Every year residents in the Bay spend billions of dollars in retail. But as Carmen Hall has discovered, that industry is also facing challenges including staff shortages.
Bay of Plenty residents spend about $6 billion a year on retail and $96b nationally but business experts say consumers are tightening their wallets and the industry is struggling to find workers.
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said some customers were reluctant to spend and the strong competition was keeping a lid on prices but this region had performed better than others.
He said one challenge was increasing rents while the other was finding skilled workers.
Modern retail jobs covered everything from frontline sales to web design, logistics, social media, marketing and a range of other roles, Harford said.
''Retailers are operating in a competitive market for talent. It's really challenging to find good employees with the right range of literacy, numeracy, customer service and innovative skills to work in the sector.''
In the Bay of Plenty, customers spent around $6b a year in retail and North Island regions including the Bay were performing better overall in terms of sales growth than South Island regions.
Nationally, the best performing part of the sector was "recreational goods'', he said.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said the constrained labour market was a challenge for the Western Bay of Plenty economy.
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''While we see this across many industries and employers, it tends to affect lower-paid or skilled jobs more. One way to help this is for employers to work really closely with education institutions to encourage people into their sector and to equip them with the right skills.''
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said retail was a tough sector because customers' expectations were always changing, cash flow could be lumpy, and outgoings kept climbing.
Staff in the retail sector also tended to be quite transient.
''Managing staff is risky for the owners because they invest in training staff up, but many leave within a year.''
But retailers were looking forward to the busy summer season.
''We are all preparing for another massive tourism season over summer. We are bound to have a lot of domestic tourists visiting friends and family as well as attending a packed calendar of events and festivals.
''Plus, we are also looking at another strong cruise season, with numerous days where two or more ships are docked. Almost half the cruise passengers stay locally, which is a good opportunity for retailers and hospitality.''
Yudu editor Kirsty Wynn said retail jobs were notoriously hard to fill in the lead-up to Christmas.
She said there was an increase in the roles available because of extended trading hours however a lot of people were hesitant to take on a new job as it was unlikely they would get leave.
''It's a busy time of the year and a lot of people put off finding a new job until after the holiday season.''
The hardest positions to fill according to recruiters she had spoken to were ones that required specific skills and knowledge in a particular area such as tech products.
Retailworld recruitment specialists told Wynn pay rates in the sector vary from $17.70 an hour to an average of $21 an hour.
Retailworld had current listings for fulltime retail sales paying $44,000 with a phone package, bonuses and full training.
Not being able to fill positions could have a real impact, Wynn said.
''Being short-staffed for a long period means pressure on other team members. It means they might be overworked and have no time to take leave but can also affect morale.''
Foodstuffs New Zealand head of corporate affairs & CSR Antoinette Laird said it employed 2495 employees across eight New Worlds, six Pak'nSaves and 16 Four Squares in the Bay of Plenty.
About 5 per cent of those employees had been with the business for more than 10 years.
The longevity of the employees was a credit to the supportive owner-operators and the opportunities provided to staff that keep them interested in their role, she said.
''There are paths to new opportunities in every area of our business – IT, merchandise, supply chain, property, sustainability, store ownership, just to name a few – and we're always on the hunt for ambitious individuals to join our team and grab them.''
Ministry for Social Development Jobseeker data showed there were 7167 work-ready beneficiaries in September this year in the Bay of Plenty compared with 6481 in September 2018.
Bay of Plenty regional director Kim Going said the ministry was in regular contact with employers in the retail sector and were working closely with people interested in working in the industry to connect them to the labour market.
''One area where we're having a number of successes is through our partnership with Employ NZ and its Training for Work programme, which supports people to upskill and retrain for jobs in the retail and hospitality sectors.''
At the moment the ministry was working with a large local supermarket chain to upskill, retrain and get people into a job within the retail sector.
Since July 2018, 49 people aged 18 to 24 had also participated in the Red Shirts in the Community programme. The partnership was with six Warehouse stores in the region which provided work experience.
Love my job
Longterm Brookefield New World employees Jeffery Henwood and Kay Dunn say it's fellow staff and customers that have kept them in the game for so long.
Henwood has clocked up nearly 29 years as a trolley collector and shelf stacker.
"My colleagues and customers are like my extended family and I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. I've built such meaningful relationships.
"Often I'll be bringing in the trolleys or stacking the shelves and I'll get stopped by customers to have a chat and ask how I'm going. Some even notice if I've been away sick.''
He'd like to encourage anyone wanting to work in any supermarket to give it a go.
''There are always new jobs and opportunities available and no day is ever the same."
Those sentiments are shared by Dunn who has been a checkout operator and assistant checkout manager for 21 years.
''Being able to interact with customers and teaching new staff the ropes of how our store runs makes every day rewarding. Part of my role as assistant checkout manager is completing staff reviews, and it's always a pleasure watching staff grow, develop and become more confident members of the team."