'Girls Day Out' bus takes quake shoppers to Timaru

By Amanda Cropp

Ballantynes workers Wendy Tauranga (l) and Girl's Day Out host Denise Bird (r) hand out shopping bags at the end of a shopping trip to Timaru for quake hit Christchurch people deprived of their upmarket store. Photo / Amanda Cropp
Ballantynes workers Wendy Tauranga (l) and Girl's Day Out host Denise Bird (r) hand out shopping bags at the end of a shopping trip to Timaru for quake hit Christchurch people deprived of their upmarket store. Photo / Amanda Cropp

Ballantynes department store is coming up with some creative ways to cater for retail-therapy deprived shoppers shut out of its premises in Christchurch's quake stricken CBD.

"Girls' Day Out" trips to Ballantynes' small Timaru branch store are proving a huge hit with loyal customers and since March more than 1300 have taken advantage of buses laid on from Christchurch.

By the end of October when the company's upmarket flagship store in Colombo Street is scheduled to re-open, it is hoped that up to 5000 shoppers will have made the trip south.

The day trip coaches leave from outside rugby club rooms in Burnside Park on Thursdays and Sundays and are regularly booked out. The $20 ticket price covers the bus fare, a glass of bubbly or orange juice on arrival, and high tea.

En route shoppers are entertained with demonstrations of kitchen gadgets, talks about perfume and make up, and a menswear buyer hosts a session on "how to dress your man."

Ballantynes sales manager Liz Mills says although the trips are aimed at women, men occasionally sneak along too, and the credit cards certainly get a thrashing as customers take advantage of special offers and promotions. "There are people spending way over $1000."

Repeat visits are not uncommon with women returning with mothers, daughters, sisters and friends, and recently an organisation booked out an entire 50-seat coach as a treat for its staff.

For a week beginning July 4 the buses will run daily to coincide with a French Fashion promotion of garments handpicked in France by Ballantynes' buyers which will include in-store fashion parades.

The influx of shoppers is a big change for the Ballantynes store in Timaru which was closed on Sundays prior to the post-quake promotion. Now it is so busy that up to 20 Christchurch staff are rostered to help out in Timaru each week and some are accommodated in local motels.

Mills says the bus trips fulfil a dual function: giving shoppers a much needed shopping fix and acting as an excellent branding exercise.

"We're aware that while we have been a big part of the city for such a long time, it's only a matter of time before people find other places to shop so this has been a really good way of staying in touch with our customers and our suppliers. It's a good way of keeping people's spirits up and keeping the brand alive."

The pulling power of Ballantynes was underlined by the turnout to a sale of goods salvaged from its main store. The event at the CBS Arena, delayed a day by the June 13 quake, attracted 28,000 people and put through 18,000 transactions.

To compensate for the closure of its main store, Mills says Ballantynes has increased the size of its sales catalogues and lifted its online presence. "It was always in the plan and it just happened to coincide with the quake."

The irony is that this bastion of the inner city now has a presence in two Christchurch suburban malls. JB's Café, formerly on the shop's ground floor, has reopened in Riccarton's Westfield Mall where staff have enjoyed a warm reception from old customers.

"They get a lot of satisfaction out of people saying 'oh, how nice to see you', it has been quite encouraging for our staff to see those faces again."

Ballantynes also has a kiosk in Merivale Mall offering a valuation service for customers seeking quotes for the cost of replacing china and crystal broken in the quakes.

At one stage eight staff were needed to cope with the work load, but Mills says in recent weeks that has dropped to three. "I think it has slowed down because quite honestly I don't think there's anything left to break."

Mills says the change in direction forced on Ballantynes by the quakes has proved a great training exercise for employees who have stepped up into new roles, such as acting as hosts on the bus trips. "One host last week had never hosted a bus before. She was nervous but she was brilliant. It has been a really good exercise in stretching people's comfort zones."

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