An expert suggests a solution for how Wagga can move forward in the business sector as store closures cripple the industry.
Despite the gloom of troubling retailers and businesses closing up in Wagga, Pillow Talk is standing strong against the vacant site that was previously home to household chain Masters.
Pillow Talk’s owner and managing director Heath Goddard said the Wagga store is leading sales across their stores nationally.
“I think anything that closes is a negative and it’s not abnormal to say that; it’s not a good look with a big building and nothing in it, but companies just have to do their best and work harder to earn the community’s respect,” Mr Goddard said.
“In the month of December, Wagga’s Pillow Talk had one of the biggest months with sales 2.8 per cent in front of Pillow Talk stores overall.
“Our overarching company performance was a fraction less than what Wagga witness in December.”
A country boy himself, Mr Goddard said the secret to keeping their bricks and mortar businesses buoyant is responding to the different needs of each business.
“We can’t rest on our laurels, it’s always onwards and upwards and working hard and doing the research by interrogating the data that is available to us,” he said.
“We make sure that rural scenarios are not any different to the metropolitan areas, that there is nothing less in Wagga than downtown Brisbane.
“We are fashion forward and our designers find what people are looking for, which is different in Wagga compared to Coffs Harbour.”
Mr Goddard said mistakes have been made but businesses need to be “proactive” in order for the community to find “value” in their products.
How can we get out of this business slump?
However, Charles Sturt University Professor in Economics John Hicks said retail businesses need to look beyond the needs of the community in order to survive.
“I think regional areas need businesses that are going to create jobs in the town, whether or not it can be in retail is questionable,” Professor Hicks said.
“Retail is suffering Australia and worldwide and in every single city there are a lot of vacant buildings which haven’t been taken up by tenants and it represents a resource that doesn’t exist.
“One of the problems with retail is that it only focuses on meeting the needs of the community it is established in.”
Professor Hicks said regional businesses need to be “entrepreneurial” to get passed this slump.
“Businesses coming in should export from the region to other regions as it indirectly creates demand for labour and not is solely dependent on the Wagga market itself,” he said.
“This is the type of business that regional areas need to encourage for development.
“By establishing this type of business, the economy itself will grow and therefore can support a whole range of businesses and suppliers.”
Professor Hicks called for local and state governments to put in processes that would encourage new industries into the region.
“There is nothing on the horizon that indicates any magical solution that will solve the region’s business troubles,” he said.
Former PastaCup manager Jason Pearce said rent in Wagga is “fairly high” and the city’s extreme weather conditions becomes costly.
“Some businesses didn’t get the Christmas peak trading because of people moving to online shopping, and coupled with high rents and blasting air conditioning can become very costly,” Mr Pearce said.
“Business also slows down after the Christmas period, particularly in January and February.”
Mr Pearce said some businesses have already tried reaching out to more communities, however it hasn’t always been a success.
“Feather and Willow made an online website but then decided to close their bricks and mortar shop because of the online traffic,” he said.
“With elections coming up on March 23 and the Federal election, retail traditionally goes quiet.
“People usually don’t want to spend as much because there’s some uncertainty with how everything will play out.”
Wagga resident Richard Foley said he is tired of seeing businesses closing and remaining empty.
“Nearly every week we are seeing businesses close down in the city and the amount of empty shops are growing on the main street,” Mr Foley said.
“Energy bills and high rents are the biggest killers and our local council does not offer decent incentives to attract new businesses here.”
What’s going on with the blue giant on Hammond Avenue?
There is still no sign of action about the giant blue building on Hammond Avenue, which was once home to the household hardware chain Masters a few years ago.
A spokesperson from the new owners, Home Consortium, said there is no new updates for the Wagga site.
Wagga Business Chamber board member Daniel Donebus said the space is “very complex” and business and property prospects are transitioning due to a range of factors impacting the market.
“It’s always concerning to see property vacancies, but the owners have close ties with major national retailing chains and so I’m sure they’re doing their homework because no one wants to see a business opening and then closing a short time later,” Mr Donebus said.
“Wagga’s economy is strong and the population is growing and we know from a fundamental and structural point of view that there is change in buying patterns in retail.
“For years, we have been well aware that online shopping is affecting retail and businesses are looking for a smaller footprint and running their stock through warehouses.”
Mr Donebus said the local Toys ‘R’ Us store, which departed in August, was performing well and it was just a national decision to close.
“The local feedback I received from Toys ‘R’ Us was that the Wagga store was trading well but the national company had fundamental difficulties,” Mr Donebus said.
“The building is over 3000 square metres in the CBD and is quite a unique proposition for this area.
“The owners are in the early discussions with some interested parties and looking at the possibility of changing its use to fit in with the lifestyle attractions on neighbouring sites.”
Mr Donebus said there has been a “shift in focus” to lifestyle on Fitzmaurice Street, with different health and community services.
“I have confidence that this is just a hiccup and we will be able to build from this, but it does need community, business and consumers’ support,” he said.
“Our economy is still quite buoyant and if planned right we will see our economy and business sector continuing to grow.”