Businesses come and go as trends change, communities evolve and the economy fluctuates, but in any town there will always be a handful of shops that manage to weather the storms and stay the course.
In Warkworth, Rae Ward has been at the forefront of several successful businesses for 26 years, first at the Kowhai Dairy, then selling hats and accessories at Peggy’s, which moved to the main street 11 years ago as Not Just Hats.
She has seen a lot of changes in the town’s retail scene since then, but believes the key to success is ultimately down to one thing.
“The difference in a small town is personal service. The ability to listen to people, to have a chat and be interested,” Rae says.
Ruth Munro, who has sold lingerie at Intimate Apparel for 18 years, agrees.
“With business, it’s the service. You have got to give 100 per cent, know your product, have good stock, and know what you’re talking about.”
These days, however, the need to adapt to new challenges, such as the growth in online shopping, also plays a part. While Rae and Ruth are eschewing any major moves into computerisation due to approaching retirement, Brendon Hart, who has been with Hart’s Pharmacy for 17 years, is embracing technology, not only with a website and online sales, but also with a fully-automated robotic medicine sachet dispensing system.
“You’ve got to be adaptable,” he says. “You need to create your own point of difference. We’re trying to ‘niche’ ourselves; we don’t want to be the same as everyone else, so decided to go with our own brand and be independent.”
There are external factors, however, which no amount of flexibility can address, as Rae points out.
“Parking is the main problem in town,” she says. “And because of the traffic in the summer I don’t get people coming up for one-day trips anymore; they’re not going to sit in traffic for two hours.”
Brendon agrees, and says sympathetic town planning is required. “We understand that we’re part of Auckland, but we’re a village, a town that has a lot of good history, the river, great green spaces and a lot of character. It should be like Whangarei Basin, with shops, café and bar life, but we need parking.”