Business shares air of cautious optimism
Posted at 2:16pm Tuesday 14 Jul, 2020
Pharmacist Anthony Wentworth, owner of Life Pharmacy Orewa, and most of his 32 staff worked through the lockdown. Trade was down, but not enough to qualify for the wage subsidy. Once the pharmacy's doors reopened, sales were better than expected. In fact, last month's taking were better than last year. “These are very uncertain times and NZ won't be immune to what's going on in the rest of the world.”
First we had ‘the bubble', now it looks like we might have ‘the bounce'.
Businesses on the Coast are quietly optimistic about the future following a positive return to business in the first few weeks of level 1.
While no one is popping champagne corks just yet, and everyone acknowledges that some sectors such as hospitality and travel have been hard hit, there are definite signs of confidence and determination.
Destination Orewa Beach manager Hellen Wilkins agrees that most businesses are upbeat and positive, and have experienced great customer support from day one of level 2.
The owner of Never Ending Books in Orewa, Anne Pretorius, closed for five weeks during lockdown. She took the wage subsidy for herself and a part-time staff member, and made use of her free time to do some trading online and set-up a website. She says trading in level 1 has been “amazing”. “I can't replenish my stock of books and puzzles fast enough. Every thing has just been flying out the door. I think the fact that the libraries were closed was a factor.” Anne says she has her fingers crossed that the shop's surge in popularity will continue.
“Some were a little slower but we haven't really heard of one business that is ‘struggling', which is heartwarming,” she says.
“Businesses just made it work the best they could – they adapted their business model to work around Covid requirements introducing non-contact delivery services, creating an online sales page on their website, serving takeaways when they previously didn't and so on. We take our hat off to each and every one of them.”
Business and property advisor Marcus Macdonald, of Magna Consultants, says while some businesses did go under during lockdown, he suspects Covid was not the cause.
“My impression is that these businesses were probably going to fail at some stage anyway,” he says.
Liquorland Orewa owner Bryan Russell closed his shop for three-and-a-half weeks during lockdown and then did contactless deliveries before moving to click and collect in level 2. He took the wage subsidy for himself and two staff, which importantly enabled him to retain long-serving staff. He says business is back to normal, if not better. “No travel has meant no duty free liquor – spirit sales, in particular, have been very good.”
Marcus says he is a little surprised how well small businesses have done given the upheavals, and believes the Government assistance, in terms of wage subsidies and no interest loans, have been a lifeline.
“My concern is for the next six months when the wage subsidy comes to an end. A lot of businesses could find themselves in a cold hard world and we're likely to see more business failures. On the positive side though, a lot of businesses have been innovative and resilient so far, creating niche markets. A bit of ingenuity can make a big difference.”
Marcus believes businesses should be seriously controlling costs and looking ahead to see where the roadblocks or hiccups might be.
“If anyone thinks they might need funding, then they should be looking at that now and not waiting until the event occurs because by then it will be difficult. The worst thing a business person could do at the moment is put their head in the sand. They need to be realistic and, if necessary, get some professional advice.”
Advance Office Products was an essential service during lockdown, with owners Anna and Campbell Davis, and their son Hunter, working 10-hour days to meet the needs of medical centres, tradespeople and other essential services. The shop re-opened to the public at level 2. “We've been very busy, definitely busier than this time last year and are feeling very positive about the next six months,” Anna says. She says small businesses have to have contingencies for when major disruptions like a pandemic hit. “We took the first wage subsidy for us and our staff – it was hugely important.”
Telos Group commercial director Mustan Bagasra, based in Silverdale, believes the leasing side of his business is busier now than it was last year.
“Some businesses have closed as a result of Covid, but on the other hand, there are a lot people committing to new businesses, and existing businesses are downsizing and up-sizing depending on their circumstances.
“Landlords and tenants are showing a willingness to negotiate in this ‘new normal'.” Mustan estimates the rent reductions are around 10 to 20 per cent on pre-Covid rates but encouragingly, most of the new leases are long-term.
Most of the interest is from people on the Coast and some of it is from people who have been made redundant and have decided they want to be their own boss.
Mustan says the interest is across the board, from retail and commercial to businesses looking for warehouse space.
Roger White, of Orewa Massage Worx, took a part-time job delivering eggs during his enforced six-week lockdown. When he re-opened at level 2, he hit the ground running and hasn't stopped since. Clients were paying in advance to be high on the waiting list. He has also seen a steady trickle of new people. “People were doing more exercise during lockdown and some home office set-ups caused some posture issues.” Roger is confident he will keep going. “I feel sorry for new businesses who might not yet have a loyal customer base; they might struggle.”