Retailers in New Zealand fall into several different camps, Pound says. When his family visits Gisborne, Starnes’ hometown, he’s excited to visit its traditional retail stores on the main street.
“There’s Colliers Menswear there, which is just the most magic menswear store. They’ve got a whole wall of stubbies.”
“It’s been the same approach and set-up for generations and it’s such a cool retail experience.”
Pound says the more standardised big-box flavour of retail is “kind of sad” in its homogeneity, but on the other hand, he rates New Zealand’s high-end fashion and food retail offering as “way better than a country this small could expect”.
“It’s hard to generalise it, but from traveling around with Vend… the retail stores in New Zealand that are good are as good as any in the world.”
He cites fashion labels World and Lonely as being world-class retail leaders with differentiated offerings and sophisticated in-store experiences: “I think we’re extremely well-served in our top-end retail.”
From talking with retailers, Pound reports that there’s a sense New Zealand’s retail community has been protected from Amazon and its international peers.
“It’s only very recently that H&M and Zara have been having any real trade happening here. Even free delivery from the Book Depository and Asos and Net-a-Porter, it hasn’t hit here to the scale it has even in Australia, and so I think retail probably sees itself as under threat by a lot of these forces. We’re only in the early days of what those forces will mean, and I am an optimist in that.
“Not every company’s going to come out well from Amazon being a real force in New Zealand, which it will be before too long,” Pound says. “But as long as you’re not selling undifferentiated products… the reason stores are on streets is because people love shopping.”
Pound has been hosting The Spinoff’s ‘Business is Boring’ podcast since its inception two years ago, and has nearly clocked over 100 episodes. It’s a massive privilege to run the podcast, he says.
“Coming from media, I’ve always loved the way you get to chat with people about interesting things,” says Pound. “I’ve always been a big business nerd, so to get to talk to people about their highs and lows, what makes them tick, how they measure success, words to live by – I’ve always lived for that stuff.”
His goal with Business is Boring is to create a “magazine-style” program which introduces listeners to new perspectives on business. Ideally, any listener can search through the archive and find an industry or an individual they’re interested in.
Asked for any kind of generalisation about the interviewees, Pound says he deliberately searches for outliers and exceptions to the rule, but notes that there’s commonalities found among many entrepreneurs.
Persistence is common, as is “a level of intensity – not necessarily in their personality, but they’re really laser-focused, intent on their goals.” Entrepreneurs tend to be high-energy people who are committed to their business.
Diversity is an important component of Business is Boring, says Pound: “It’s not just accountants turning into company directors turning into politicians.”
He’s also worked hard to avoid giving undue prominence to “male, pale and stale” individuals over businesspeople from less comprehensively represented demographics. The podcast has achieved “at least 50 percent gender diversity”, and Pound is aiming for wider ethnic diversity also.
It’s typically more difficult to encourage diverse businesspeople onto the show, Pound says: “I think people often have a bad experience [with previous media opportunities] and you have to work twice as hard to provide a safe situation for them.” He says it’s a privilege to chat with so many different business leaders, noting that stories which let listeners connect with a person behind a brand they love have been most popular.
Among the podcast’s most memorable guests for Pound are Burger Burger CEO Mimi Gilmour; The Warehouse Group and Mercury board chair Joan Withers; broadcaster Brooke Howard-Smith; peanut-butter maker Pic Picot and fashion mogul Karen Walker.
“People have been very honest and open with their advice and hard times, even big names,” Pound says.
He singles Walker out for admiration: “I really admire Karen Walker. The coolest people in the world at their coolest moments are choosing to wear the glasses that they built.”
Pound says he comes back often to a concept Walker introduced to him during their podcast that likened brand-building to a colony of coral.
“Coral isn’t all built up in one hit, it’s hundreds and thousands and millions of little interactions, and they all build up into a shape.”
“We’re so good at making primary stuff, but it’s basically the brand and the marketing and the idea that’s the difference between a margin and no margin.”