On March 25 last year the entire nation went into self-isolation as New Zealand moved into alert level 4. Zoe Hunter speaks to Tauranga's business community a year on since the dreaded lockdown and looks at what is to come.
The Bay has bounced back from Covid-19 better than expected but a year on businesses are short on talent with some employers struggling to fill jobs as borders remained closed.
One local recruiter said candidates were sparse and a 24 to 48-hour turnaround between interview and job offer seemed to be becoming the norm.
Meanwhile, the head of Retail NZ warns the next year was going to be tough for retailers as the pressure hits the economy.
In Priority One's first Economic Monitor for 2021, chief executive Nigel Tutt said people would be "hard-pressed" to find the effect of the pandemic on the regional economy a year since the March 25 lockdown.
Tutt said the Western Bay had fared much better than expected.
"Nearly all economic indicators are back to what we would consider to be normal.
"Unemployment is the main concern in difficult times, and we're pleased to see this return to a level that we are more familiar with after some adversity in the middle of last year.
"We now think the region is short on talent, with employers finding it difficult to fill jobs."
Tutt said a 3.9 per cent unemployment rate was at the level where it was quite hard for employers to get talent.
"We see that backed up by the highest amount of jobs advertised since the March lockdown."
The report stated while retail spend had been relatively strong, there was little softness in small business revenues of late, which highlighted some seasonal trends but also the presence of supply chain issues that will affect small businesses disproportionately.
"In general, businesses have adapted quite quickly and ensured that their businesses were in the right state for difficult times, since then they've seen that it hasn't been as bad as expected and are now looking for opportunities."
The Staffroom Ltd director Jill Cachemaille said the market for candidates was currently "incredibly fruitful" and employers needed to move fast to secure their chosen applicants.
"On top of that, the usual volume of candidates is quite sparse. It seems to be the norm for candidates to have multiple offers and the turnaround from interview to offer stage can be 24 to 48 hours."
Cachemaille said they were recruiting across a variety of industries and finding challenges across nearly all of them, particularly senior management/executive, legal, accounting, payroll and some specific trades.
"The Staffroom has experienced rapid growth and our clients are recruiting for all sorts of reasons, including replacements, projects, new employees etc.
"We've had to take on another recruitment consultant to keep up with the demand."
Love Your Business founder Phil Holland described the last year as "an emotional rollercoaster".
The Tauranga business coach said since lockdown he had helped coach nearly 100 Bay businesses directly and more than 600 indirectly via a business owners' support group he set up on Facebook.
"To be honest I lost count of how many business owners I spoke to over the phone, online and face to face."
Holland said Bay businesses had come out of lockdown "pretty good" on the whole, with some sectors booming but others such as tourism were definitely still struggling.
The biggest challenge for businesses had been the uncertainty and ever-present threat of lockdowns.
"This has made it hard to plan with some certainty and for some business owners has led to mental stress.
"Cashflow and supply issues are still creating headaches for many local businesses."
However, Holland said he had seen some great successes from businesses changing their services and creating a whole new market.
"Sometimes it takes a 'jolt' to take stock of your business and life in general. I have seen many businesses grow out of the initial lockdown and recording their best months financially as people's spending habits adapted to the changing economic landscape."
However, Holland said some employers were finding it tricky to fill positions as demand soared post-lockdown.
"I have had many clients struggle to find the staff that they need to cope with some of the extra demand. Even in many areas such as cafés who have struggled to find staff as many in the past were from overseas."
Holland said the last year had highlighted the need for business owners to be prepared.
"Now don't get me wrong, there is almost not one business out there who would have been prepared for the last 12 months. But there were many who simply had spent all their time working in their business and not on their business.
"My biggest advice for business owners going forward – do not stop investing in yourself and your business and keep morphing your business."
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said retail had changed a lot over the last year, including a "big jump" in online sales.
"We think total online sales have nearly doubled, and we have seen the emergence of a two-speed retail sector as some firms do well and others really struggle."
Harford said the initial lockdown and a yo-yoing between alert levels since August had been hugely challenging for retailers to navigate.
"Even though the Bay of Plenty was only locked down once, the ongoing and unpredictable lockdowns in Auckland have severely impacted retail spending in the Bay.
"That's because Aucklanders haven't been travelling, and because Bay residents have been a bit more cautious getting out and about while Auckland has been in lockdown."
A huge issue continues to be the supply chain, he said.
"There are lengthy delays getting product landed in New Zealand due to congestion at the ports, and this causing real problems."
However, Harford said retailers had learned to innovate and drive change in their businesses quickly.
"We've seen retailers work hard to cater to the changing needs and wants of their customers, and this will continue."
The next year was going to be tough for retailers as the pressure comes on the economy, he said.
"We will see some outlets close, and we will see some retail businesses stop trading or reduce staff numbers over time.
"That's because it becomes harder and harder for some businesses to bounce back from each lockdown.
"Plus, there are significant and additional costs relating to employing people coming as a result of various changes the Government is making to employment law and the minimum wage."
Harford said prices would likely start to rise in the next 12 months on the back of increased freight and employment costs.
"Retailers operate in a highly competitive market, and will be working hard to minimise price increases, but it's not sustainable to hold prices when there are such big additional costs hitting retailers."