What’s business been like for Country Lane Originals lately? I see that you recently expanded into womenswear with Fifty Five?
Business has been very good for Country Lane Originals, in fact, it’s shown steady growth each year for the last 10 years. We would be the largest gift and homeware store in Whanganui and our customers are very loyal. About four years ago the store next door to Country Lane became available and having been approached by a number of fashion houses to open a women's fashion store, the time was right. So we thought, 'let’s give this a go'.
How has Fifty Five gone? Is there an interest there from locals in a boutique fashion store?
Fifty Five has been amazing. Our customers have really embraced our offering, which is a little edgier than the other Fashion stores in town. In fact, it’s gone so well it’s already bigger than the Country Lane Originals store. We managed to obtain leading New Zealand designers like Augustine, Kowtow, Nyne, Staple & Cloth and many many more which put us on the right track from day one.
What do you put your success down to? What are Country Lane Original’s points of difference compared to other retailers?
I’m passionate about both stores and work extremely hard to ensure my customers enjoy visiting us. That could be through the presentation of products, the customer service or even the products themselves. But it’s mostly hard work that makes the difference - and luck - I also believe the harder you work the luckier you get.
Whats the state of retail like in Wanganui at the moment?
I’m involved with MainStreet Wanganui who provide promotional assistance to retailers in the CBD and through that I’ve learnt that there are a number of retailers hurting at the moment. We have a number of empty stores in the CBD but we also have a rejuvenation program being implemented where empty space is provided to artists to ensure the main retail area remains vibrant.
Is part of being successful as an independent store in a small town creating that sense of community and loyalty in customers?
It certainly helps and is a very important part of the business development plan. And loyalty isn’t restricted geographically, some of our best customers are from Taranaki, Manawatu and Wellington.
Do you have any tips for other provincial retailers on how to be successful?
Make sure you’ve got a unique point of difference to other stores and then stick to your theme. Don’t try and be that store down the road - be the best at your store. And work harder and work smarter. And keep your marketing plan simple and uncomplicated - if we have something we want our customers to know we tell them immediately using SMS e.g. “Augustines summer range has just arrived instore at Fifty Five”. We use Ezitxt - It’s brilliant.
- This interview was part of a feature on provincial retailing published in issue 743 of NZRetail Magazine.