April 22, 2020

Whanganui & Partners Bulletin

Whanganui & Partners Bulletin
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The unprecedented effort to rapidly adjust to Alert Level 4 restrictions has seen a huge amount of disruption in business operations, staffing and an almost universal impact on revenue. Despite this enormous disruption, businesses are now firmly focussed on how they can resume operations, explore what their markets will look like and put plans in place to help maximise our recovery.

Part of our response at Whanganui & Partners has been to directly contact businesses to both check in with owners and get a greater understanding of the issues being faced. Almost universally, we’re hearing that cashflow is the leading concern for our businesses, backed up by the uncertainty in what their demand will look like as we approach a ‘new normal’. While a very trying time for all, there is a real sense of optimism. Many businesses are looking at the opportunity of the situation and how they can best position for recovery.

Whanganui & Partners is here to support business through this period. If you need assistance in HR, Health and Wellbeing, Business Continuity Planning or Finance/Cashflow please get in touch. Our delivery of the Regional Business Partners has been expanded to provide immediate support in these areas. The Government Wage Subsidy, Business Finance Guarantee scheme and changes to commercial tenancy requirements all look to address key business cost drivers and all business owners should look to use them as needed. Our team at Whanganui & Partners can assist with this. Get started by signing up with the Regional Business Partner Programme.

It’s been widely predicted that we’re about to see unemployment numbers increase across New Zealand, and unfortunately, we anticipate growth in the local unemployment and NEET rates. Redeployment and retraining will become central to our economic recovery, and I’ve been coordinating with our partners and focusing attention on some important areas:  

  • Identifying industries where staff are likely to be in-demand, for instance the construction and civil construction area (from Central Government infrastructure projects), the primary industries, food production and logistics.
  • Working with our existing tertiary providers to create strong alignment between sector and industry workforce demands and education provision.  
  • Maximising existing resources for vocational pathways, including 100% SWEET, the Youth Employment Success platform, WDETT and Te Ara Mahi funding, and MSD Broker contracts held by local provider Ag Challenge.
  • Skills and Talent Working Groups for both the district and region are already up and running, which offers a great advantage to developing effective recovery projects. We have our next local meeting on the 1st May and if you are interested in skills, training and the employment space I welcome you to get in touch with me about joining this hui.  

The past few months have caused a lot of disruption to the food supply chain, made more difficult with the lockdown and changes to the normal way we obtain our weekly food, whether it be at a restaurant, takeaway outlet, supermarket, butcher or small green grocer. Added to this is the disruption through delays in export markets and lost hospitality and direct-to-business contracts. All this came at a time when farmers were making decisions about what stock to hold onto during a time of prolonged drought.

At present, the meat industry’s peak processing capacity has been reduced by approximately 50% for sheep and 30% for beef, and likely, according to Beef + Lamb NZ economic modelling, to be in place for the next six weeks. With this in mind, livestock farmers are encouraged to talk early to their processors and to look at their farm’s feed budgeting plan. It’s also worth looking for insight from sector industry bodies, which are sending regular updates to their farmers.  

Given the recent news about contactless delivery services being allowed under Alert Level 3, it’s been interesting to read lessons learned from China after their SARS epidemic in 2003. In terms of supply chain disruption, the agility of businesses adapting to reach their market in different ways was vital. Consumers had changed their shopping habits and moved to online shopping and on-demand delivery.  

How might our lockdown change consumer behaviour? Furthermore, with our borders closed, what opportunities are there for our offshore markets to do business with us? If you have any comments or questions, feel free to get in touch with me.

The lockdown came at a crucial time with three major arts events cancelled: Artist’s Open Studios, Whanganui Walls and Whanganui Walls of Sound. Beyond that, local artists were affected by the cancellation of the Auckland Art Fair along with the closure of stockists, gigs and shows nationally and overseas.  

Artists have always led the way in reimagining our cities, and creativity will play an important role in encouraging locals to venture back downtown as well as bringing future visitors to Whanganui. Our arts sector hasn’t stopped moving during the lockdown: local artists with studios at home are busy with new projects and many are actively reaching audiences via social media, while projects like the Coastal Arts Trail are still in development. To get updates on the sector, connect the community and share links to resources during this vital time, we’ve set up a Facebook group for Whanganui Artists and Creatives – please join me there.

As so many businesses have been forced to adapt to the crisis, the need to stand out in the market is now stronger than ever. A lot of people have been asking me about what to do with their marketing lately, and I’ve collected some thoughts on LinkedIn, particularly drawing on my experience during the GFC, that I hope will be helpful to local brands navigating the current crisis.  

One point I want to reiterate here is the need to remain present in the market with the goal of being well-positioned when markets re-open. This is true for businesses as well as for Whanganui, and we’re already developing our plans for positioning the Whanganui brand.

We have an opportunity to build on the trends we were seeing pre-COVID. The move out of major centres, the growing appeal of Whanganui as a place to visit, live and work, the benefits of operating a business here were all growing pre-COVID and the pandemic will only reinforce the thinking behind those trends. And of course, we will be supporting messages to ensure local businesses are connected with our people and their services.

If anything, we now need to step on the pedal to realise our vision for Whanganui.

As has been widely reported, New Zealand's tourism sector is going through an unprecedented crisis. I’ve been extremely impressed with our local operators, who are showing a tremendous amount of positivity and pragmatic acceptance of the situation. The major concern I’ve heard voiced has been around commercial lease arrangements with landlords, especially for the accommodation sector. While nearly everyone in the visitor industry is receiving little to no revenue during lockdown, most have taken up the wage subsidies and have gone into hibernation while alert level 4 is in place.  

This is a challenging but exciting time for tourism. Whanganui, with its primarily domestic-based visitor market, will be well placed to connect with a kiwi public keen to explore New Zealand. I’m also keeping an eye on a Tourism New Zealand-led project around developing a new approach to tourism that will make New Zealand a more sustainable place, enrich the lives of our communities and deliver a sector which is financially self-sustaining in the long-term.  

Clearly, there is a lot of transformation going on in this space, but I believe that our visitor sector will prove resilient. If you’re a local business with ties to the visitor industry, please join our Facebook group for the Whanganui Visitor Industry, where I share news and updates relevant to our sector.

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