Nominees: Volume, Nelson; Mr Ralph, Paeroa; Paper Plane, Mt Maunganui; Stone Store, Kerikeri; Sisters & Co, Mt Maunganui; Blackbird Goods, Napier; Eyebright Country Store, Richmond.
Blackbird Goods, Napier
Wife and husband team Gemma Adams and Nathan Speeden launched their Napier-based homeware store Blackbird Goods in 2015. Their minimalist product selection is chosen with gallery-style curation in mind, and there’s no plastic or loud colours in sight: “The most colour you will see will be an ochre or indigo,” Adams told The Register. “We don’t have anything plastic, we have natural fibres, cotton, linen, wood, metal or glass.” This distinctive aesthetic has given Blackbird Goods an influence well beyond its local range.
Up until a few years ago, the general mood across provincial retailers was a bit grim. Was that atmosphere of negativity something you experienced?
Nathan Speeden: It was definitely daunting opening a shop when it seemed like a lot of people were closing down. But we felt like we had something that people might appreciate and it seemed there was a gap in the market, so we took the gamble!
How would you describe the current retail outlook in your local area now?
Gemma Adams: We have definitely felt a switch in the last year or so as more like-minded people are escaping the cities, or locals are stepping out bringing some great stuff to the table, there are great new spots popping up all over the show. You can feel a bit of a buzz around the place!
With lower rents and less pressure to conform to trends, operating outside of urban centres can give a retailer more freedom to take risks and experiment. Has that been your experience with Blackbird Goods?
GA: Rent is surprisingly high for a province, and honestly, when we opened we definitely were seen as "outsiders" (even though Nathan grew up here, we hadn't lived here very long). We had one chance to impress. In saying that, with low living costs, and not the same saturated market as somewhere like Auckland (where we moved from) you definitely felt there was space for you to try something fresh and new.
Your products seem to conform to a very specific aesthetic. Can you describe that aesthetic for us?
GA: We try to keep it simple. Simple in design, and simple in materials. Feeling a need to come back to a way of consuming that's possibly a little less consumeristic, a way that our parents possibly adhered to, buying quality and buying to last. We also have always felt an obligation to consider the people who make our products, and the environment they come from. Natural, textural, well designed, functional and timeless, this is what we hope to provide.
NS: We feel like what we provide is an extension of who we are, and what we believe in. So the shop and the aesthetic will forever be evolving and changing as we do.
New Zealand’s regions haven’t traditionally been expected to be particularly stylish, but you’ve built an offering that feels outstandingly elegant and sophisticated. Why do you think those expectations about the regions still exist?
NS: I feel like those expectations are changing. There are people who appreciate good design everywhere, but in the past you had to head to the 'big smoke' to find them. This world is getting smaller, with social media and the internet, everything is so much more accessible, which has had a big impact on the regions. They can see the same trends, and stock those items.
Have you learned anything about retailing in the regions that you believe should be more widely understood by retailers?
GA: Don't be afraid to do something different, that may take a bit to be accepted: there are people out there just waiting for what you have to offer, even if they don't know it yet.
NS: I feel there is something to be said for unity between retailers. We can work together to provide a better regional experience, and create a community opposed to only thinking of ourselves as individuals.
Judges’ comments from Scott Fisher: Blackbird Goods is a great example of retail combining traditional and digital channels allowing for a worldly feel outside of our main centres. A real destination experience for local and visitors plus a great online option, Blackbird Goods demonstrates great retail can be based anywhere.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 756 June/July 2018