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The Retail Hotlist: 'Hottest retail concept' goes to Whoa! Studios

  • News
  • July 31, 2018
  • Courtney Devereux
The Retail Hotlist: 'Hottest retail concept' goes to Whoa! Studios

Nominees: AS Colour, Reduced to Clear, Dry & Tea, The Free Store, Barkers Groom Room, Thankyou, Little Bird Unbakery, Giapo, Whoa! Studios.

People’s choice

Barkers Groom Room

Judges’ choice

Whoa! Studios

Whoa! Studios is the only film and design studio open to the public in New Zealand. It’s a child-friendly and immersive environment where visitors can experience a world-class live show, park and family food offerings. Featuring state of the art studio and theatre facilities, experience the live ‘Custard’s World’ shows, the ‘Urban Playground’ and family eatery 'The Grounds', run by celebrity chef Ben Bayly.

This unique family-friendly activity was the brainchild of technology entrepreneur David Sutherland more than five years ago. The idea grew and, not content with settling with anything but the extraordinary, Sutherland even filed three resource consents before he was completely happy with the design.

The partnership with Ben Bayly hugely influenced the unique world of Whoa! Studios, with Sutherland initially expecting to create a more familiar venue for families. With Bayly’s on-site restaurant The Grounds, they worked together to create an atmosphere that is more commonly found in Europe, where adults can easily find healthy restaurants that are child-friendly.

“The concept of a fresh, healthy food restaurant at a family-friendly activity was something we knew would be risky. The profitable food option for children’s entertainment venues is generally popcorn and Coca-Cola, but we wanted to reflect community aspirations rather than take the easiest option.”

Sutherland treated the creation of Whoa! Studios as a project that was not inherently for-profit, which helped him make decisions based on what he thought was right, rather than easy. 

Creating the playground was also a veer away from the norm. Sutherland and his team conducted an international search to find the perfect centrepiece which ended up being a giant crochet trampoline that the rest of the playground was designed around. 

Sutherland unleashed his newfound sense of freedom after his corporate past, and wanted to create a world full of creativity. 

“Underneath our aspiration for it to be unexpected, we wanted to have the element of surprise. In my previous life I had to come up with corporate goals and vision, with Whoa! Studios our goal is just to create a smiles and fun.”

Despite spending 20 years behind a desk, Sutherland never lost his inner child. Now he is surprised by how many corporates want to engage with Whoa! Studios for team events. While Whoa! Studios was built to be an experience for families, its versatile design has made it possible to reach an exclusively adult audience as well. 

“It’s really nice to unlock that child-like fun in people who don’t get to unlock it very often.”

About 70 percent of the visitors to Whoa! Studios come from outside of Henderson, which Sutherland hopes is a positive for the local area. So far the reaction has been one of surprise and delight. He says Whoa! Studios is all about creating those little memories that keep families close. 



Judges’ comments from Sarah Dunn: Whoa! Studios is a classy re-imagining of the family fun park, expertly working retail into its offering alongside a high-quality ‘modern family eatery’. It embodies the ongoing importance of entertainment and experience to the retail industry.

Barkers also gets a shout-out for its commitment to continued innovation.


This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 756 June/July 2018

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