Fifty stores nationwide have been rebranded to Helloworld, ranging as far north as Whangarei right down to Dunedin.
Helloworld NZ CEO Simon McKearney says it was always the company’s intention to rebrand to follow the lead of its Australian parent company, Helloworld Limited, two years earlier.
He says the rebrand unifies the network’s different stores under one title.
“We were representing multiple brands in the marketplace without enough of a differing value proposition to justify it to customers and suppliers, so the timing of the rebrand felt right.”
Helloworld Limited’s retail network is made up of former Harvey World Travel stores and United Travel stores. It also acquired six former Air New Zealand travel stores in 2015 when the chain was being wound down by the airline.
At the time, then Helloworld Limited CEO Elizabeth Gaines said the stores would help build critical mass to launch the new brand within New Zealand.
The rebrand comes at an opportune time. The travel industry in New Zealand is booming, both in terms of visitors entering the country and Kiwis exiting it.
According to Statistics New Zealand, Kiwis went on 2.42 million overseas trips in the year to February 2016, up 137,500 (six percent) from the February 2015 year.
However, like other retail industries, travel stores face problems as digital competitors have sprung up.
Booking portals like Expedia and accommodation sharing sites like Airbnb are proving popular with consumers because of their convenience and choice.
McKearney says in terms of the relevancy of travel stores in a digital era, the problem with online bookings is they’re very unemotional and transactional.
Domestic travel is usually what consumers feel most comfortable with booking online, he says, but even then it tends to be just the airfare.
“As soon as more planning is required, the emotion and questions come into play and that’s where you need the experience that our owner operators have, to help answer those questions.
“It’s still really difficult to gain confidence when putting your Visa card over the internet for a hotel in say, Greece, without the 24/7 support you get from dealing with an individual consultant – pre, during and post your trip.”
Global retail consultancy Greater Group created the Helloworld brand’s look and feel with Helloworld Limited in Australia in 2013.
It was tasked with rolling this out to the New Zealand stores through an in-store “refresh” and ensuring the in-store experience was one digital players couldn’t match.
McKearney says this involved changing the internal and external signage, colour schemes, feature walls, brochures, stationery and other branded content to reflect the new look.
Stores were prepped for changes two months prior to the launch in February, with the exterior retail rebrand taking place over a single weekend.
Phase two of the roll out was the interior elements, such as lighting.
Greater Group New Zealand country manager Danielle Barclay says the level of fit-out varied from store to store, with some given full revamps right down to the furniture and others keeping existing elements.
To improve the in-store experience, she says the traditional barriers between the consultant and customer were broken down.
“It was about moving away from traditional desks where the customer would sit opposite looking at the back of a computer screen and introducing some round tables for something a bit more casual and inviting customers to sit side by side with the consultant.”
She says emphasising face-to-face interactions is a trend being seen in service retail across the board, like banking.
“It’s becoming more and more common to remove those traditional barriers so the customers and the staff are at the same level. It’s key in services retailing to build relationships with the customer, because that’s what going to ensure customer loyalty and customers continuing to come back.”
The other major change in stores was removing a lot of the clutter to create a cleaner more streamlined look, Barclay says.
More experiential elements were incorporated into some of the stores, including large world globes on display tables.
This helps customers put their trips into context when planning ahead, McKearney says.
“It’s a great experience to be able to stand at the table and spin to your destination,” he says.
Helloworld’s striking blue colour features prominently throughout the stores, along with a bright green colour, matching the globe displays.
Overall, McKearney says the rebrand has been very positively received by customers.
“The advertising in the marketplace has been extensive and very noticeable. Customers are recognising the adverts to branding within our stores, which is fantastic.”
It’s hoped the friendly, experiential setting will coax people away from the booking sites and into store for an irreplaceable, face-to-face experience.
McKearney describes the stores as a comfortable environment full of expertise, value and passion.
“Somebody likened our stores to going into a living room to chat and plan a travel experience – I think this summed up our offering really well," he says.
This story originally appeared in NZRetail magazine issue 743 April / May 2016