Local knowledge key to success
Mega malls offer variety but need not spell the end for suburban shops, writes Louis White
MARY Urquhart likes to be different. For six years she has been quietly going about building her retail business — My Island Home — in Sydney’s upmarket Double Bay. Urquhart has continued to increase sales year upon year, despite the development of Westfield’s Bondi Junction shopping centre, which has severely depleted consumer traffic in the area, and against the more general trend of slowing retail turnover.
‘‘ There is no doubt strip shopping has been hit hard by the mega shopping centres,’’ Urquhart says. ‘‘ Not only do the mega shopping centres offer a wide variety, but they have the resources to pull together for marketing campaigns.’’
Westfield opened its $ 1 billion flagship Bondi Junction centre in 2004 with 330 retailers and parking for 3500 cars.
‘‘ Here in Double Bay we are reliant on the local chamber of commerce, which is comprised of volunteers and lacks marketing skills.
‘‘ You often get angry retailers who want more done to promote their shops.’’
However, her neighbour down the road hasn’t been as prosperous.
Dianne Landes, owner of Simode, a women’s fashion outlet, has seen a lot of changes in her 24 years of retail in Double Bay.
‘‘ There have been many ups and downs but the last three years have been static,’’ Landes says.
‘‘ There are also far more options for retail spend, especially when it comes to electrical goods such as plasma TV screens and so forth.
‘‘ But I do believe that strip shopping will continue to survive and prosper because of the niche that they offer, no matter how many big shopping centres such as Westfield are built.’’
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says retail sales growth in NSW is trailing the other states, with this attributed to a stagnant economy and rising housing costs.
Australian Retail Association executive director Michael Lonie says NSW’s retail sales grew at 5 per cent for the year to May, but that was 1.4 per cent lower than the national growth rate.
‘‘ Discretionary spending is down because of the high cost of living,’’ Lonie says.
housing approvals fell sharply, down 5.6 per cent nationally for the month of May.
‘‘ We ( NSW) are clearly behind Victoria with 6 per cent retail sales growth,’’ he says.
At least NSW retail sales are above CPI, which is 3 per cent, he says.
But NSW is a big slice of the national retailing pie, with the state’s yearly sales totalling $ 73 billion compared to Victoria’s $ 52 billion and Queensland’s $ 45 billion.
‘‘ I would say Sydney has been in the doldrums for about three years now,’’ says Justin Ganly, managing director of retail consultancy Deep End Services.
‘‘ It is obvious that Sydney people are spending larger sums in housing costs than the rest of Australia.’’
While Perth briefly challenged Sydney last year as the city with the most expensive house prices, the market has now slowed as the West Australian price bubble deflates.
‘‘ Perth and northern Queensland are doing very well because of the resources boom, as is Melbourne because of the infrastructure development and even Adelaide is starting to pick up,’’ Ganly says.
‘‘ The real question that needs to be asked is what will turn NSW around? I think that we need a new supply of land to be freed up on the fringes of Sydney. It is important to open up the supply side because housing costs are taking too much money and with credit card debt so high, retail sales are the first to suffer.’’
My Island Home is a Pacific islandthemed shop combining indoor/ outdoor products for the beach, the tropics and a relaxed lifestyle.
The goods are both imported and made in Australia and Urquhart believes that is one of the reasons her business continues to keep sales ticking over.
‘‘ Double Bay has always offered the exclusive and different cache that you can’t get at mega shopping centres and chain stores,’’ she says.
‘‘ It will always attract people, but we do need to make the area more attractive.’’
Urquhart, along with other NSW retail outlets, will be hoping for more shoppers soon.
Upmarket: Mary Urquhart in My Island Home in Sydney’s Double Bay