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Provincial Town Strategises For Success

Gore District Council is on a mission to develop New Zealand's most commercially resilient provincial town. The Love Gore Shop Local campaign is a key part of this, however the wider project involves an integrated strategy that encompasses a wide range of capability building, stakeholder engagement and commercial growth initiatives, developed by First Retail Group

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Provincial Town Strategises For Success

  1. 1. 34 l APRIL 2016 LOCAL GOVERNMENT MAGAZINE l 35 REGIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Resilient town centres anchor economic growth. Kim Munro explains how Gore has brought shoppers back to its stores. Town centre guardianship is a hot topic for local government around the world as the digital revolution continues to impact traditional retail formats and the relevance of inner city experiences. Spending attrition, changing consumer lifestyles and commercial confidence have all contributed to the challenges high streets and CBDs are increasingly facing. These have been characterised by struggling retailers, increased shop vacancy and a resistance to invest by property owners. In Southland, the Gore District Council was determined this would not be the fate of its CBD and set a goal for Gore to become New Zealand’s most commercially-resilient provincial town. A core part of the strategy has been focusing on strengthening the CBD economy through a range of collaborative initiatives in partnership with retailers and landlords – key stakeholders in their CBD economy. Gore’s journey began through a set of circumstances similar to those of many small New Zealand towns. A value-focused retail chain closed its local store following the wider group’s receivership, forcing customers to shop in neighbouring towns or online. Conversations in the community quickly reached the front page of local newspapers, where it was revealed the growth in online shopping could compromise some of Gore’s most established retailers. Gore District mayor Tracy Hicks and the council’s senior management team were quick to recognise the growing risk of revenue escaping the district – along Independent delivery is vital. Engaging independent sector expertise to develop and deliver the project was key in giving pace to the project. This enabled stakeholders to focus on the big picture without becoming distracted by personalities or legacy issues that typically impact collaborative ventures. An agile strategy drives pace. The retail sector is highly dynamic as changing consumer purchasing behaviour continually drives new challenges. Using an agile approach ensures a programme can be deployed rapidly and adapted as opportunities or risks are identified. Validators stimulate participation. Gore’s business leaders endorsed the programme, which helped achieve awareness and support across the commercial community. Media messaging engages. Open and frank news media conversations can contribute to positive editorial coverage, driving both commercial and consumer awareness. Ongoing development of a project ensures continual story content and enduring media interest. Key learnings GORE BLIMEY with its wider economic and social impact. The search was on for best- practice solutions that could best lend themselves to Gore’s marketplace. The council engaged with strategists First Retail Group, a company that works with forward-looking councils across Australasia and the UK. Already familiar with the Otago / Southland economy through work in Dunedin, Invercargill and the Southern Lakes, First Retail recognised unique drivers influencing the marketplace. Led by managing director Chris Wilkinson and project manager Lorraine Nicholson, the company undertook extensive consultation with stakeholders, consumers and council managers. Findings indicated what many had suspected – the town centre was beginning to fall out of favour with shoppers while business owners were unsure how best to respond. Those first visits and conversations were followed by a high-level report identifying the issues, proposed solutions and a projected delivery schedule. Gore’s recovery and growth initiative would be based on what the company terms ‘agile’ strategy that would be implemented quickly. According to Chris Wilkinson, councils often spend so long talking and planning that opportunities are lost without the chance to effectively leverage them. Using agile methodology, high-level strategy and mapped goals formed a framework that allowed for changes or inclusions where these could benefit stakeholders. This enabled the council to navigate risk, harness potential and adapt rapidly as the market continued to evolve. An intensive period of performance development, range realignment and culture change followed, overhauling many of the legacy practices that had challenged consumers. The process was intensive and, for many, cathartic as business owners reassessed their focus and goals. Love Gore, Shop Local was a strategy actively encouraging consumers to prioritise spending to support local businesses. The initiative, and its back- story, achieved national press and quickly won the hearts of local residents. The programme’s ultimate test came during December last year, when retailers re-welcomed consumers with their new offer. Across town many retailers enjoyed bumper trading up to and after Christmas, reinforcing value in the project and inspiring continuing evolution of the initiative. Mayor Tracy Hicks say the success of the Love Gore, Shop Local campaign has surprised him, mainly because of the willingness of retailers to work so closely together. “Traditionally retailers are individualistic in the way they approach marketing. However, through GoRetail they have recognised marketing is as much about the whole place as it is about individual businesses.” LG • Kim Munro is a Wellington-based freelance writer.