The state of play in regional and rural retail

Things in retail remain tough. The ‘light at the head of the tunnel’ hinted at in RBA Governor Glenn Stevens’ ‘The Lucky Country‘ address two weeks ago sometimes appears like false dawn in stores and boardrooms across Australia.

Store sales are very patchy, although the best always survive the tough times and thrive immediately after the upturn. Their lean and innovative approach born of necessity in the tough times delivers amazing returns when shoppers loosen their purse strings. And Glenn Stevens, as well as many other economists, keep reminding us that Australians have heaps of money in the bank. We’re still not confident enough to spend it though.

So this week I spent time on one of my ‘Road to Retail’ trips. Usually I ride a touring motorbike, but this time I drove a car with my brother through rural northern Victoria and rural NSW: Melbourne to Sydney via Shepparton, Temora and Yass. Shepparton and Temora were the overnight stops, with Temora being the main destination for my brother, a former helicopter gunship pilot, and I. Why Temora? Because it’s home to the best private collection of military aircraft anywhere in Australia (owned by the Lowy family), so it appears on many a bloke’s road trip lists.

Our first stop was rural Shepparton, a town that has had many knocks as its once dominant farming and processing sector has declined. These traditional employment sectors have left it to tourism and retail to provide the heart and vibrancy of the community. Oh, and jobs for young and old people alike. Whilst we didn’t have any real preconceptions of “Shepp”, we found a modern Quest to stay in, with a cheerful receptionist who recommended an amazing modernised hotel called The Aussie – we were sold.

Walking the streets, we experienced traditional covered sidewalks with modern strip malls, great regional butchers and bakeries, alongside national grocery and liquor stores. A real pleasure to walk and shop; suffice to say a great evening, night and morning of consumption was had.

Arriving in rural Temora was a little different. The local council has made a real attempt to showcase local businesses with an easy to search and informative website. The local real estate agents take out full page ads in Sydney papers showcasing the properties and lifestyle available. The Lowy family has chosen to invest in the airport zone, with modern hangars housing and displaying to the public their collection of historic aircraft.

However, when looking for accommodation, there was no shiny new Quest. On the council-built website only a few of the local businesses had made an effort to populate the site with content.

Of note, the Ariah Park Hotel had appetising pictures and editorial on its hotel. So much so that it is on my list for the next “Road to Retail” trip. The Railway Hotel had taken the time to showcase itself and its menu, while the Shamrock Hotel highlighted the fact they had a Chinese restaurant on the premises and that was it. Most hadn’t put up anything other than a phone number. Putting up content to entice customers into your offering isn’t hard to do, but it requires a little time and attention to detail.

Why does it matter? Well, two blokes on a road trip can easily spend $500 on food, grog, accommodation, attractions and fuel every 24 hours. Websites with the town name are the first source of information on such a trip, usually accessed via a smartphone on the way there. It does matter.

The highlight of our trip, in terms of regeneration of a store, was in rural Yass. The newly renovated Kaffeine Cafe was larger, brighter and better than at any time in the seven years I have been stopping in Yass. The family who has taken it over has created a destination for local and passing shoppers. They deserve recognition for the great retailing environment they have delivered to their community and passing shoppers.

RARAland (rural and regional Australia) deserves great retailing. Local business and local councils, working together with Australians from the cities, is the most likely formula to deliver great experiences for all shoppers and jobs within the local communities.

As CROSSMARK CEO, Kevin Moore looks at the world of retailing from grocery to pharmacy, bottle shops to car dealers, corner store to department stores. In this insightful blog, Kevin covers retail news, ideas, companies and emerging opportunities in Australia and across the world. His international career in sales and marketing has seen him responsible for businesses in over 40 countries, which has earned him grey hair and a wealth of expertise in international retailers and brands.

CROSSMARK Asia Pacific is Australasia’s largest provider of retail marketing services, consulting to and servicing some of Australasia’s biggest retailers and manufacturers.



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