District continues to bolster local earnings and retail activity, particularly in Cambridge. Commercial guest nights in Waipā rose a staggering 22.6  percent and visitor spending rose 16.5 percent over the year to June 2019. 

“Waipā’s growth is impressive against the national picture of slowing tourism growth, [and] highlights the strength of local offerings,” says Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen.

Cambridge Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Bouzaid says growth has been a “bonus” for retailers, but with opportunity comes challenges: From providing the right infrastructure, to sourcing products for a more diverse population, to the “age-old conversation” around parking. The city’s “night economy” also needs more entertainment and dining options.

Cambridge is another wealthy retiree town, with a higher proportion of senior citizens and a large and growing number of retirement villages.  

As a “safe, accessible and a desirable place to live”, it’s attracting both younger families who have relocated from larger cities as well as their older family members.

Rerouting SH1 has created “a more pedestrian ambience” but it’s also meant many consumers, particularly those who work in Hamilton and younger consumers, spend their money out of town or online. It’s estimated that $70 million of $158 million of Cambridge residents’ money is spent elsewhere. 

In October the Cambridge Business Chamber launched ‘Totally Locally’, a marketing toolbox to help retailers to better engage with locals. Bouzaid says that if every adult spent just $10 a week in a local store it would generate $6 million back into the local economy.

Retailer Barbara Holmes, owner of clothing and footwear boutique Holmes & Co, hopes the scheme will add to the Cambridge shopping experience. 

“When locals ‘shop locally’ it boosts our local economy, gives retailers more diversity and provides a more vibrant retail sector attracting tourists and out of town shoppers.”

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 765 December 2019 / January 2020

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