What’s business been like for Muirs bookshop lately? I saw in the Gisborne herald you had really good sales over Christmas?
Yes sales were up - but still nothing like pre-2009. Sales have been increasing for the past three years, but slowly. There is a shift back to buying locally but it hasn't really hit the younger generation yet who still find it too convenient to buy online.
What do you put the increased sales down to? Have you been telling customers about the importance of buying locally?
Yes - forever until sounding like a stuck record. Some shift but still a long way to go.
Whats the state of retail like in Gisborne at the moment?
The provincial towns are not seeing the increase in wealth based on property prices. Our prices are stable and not going up like the major centres. This trickles back to local spending. People are more careful and retail isn't booming.
What is the strength 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?
Yes - there is definitely considerable loyalty to a local independent store. We try to create the right mix of ambience, customer service and the very best literature we can find. We have a very wide range of books and can buy anything we want - not what a head office tells us to stock. We lean more towards the intelligent literary side of books and don't have Mills & Boon, "light" authors, or mass market end-of-line, unsuccessful cheapies. People know they are buying highly recommended, literary worthy books whether it is fiction or non-fiction. We are really fussy about the childrens books too - always asking, "Would we buy this for our family?"
Do you have any tips for other provincial retailers on how to be successful and keep customers happy?
Be unique, really look after your customers and go an extra mile for them to get what they want. There are many successful retailers in most provincial towns and they will all be unique to their community and provide great service. Treat people as you would like to be treated in a similar store.
- This interview was part of a feature on provincial retailing published in issue 743 of NZRetail Magazine.