New Zealand’s resilient retail sector continues to surprise

I spent this week in New Zealand doing field visits with CROSSMARK sales associates in grocery stores, and walking high CBD shopping areas in North Island, including Queen St in Auckland and Featherstone St, in Wellington.

As with all CBD shopping areas around the world, there is always an eclectic mix of showcase stores, mainstream chain store brands, independent stores selling the weird and wonderful, and truly individual and unique stores with a heap of history.

I had lunch with a very senior advertising executive discussing the New Zealand market, and asked him if his company worked with local retailers. He said he did and named a department store I’d never heard of but, during my trip, found, which I’ll talk about later.

Now, I opened my first business in New Zealand in the early 2000s, I have visited six to 10 times a year since then, and genuinely enjoy and respect the Kiwi retailing and manufacturing community. They are innovative because they have to be – and they can be. It’s a very small, self-contained and competitive market.

So walking both Auckland’s Queen St and Wellington’s Featherstone St, I came across two wonderful time capsules: Smith & Caughie in Auckland and Kirkcaldies & Stains in Wellington. These two very traditional, 100-plus-year-old department stores are a pleasure to experience, should shoppers stumble across them.

Both are housed in beautiful art deco and turn of 19th century four-storey buildings right in the heart of their respective cities. And both create a wonderful shopping experience by selling, and truly merchandising, mainstream local and international brands.

Both are absent an own-retail brand portfolio, so Rembrandt menswear, Hilfiger, Levi’s and the usual ground floor cosmetic suspects are displayed and serviced by a high number of knowledgeable and engaged retail associates.

The coffee shops have great service, and standing at a display in front of the china and crystal department, an associate proactively informed me that the Royal Crown Derby pattern from the Titanic is one of the newer additions to this 240-year-old pottery.

Now, I haven’t seen the financials for either of the two companies, and I know that New Zealand retailing in the department store sector has been tough. Farmers almost disappeared until the Norman family stepped in.

However, I do hope that both these traditional department stores continue to trade, if only to prove that it is still possible to run traditional department stores without retail-own brand, just by creating great shopping environments supported by good service.

CROSSMARK CEO Kevin Moore looks at the world of retailing from grocery to pharmacy, bottle shops to car dealers, corner store to department stores.


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