Lockdown has encouraged Auckland retail chain Father Rabbit to embrace Zoom buying sessions with international suppliers.
The four-store homeware retailer, which employs 30 staff and has an online store, says lockdown has brought about permanent change to its practices and operations.
Claudia Zinzan, who owns Father Rabbit with her husband Nick Hutchinson, started the retail business from her Grey Lynn living room 10 years ago.
Like most retail businesses, Father Rabbit shut its stores under the first level four lockdown and fulfilled online orders once the country had moved to alert level 3. While the second round of lockdown had brought about bouts of "lockdown fatigue", Zinzan said the team was able to reapply what it learned during the first.
During the lockdowns, the business redeployed its staff to work on alternative tasks, including updating its manuals and selling guides, producing social media video content and painting store counters, and delivering orders.
Father Rabbit received $147,444 in wage subsidies for 25 staff. The wage subsidy had allowed the business to retain all of its staff despite the severe cut in turnover during that time, the former interior designer said.
"As a business owner, in that first lockdown, there was a lot of adrenalin on how to pivot and respond to the crisis. It was stressful, but I felt like all of our staff really stepped up and rallied together to find solutions," Zinzan, director and co-owner, told the Herald.
The business opened its fourth store in Newmarket in June after the first lockdown. The lease had already been signed beforehand but Zinzan said it had decided to proceed despite the risk.
"We had a lot of support from our landlord for that Newmarket space and he was able to push out the start of the lease date. Our business model, in order for us to do well, we needed that fourth store, and I knew it was a risk - but I thought it was one of the most premium retail spaces in New Zealand, and if it wasn't going to work there it wasn't going to work anywhere."
Zinzan said the risk had paid off and the Kent St store was "doing well".
Orders on its online store had increased between 10 and 20 per cent, and sustained following easing of lockdown restrictions.
Zinzan said the biggest lesson she had learnt through lockdown was to consider and plan for the worst-case scenario. "The other big learning was the amount of communication that was required. Just because you know what's going on as owner, you really need to have consistent strong messaging for customers and your staff, especially with something that involves health."
The Morningside business, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary earlier this month, had also learnt that it was "OK for staff to work from home and it is not going to be working less and in fact work just as hard," she said.
"We do a lot of buying on Zoom rather than travelling. Usually, we'd fly into see, especially fashion ranges. There were are a lot of suppliers in Australia that we would go and see.
"The other thing we've started doing with our international brands is doing Zoom workshops that enables staff to learn about the product - it has changed our way of thinking - we never used Zoom or anything before, and now it's a big part of what we're doing."
Long term, the business wants to expand its online stores into new geographical markets and develop a bigger range of its own products.
"I thought this year would be crazy with the four stores and we'd have a big party to celebrate 10 years and it would be business as usual, but it has been a year of massive learnings and I've realised you can't take your eye off the ball."
Zinzan was conscious of New Zealand being in a post-lockdown bubble, but was prepared for the bubble to pop next year and spending to falter. "Hospitality and tourism are right in the thick of crappy times, I think for homewares and other retail it may come a bit later."