Main street managers help to reboot retail

The mainstreet managers: Greerton Village Mainstreet manager Sally Benning, Rebecca Larsen from Epic Te Puke and Mandy Gillgren at Mount Mainstreet.

With many retailers back in business, the Weekend Sun takes a look at the challenges and opportunities facing them.

Rosalie Liddle Crawford talks to the mainstreet managers about how they have been adapting, what they are doing now and how people can help support the businesses that make up the heart of our shopping precincts.

Mount Mainstreet vibe

Locals are looking forward to Mount Mainstreet getting its popular vibe back, as retailers, cafes, bars and restaurants open up under Level 2.

It’s been a fence sitting time, says Mount Mainstreet’s Mandy Gillgren, who also owns Zeytins.

“There could be hiccups and it’s just either going to go smoothly, or services are going to be stretched as businesses start to reopen at the same time.”

Mount Mainstreet has a diverse range of retail shops from boutique fashion stores through to trendy surf shops. The seaside town has been a popular shopping and dining destination with Thai, Mexican, South American, Italian, Mediterranean, Turkish, Indian and Asian cuisines to select from on a night out.

Retail shops reopened their doors on Thursday, but the bars have to wait until Thursday May 21, opening under strict Level 2 requirements.

"The pharmacies have been open right through the lockdown, supporting the community, making sure people have their scripts," says Mandy.

"The tattoo artists have been chomping at the bit to get back to work. They’re working out their PPE.

“Hairdressers are in the same boat.”

At Level 3, some of the cafes were able to open their doors, with shoppers phoning ahead to arrange click and collect purchases. A couple of Thai and Indian restaurants, One Tree Bakery, Ours, Luca, and Mexacali were among those making the most of the opportunity to partially reopen, serving their customers through the door.

Many of the Mount Mainstreet businesses have an online presence, allowing them to engage with their customers and Mandy expects they will use as many platforms as possible to let people know when they are reopening.

“It’s going to be interesting. We need to do this together. Everyone needs to support each other and network in, plug for each other so that we get our beautiful Mount vibe back.”

Greerton’s heart beating strong

Sally Benning, Greerton’s Mainstreet manager found her phone was running hot as the public called her office to see which businesses were open at Level 2.

“There are a lot of challenges for many of our small businesses who are having to adapt to a new way of working with regards to online click and collect and contactless deliveries.

“Whilst that might be relatively easy for big national chains, it can be quite a challenge for many small businesses.

“Many of them have had no income for many weeks and they’ve got the additional pressure of adapting their own business to Level 2, with social distancing and getting their businesses online.”

When the country returned to Level 3, Greerton Mainstreet produced a video that showcased which businesses were open and kept their Facebook page continually updated.

Cafes, pharmacies, bakeries and takeaways were kept busy with online ordering and contactless purchasing through their doorways.

A Facebook promotion is also running, continuing on the popular #greertonhasheart and ‘Random acts of Kindness’ activities, this time including a competition to win vouchers and goods from the Greerton retailers.

Sally is usually busy planning the promotions that run over Easter and during winter. Mass gatherings of people at large events is now a complex issue, however the popular Greerton Yarn Bombing can still go ahead.

“People have been busy working on yarn bombing all year,” says Sally.

“We are looking forward in Greerton to having our winter trees dressed and adorned. This year our theme is ‘Aotearoa - what it means to you’.

Te Puke businesses bouncing back

Prior to Easter, Epic Te Puke was preparing for the New World Easter Egg Trail.

“All the children were going to go through the downtown area counting eggs in windows,” says Epic Te Puke’s Rebecca Larsen. “We had egg rock painting, Te Puke Art Society activities, and the painted rocks to be hidden on a trail for kids to find, collect, bring back in and receive prizes.”

The Easter bunny was even booked, but everything was canned when the country went into lockdown.

Rebecca is flexible and optimistic though. And adaptable.

“The nice thing is we can still pick up these activities later on. The rock painting can be a school holiday activity when we’re allowed to. We can have smaller groups and run more sessions.”

Like Rebecca and the Easter bunny, the town too is displaying adaptability as it bounces back.

“The lockdown has been an eye opener for a lot of businesses,” says Rebecca. “It’s given us all time to reflect and work on our businesses rather than just in them.”

For the team at Epic Te Puke, it’s meant looking at how the organisation can provide support in the vastly different climate. Rebecca notes that the world has been heading in the direction of online shopping for quite some time and the lockdown resulted in many Te Puke retailers taking swift action.

“As well as needing to be online, our traditional retail businesses are having to look at how to attract customers back in, in a unique way that online can’t compete with. Many have adapted quickly, making changes and they’ll pull through.”

“I’ve been making phone calls to the businesses and will continue over the next wee while as I haven’t been able to reach all of them yet. But My Pharmacy in Te Puke told me that the free delivery service they have been offering during lockdown out to the wider Te Puke community will continue after lockdown has ended. Great adaption!

“Giftrapt - a gift shop in Te Puke have quickly updated their online business.”

She wants to see local money kept local.

“It’s cool seeing our community supporting local businesses at this time. If people buy here, it provides jobs, and then that money gets fed back in.

“We’re also proud to support the ‘Let’s Keep it Local Te Puke’ campaign just released in the district by the Te Puke Economic Development group, and the online website built during lockdown by Vector Group Charitable Trust which highlights click and collect options, and local business.”

During the Alert Level 3 period, Rebecca was in contact with other Mainstreet managers, exchanging ideas and learning what was happening in other towns.

“It’s been invaluable for getting the Mainstreet groups around the country to connect which I think is going to be awesome for the future.

“Things are always changing, always growing and always on the move. We’re always going to change, there’s no such thing as staying the same.”

She remembers back to the changes that retailers experienced with the upgrade to Jellicoe St.

“When they put the road in they were worried about the impact on retailers but at the end of the day those businesses that can adapt and change with the climate we’re in are those that are going to be successful. And it brings about new opportunities.

“Those that were quick to start making key decisions for how to survive as we came out of lockdown have been already planning well how they can serve a wider audience. We know that people can work anywhere these days. In a lot of cases where they can access internet, they can still do business. It doesn’t have to be confined to where customers live.”

The Easter Bunny may not have been able to bounce into town, but Te Puke’s slogan ‘Goodness Grows Here’ is reflected in the warm welcome and friendly smiles of the locals as they strive to bounce back.

Downtown Tauranga

Mainstreet Downtown Tauranga has been busy through the whole lockdown period with a raft of new initiatives designed to provide pivotal support to their more than 650 members.

“As well as our almost daily emails with COVID-19 updates, our Mainstreet Manager Millie Newitt has been phoning and contacting as many businesses as possible, so we could continue one-on-one contact through such a challenging and stressful time.” says Downtown Tauranga’s Sally Cooke. “We’ve been checking in on them, and seeing how they’re doing with health and wellbeing, and stress levels.”

In addition Mainstreet Downtown Tauranga has been running webinars on a range of topics and set up Thrive Tauranga, a weekly platform for businesses to get together digitally for problem solving and developing new ways to do business.

“We have also kept the Downtown Tauranga website updated with what businesses were operating and how they were operating through Level 3 and we’re now updating that for the Level 2 phase.”

Owners of The Barrel Room, Carolyn and Stewart Gebbie says they are “thrilled” to be open again and happy to be back doing what they love.

Carolyn says the silver lining is the highly successful new takeaway service that they developed over the lockdown period. They would be continuing to offer this service to customers

Sally has been also liaising with other Mainstreet managers around NZ to share ideas and insights, and problem-solving around the issues that retailers have faced during the national lockdown.

“One big positive that has come out of lockdown is the even stronger collaboration,” says Sally. “As mainstreets, we’re focused on the same primary goal of how to reboot our business community and our city town centres, so that we can save the livelihoods of our business owners, their teams, our communities and whanau.

“At Downtown Tauranga, we have our own unique set of challenges, as well as the common challenges that all cities, town centres, commercial and business sectors face.”

Sally says it will continue to be a challenge for a long time to come.

“We’re always here to support our members and have ramped up and wrapped around that support, so it's proactively responsive to our members' needs. We want them rebuilding a sustainable business model as quickly as possible and our role is to actively support that as much as we can.”

Along the Strand, some of the restaurants came up with innovative ways to open during Level 3. The Crown & Badger teamed up with Smokey Joes and The Italian Job to provide three offerings from one spot. In First Ave, Alimento changed their open hours to cater to a dinner contactless pickup or delivery.

“I’ve been absolutely amazed at the good old Kiwi ingenuity, and the grit and determination that came into play with our downtown Tauranga members,” says Sally. “They're all having to change their models and break down the bricks and mortar mentality.

She says that the retail sector needs to take an innovative and adept approach to the new normal.

“Retailers traditionally open their doors at eight-thirty or nine in the morning and people wander in. They are looking into how they can do digital browsing, using phones to Facetime and talk their customers around their shops so they can choose items. We’re here to help them as they evolve and adapt to come up with new ways to get their product out to the marketplace.

“They don’t have to be absolute maestros at digital enablement, and we can help them find what they need to speak to their customers and get whatever digital technology they need in play as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Downtown Tauranga are also working in strong collaboration with Greerton and Mount Mainstreets on a new Buy Local. Buy Tauranga collective campaign.

“We can do a lot more collectively together for the betterment of our region as a whole and our independent centres as well if we collaborate.”

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