By Sam Statham
I have just had a wonderful three day tour meeting dozens of wonderful small businesses in northern NSW with our vibrant sales representative Lorraine Thomas. Our “Rosnay Organic Wine Trade Tour” took us through the many small hamlets, villages and regional centres of a most beautiful part of Australia, inhabited by some of the most environmentally aware, colourful, and hard working communities. What began as a simple trade tour became both insightful and inspirational, as each of the owners and managers of the small retailers we met formed such an integral part of their communities. Here are a few photos to give you an idea.
However beautiful, as we wind through the rolling green farmland of daires, macadamias, tea, coffee, and weave up the misty rainforested hills and along the stunning coastlines between shops, its hard to miss the bold rise of the supermarkets, with the new Woolies now open in Mullumbimby, the self service Woolies in Byron Bay, with their associated Dan Murphies store newly opened in Ballina. We drove past a few of them, huge warehouse cathedrals to discounted alcohol, where you check out with trolleys, and save save save.
But it was interesting to find that, despite the increasing odds stacked up against them, there is still optimism in the independent retail trade. Dave from the Lennox Point Hotel pointed out that there was a full page ad in the Herald last weekend offering Moet for $20 a bottle less than he pays for it from Campbells wholesalers, and that if he needs some, thats where he’ll get it and be glad for the cheaper price. Maybe thats a good thing, if he saves that in difficult times.
Glen from Sunrise Cellars in Byron Bay points out that the chain stores offer unbeatable “loss leaders” at the ends of the aisles, but in the aisles the prices are not that much less than in his own store. As a former manager of one of the chain liquor stores, Glen also reckons the centralised supermarket business model can never provide the quick reacting, personalised service that he provides. For example, he knows most of his customers from 4pm onwards on a first name basis. and when a customer asked for Martins Hill organic wine to be stocked, he had it in store in a few days.
But is the writing on the wall for locally owned small business?
A store manager in Mullumbimby shared this well reasoned recipe for corporate retail control with us: First, take the figures for expansion of the supermarkets and their bottle shops into more towns. Dan Murphys (owned by Woolies) alone expect to open another 200 stores in NSW in the next year, with the Coles stores hot on their heels. Next, add a similar growth in independent retailers, cafes and restaurants buying their staples from them instead of direct from Campbells and other wholesalers. Cook this in a slowing economy, and see what happens to the wholesale sector. Some independent managers beleive its days are numbered and in five to ten years there will be supermarket control at a wholesale and retail level.
This is not a recipe for optimism, but what can we do?
After three days on the road, we end up in Mullumbimby, just up the road from Byron. Woolies have just opened a store here, after winning development approval at State government level in the face of local opposition, a blow softened by the offer of organic chicken at $6 per kilo. The locals tell that they are lucky to make eye contact when checking out at Woolies, but have to add in extra time for talking to the staff and other customers when they shop at the locally owned supermarket, or at the iconic Santos health store.
The answer is there: strong communities will support the shops and restaurants who love serving them. As part of a small family farm and wine business, we hope that community supported, small market capitalism will prevail. We are doing what we can to help, but we are little more than a pimple of the elephants bum, as Pennie Scott once commented here, on a post about organic farming in a world of chemical based agriculture.
The independent retail trade is a vital part of our economy and community.
Lets support it but buying local, and avoiding the growing retail duopoloy. If there enough pimples on the elephants bum, he’ll have to change his lifestyle!