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Inside Havelock North

As a consumer, which Havelock North Village is yours?

A place to run errands – pick up mail and groceries, have a coffee and occasional meal, book some travel or see a movie. Or see your banker, accountant, web developer, or hairdresser. Or a place to buy au courant fashions, shoes, jewelry, gifts … or browse the $2 shop?

Obviously you can do it all in Havelock North. Park for free (shop employees not welcome). Walk to everything.

Sounds like the perfect mix of small-scale businesses. Must be thriving.

Well, not exactly.

BayBuzz spoke with several merchants in Havelock North to gauge how they see the ‘Village economy’ these days.

Overall, the last few years of down economy have seen consumers of all incomes tighten their belts, showing a new frugality that’s just as evident in Havelock North as the rest of the material world. But merchants do seem to see spending coming back, some saying their past year has been quite strong.

Andrea Napier, one of the Village’s most seasoned merchants

One perception that’s quickly dashed is that Village retailers bask in an enclave of well-heeled clientele driving all those BMWs and Range Rovers. It turns out they use those fancy wheels to get to the airport, and from there to ‘serious shopping’ in Sydney or North America.

Noted one local, someone will fly business-class to New York, put a serious dent in their credit card, then come back and wait for a half-price shoe sale.

“How do you get people with money to spend it here?”

Village retailers have considered a ‘Buy Local’ campaign in the past, but have shied away to date, fearing that other shopping precincts might ‘retaliate’.

In any event, there are plenty of households in Havelock North living on fixed incomes who in fact don’t have much discretionary income to spend. And that percentage of the population is growing.

Another misconception is that Havelock North swarms with out-of-towners who come to the Bay for weekend events and then spend in local shops. Only partly true say shop owners. With few exceptions – one retailer mentioned the Hospice Holly Trail weekend – these visitors spend on lodging and restaurants (whose owners and employees might in turn spend in HN), but not necessarily in retail shops … they have plenty more selection back home.

One merchant pointed out the importance of having the right mix of businesses in the Village. “The hairdressers, butcher, movie theatre, banks bring people into town over again, and then they might also shop for other things.” But another wants more diversity, “too many hairdressers, dress shops, shoe stores and real estate offices”.

While the mix is important, individual merchants have no control over it – the business next door could be a strong draw (a thriving café) … or it might not be (a slow-traffic realtor).

Then there’s buzz. As one retailer said, “Shopping is an experience … you engage with it and you’re reinforced by salespeople with the right attitude. Otherwise you might as well shop online.” It also might require a critical mass of businesses willing to stay open more, including Sunday and some weeknights.

Unfortunately, if there’s one place where there is no buzz, it is Havelock North on a Sunday afternoon, and even many Saturday afternoons. It seems that most self-employed believe that five and a half days of work is enough. Without more establishments prepared to open on Sundays, weekend retailing will suffer. Those event attendees and wedding guests can’t do much more than have brunch and head back to the big city.

The consensus advice from retailers? Cater to the locals (outside visitors are gravy). Stress quality at all price points. Stay abreast of market change. Offer individualized service. It’s a small community … customer knowledge and word-of-mouth counts.

Said one retailer, “By far, most of my business is repeat business from locals.” And another, “Our locals are well-traveled and discerning. Whatever is being sold, they need to be offered quality … and a smiling face.”

On merchants’ wish list for making the Village more prosperous … greater loyalty from local consumers (“Don’t just say it, live it!”); some male-oriented retail (“Why must you go to Hastings to buy a golf ball?”); less Hastings Council pre-occupation with salvaging Hastings CBD; more Village events to draw foot traffic, especially on weekends; an art & music presence; and more professional services businesses (higher income employees, and more likely to bring in revenue from outside the Bay).

One Response to “Inside Havelock North”

  1. Kenneth McLeod

    on May 28th, 2012 9:18 pm

    When shopping late one afternoon, we were disconcerted to find a large group of mainly maori youths blocking the footpath by the central round-about. The swearing was obscene, and I was not prepared to accept that – especially as I was with my wife and 20 something daughter. When I told the group that thir obscene language was not acceptable I was stronly advise to leave or else!.

    This detracted from our otherwise excellent afternoon. It is unlikely we will return knowing what is in store for the shopper. I was surprised the police were not interested but seemed oblivious to the issue as the swept past in their cars. Maybe some foot patrols with the courage to get these oafish louts to "move along then" would be an idea.

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