Remember the High St?

“Businesses that some would say only existed in the minds of crazed oddballs, being the black sheep in a flock of daggy white. Daisy the cow of our childhoods, wandering comfortably into old age, all the while humming to a very different retail tune.”

How differentiation in consumer delivery channels can reap dividends for all.

So, it probably hasn’t helped Christchurch’s cause that lately nobody aside from rescue, construction, and politico’s have been able to access some of the previously gold-plated retail and business streets. However, it has firmly highlighted the need for consumer-facing business to have a presence in different, multiple channels.

‘International gateway to the Republic of South Island’ is under threat by the likes of direct flights to Queenstown, a fast-changing visitor demographic that is less in tune, and less patient with western rituals and customs. Brand NZ has been taking a battering of late, and it’s not just due to 4th September 2010 and 22nd February 2011. The now-distant LOTR effect, the very battered ‘clean green NZ’, combined with what is seen by pundits as an artificially strong NZ dollar (held up by overseas currency investors), has produced a waning demand for the gentle delights of Christchurch. Backpackers are in South America if they want adventure, Asia if they want budget travel and culture. Business travellers are in Auckland and Wellington, vacationers in Australia and further afield.

As tragic as recent events have been, in economic terms they disguise a red herring of consumer stagnation. Reliance on famously erratic tourist dollars, the power of the farming lobby, and reluctant acknowledgement that NZ is becoming more foreign owned by the day reveal we don’t add sufficient value to enough of our products, brands and businesses. Thinking short term rather than long, investing in smoko breaks rather than dynamic and sustainable knowledge capital.

In the old days consumers bought stuff from lovely, quaint individual stores – the butcher, baker and candlestick maker analogy. People shopped and lived local to their source of goods and services. Then something interesting happened, some of the smaller stores got together, became more successful and grew into national,  and in some cases international ‘household names’ or brands. Progress, rationalisation, success. Nowadays we take for granted the choice and ‘value’ of the global retail offer.

What’s really interesting is that few of the household names have had any success in diversifying the ways in which they’re distributed. “Yeah, just come and see us and we’ll see you right” works ok when overdue_for_infrastructure_upgrade streets are open, but when pretty much all of the hub at the centre of Christchurch City is closed, as we’ve discovered, it all grinds to a halt.

Warehouse, Whitcouls, Wide-Boy Finance. In their own ways they’ve all succumbed to a blinkered retail/ consumer/ end of the line approach. Figurehead leader, local market duopoly, hearing the sizzle over the warning crackles.

Very few NZ consumer brands are big around the world and at home. Honourable mention to (out of article remit) Fletcher Construction, seeming to succeed in taking on the Aussies rather well with their recent hostile and successful bid for Crane.

Back to how brands traditionally distributed their wares. Assess carefully the ebb and flow of your_type_of _customer, where they shop, what they drive, what student/ assistant they might wish to flirt with. Then sign a lease (or freehold your own physical store), get something to sell that you are sure people want to buy, then just open the doors and wait for the business to fall over themselves to get through your door. Or not.

Not if they can’t even physically get to your door, not if they don’t live in your neighbourhood, not if they haven’t even heard of you.

Bricks and mortar, at least tongue and groove for NZ. And before you think I’m going to roll out the passé clicks and mortar (NZ:  ducks and Mordor?) phrase, don’t worry because these days there’s businesses like Ground Effect, Torpedo7Trademe (now a Fairfax business), and Nature Shop that continue to thrive on not having any of the above. Businesses that some would say only existed in the minds of crazed oddballs, being the black sheep in a flock of daggy white, Daisy the cow of our childhoods, wandering comfortably into old age, all the while humming to a very different retail tune.

Doesn’t really matter where they’re based, or what their staff look like, as they’ve analysed every contact point they do have with existing and potential consumers and leveraging those points of difference like mad.

Why, because they’re only as good as their last ‘moment of truth’ with you the consumer, and they’re hungry for not only winning and retaining your business, but smart enough to realise that if their product’s good enough combined with superior_to_mall_store service, backup and convenience, then they’re going to carve out quite the niche for themselves.

So why then has 2degrees started to roll out retail stores in malls, when it’s the classic online only business? Here’s their conundrum, they need to invest rapidly to reach a critical mass in a previous duopoly (Tele-fone) to have any opportunity to reap the rewards in the future. Sales and profitability show their model is presently loss-making, but with Big Red’s (and I don’t mean the Warehouse) manufacturing capability (Huawei is a major investor in 2degrees), tech know how combined with serious volumes of ‘can do’, (2,263 higher education establishments and Universities as at 2007 data). See where this might be going long term in the mobile market for NZ? It’s a different discussion as to which of 2degrees or Huawei will come to dominate NZ  mobile in the future, but who knows… shows how important investment partnerships are though.

What’s at their epicentre? Service, service and more relevant, appropriate and loyalty inducing service than you can shake a Merivale deli stick of chorizo at. Note the relevant an appropriate in that list – it’s about exceeding consumer expectations, not going for a Gold medal in the exceeding expectations Olympics. T7 get stuff to you quickly and reliably, they’re there for you to contact in many ways about any questions (read: objections or reasons not to buy a product from them)…

So, get online Christchurch, supporting businesses who have traded through the incredible, tragic times of late. Check out their service, via the comfort of your own (or someone else’s) home, or more probably at work. You could do worse than ask around for others experiences of online service, then try it out yourself.

43words ©David Binstead 2011-12. All rights reserved

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