Supporting the Ma and Pa stores in New Zealand

Coming back from a walk this evening I was struck by the number of small businesses in the Papanui business area that had empty premises.

Dowsons Shoes, a New Zealand footwear chain, had a store on Papanui Road for 3 decades. A year ago they closed that store. Next to it, around the same time and due to a life style chain a local jeweller moved his premises. These events would be unremarkable, and for the most part they are, except that in 2020 those premises are no visibly closer to being occupied than they were the day they were vacated.

In that time, a Chinese eatery/takeaway place has also gone under across the road and a popular Egyptian eatery called the “Egyptian Kebab House” appears shuttered. The owner is officially on holiday according to a sign in the window, but was meant to be back in January.

Earlier in the walk, I encountered two other commercial premises that were operating just last week on Holmwood Road that have been, or are going to be terminated. One is a dairy that has gone into liquidation and the other is a small women’s wear clothing shop whose owners are retiring.

These separate occurrences made me think about the challenges of operating a small business in New Zealand. A blog post from Business Success Partners in January asked what business owners in the Small/Medium Enterprise (S.M.E.) range thought the biggest issue facing New Zealand businesses was. Many thought striking a balance between work and lifestyles was the key one, followed by time management. Consensus was widespread that both needed assistance in dealing with.

If a single person business or one run with just a couple of staff, the challenges are considerable. From supply and demand of services to filing taxes, meeting work place safety and environmental obligations and – of course – returning a profit big enough to justify the effort. I think of the bakery down the road run by a Cambodian family. The range of produce they put out each day is truly impressive, and is a seven day a week operation. They have to meet food safety standards, occupational safety and health standards, ensure that their staff all get paid according to New Zealand wage law. As one of the better bakeries in northwest Christchurch, they have a reliable supply of customers.

Yet when we think of businesses a lot of the time we think of corporate entities, whether it is Countdown or B.P., Sea Lord or Meridian. Sure they employ a lot of people and are significant tax contributors to the Government accounts, and sure we use their goods and services, but they have resources and staffing that small businesses do not. They have payroll services, and account managers, human resources and so forth. It is easier for them to find staff.

Not surprising then S.M.E.’s find compliance with our various laws to be a time consuming effort and wonder why we have them. In some respects I can see where they are coming from, but there are good reasons why New Zealand has the employment laws that we do. Much of the contention around them would most likely disappear if the authorities prosecuted more of the cowboy acts who serve only to complicate matters unnecessarily for all of the good, honest businesses.

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