Independent retailers in South Australia say the state is already “over-shopped” and they haven’t seen a solid business case for the Opposition party’s policy to deregulate shop trading hours.
As South Australians head for polls on the weekend, a petition against the proposal has attracted thousands of signatures. Meanwhile, smaller operators say the policy will directly affect their businesses.
South Australia currently divides retailers into a range of categories based on where they trade, what they offer and how large their shopfronts are.
Trading restrictions mean that “non-exempt” businesses — those with more than 200 square metres of retail floor area or grocery stores with a floor area of more than 400 square metres — have limits placed on when they can trade.
One of these limits is forcing businesses of this size to close before 11:00am and after 5:00pm ever Sunday if they lie within the “Central Business District Tourist Precinct”.
There are also regulations around which retailer can open on public holidays, based on not only the size of the business but what they sell. For example, stores selling electrical items cannot open at all.
The state’s opposition leader Steven Marshall has argued the state needs to change if its businesses want to “compete in the 21st century”.
The Liberal Party has promised it will wipe out these laws if elected to government on Saturday, replacing them with standardised rules for trading in each area, no matter the size or type of the business.
“Restricted trading hours are not reflective of how South Australians live their lives,” Marshall said.
However, small and independent businesses have come out swinging at the policy idea, saying the state simply doesn’t have enough shoppers to keep doors open at all hours.
“We already have a finite pie, it hasn’t change for decades, and by extending hours we will only shift demand across the pie,” chief executive of South Australian Independent Retailers, Colin Shearer, tells SmartCompany.
His organisation, which represents independent grocers and IGA supermarket owners, is campaigning against the changes on the basis that they will serve to destroy independent retailing in the state as the big two supermarkets thrive.
“If they bring this in and trade whenever you want to trade, it will force smaller businesses to trade longer hours to compete — and they will be eventually put out of business,” Shearer says.
The Barossa Herald reports thousands of signatures have been compiled for a “Save our Sunday” petition expressing opposition to the proposal. Shearer says the biggest problem for all retailers with policies like this is that there’s little demand across the state for businesses of any size to trade longer hours.
“Our take is that this is just another push from the [supermarket] duopoly, to dominate the retail landscape in Australia. And we have a great retail landscape,” he says.
Politicians should look at population growth first
Angelo Demasi is the chief executive of the South Australian Produce Market, a fresh produce market located in the Adelaide suburb of Pooraka.
He believes the Liberal Party’s policy will also hurt his business by making it necessary for it to be open when the big traders are.
“We run a wholesale market — and if they change this [trading hours], we will have to open longer. We’re already stretched, and it means our growers will have to get here even earlier to trade,” he says.
Demasi says he believes the state’s retail laws could do with some “tweaking” to fix some of the older anomalies, but a complete deregulation stands to hurt smaller businesses.
“We’re already over-shopped, and the main issue is that we have negative population growth in our regions. There hasn’t been enough economic data to support the point that we need this,” he says.
He would rather see politicians on both sides outline how they plan to boost South Australia’s population, so that retailers can benefit from a larger customer base.
“I think all politicians, on both sides, need to do this. Say you have about a 400,000 increase in population [a year] across Australia — well what we need to focus on is getting our percentage of the share of that,” he says.