Connections to last a lifetime

TRACY HICKS
Last updated 15:47 17/07/2014
Southland Times photo
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks.

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OPINION: Winter's arrival brings much with it but one of the highlights for me is the annual ILT Kidzone festival, Southland's most popular family focused event.

It's on at present and if you haven't had the chance to taste what is on offer, then I suggest you get down to James Hargest College where it is being held. You will be in for a treat, assuming of course there are tickets left.

The organisation, passion and commitment of hordes of volunteers for this event are a real testament to the Southland community and the warm heart it has. I think we tend to take for granted, however, the vision and planning that goes in to make it such a success. Every year it just happens like clockwork thanks to the committed team at Venture Southland. Well done.

Well done also to the sponsors who make this possible, most importantly the ILT, which significantly commits to the event, and of course long-time supporters the Community Trust of Southland. Alongside the community funders are businesses and community groups that have bought into this big time and they also deserve our thanks.

Kidzone is the high profile activity occurring for children at present. However, across the province we also have dozens of holiday activities in full swing. Again some real kudos needs to go to the volunteers behind these events. Be they sport focused, church based, cultural or environmentally centred these are the activities where memories, friendships and connections that last a lifetime are made. These wouldn't happen if it weren't for adults with big hearts and my thanks goes out to anyone prepared to commit the significant time and energy required. Well done.

And now for something completely different. Although I haven't been actively involved in the retail sector for a few years, I am still vitally interested in what is happening on the retail scene up and down the country. Far from just being a personal passion, retail and its health, or otherwise, is a sector beginning to attract a lot of interest from local government. Not before time either.

Retail has traditionally occupied a physical space many would say is either the heart of the community or indeed the community's shop window. However, in many towns the shop window is looking decidedly jaded. I guess the debate and discussion in Invercargill reflects what's happening across the nation.

With that in mind, I was very interested to see the stats out this week about the growth in retail spending in New Zealand, which on the face of it would be somewhat at odds with my comments about the jaded nature of retail. However, what it is signalling is probably the biggest shift in the style of retail in recorded history - a shift from the physical shop to the virtual shop, which New Zealanders are embracing like wildfire.

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Last year saw a 127 per cent growth in people shopping with smartphones, up to 655,000 individuals, and a 73 per cent growth in the use of tablets, up to 414,000 individuals. Clearly buying anytime or any place is with us to stay. That shift provides real challenges for shop owners and communities.

I don't profess to know all the answers but doing more of what we have done in the past isn't going to cut it for the future. What does that mean for retailers who want to survive and thrive? In many ways not much has changed, in so far that success depends on a quality product at a good price, complimented by great service. However, the way your customer finds you and chooses to purchase is quite different, which means change.

What does it mean for local government? Planners and councillors alike need to think differently. I just hope we are up to it.

Tracy Hicks is Gore District mayor.

- The Southland Times

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