Small local businesses have been hit hard by Covid-19.
Most are classed “non-essential”, some depend on physical sales and others charge more for artisanal products and services. With thousands of people newly jobless or living on a reduced income, we can expect consumers to be more mindful of their spending during Level 3 and onwards — which will make it difficult for some small businesses to generate enough revenue to stay afloat.
This, at small businesses’ greatest time of need, is where the New Zealand Made Products Facebook group steps in.
Like many others, Sarah Colcord, who owns an event management business, lost contracts when the lockdown was announced. Looking for low-cost ways to drum up business, she turned to the internet and discovered Australian Made Products, a Facebook group encouraging Australians to buy local.
Colcord created the New Zealand equivalent on April 13, and it snowballed from there. She says, “I stopped monitoring the growth as soon as it passed 100,000 because it was just clear to me that it wasn’t ever going to stop.”
It now has over 370,000 members. To many small business owners, the free advertising has been a lifesaver. They have gotten word of their services out to a wide market — and to a market that is making conscious efforts to purchase New Zealand-made products.
“Now more than ever, we need to get behind and support our local businesses,” Colcord tells me. “There’s over 500,000 small businesses in New Zealand. Collectively they contribute about $6.9 billion to our GDP. Obviously if we can back those small businesses and buy their New Zealand-made products it keeps that money in the country and keeps jobs here; it creates jobs, and that money can get reinvested into our communities and our cities.”
From lawnmower repair services to creative artists, stories of sale spikes following a ‘viral’ post have poured in, and it’s been uplifting to watch.
As we look to get our economy moving again, Colcord envisions some changes will be needed to continue promoting homegrown products and services. Her future plans for the group centre around creating a multi-vendor one transaction marketplace.
“That’s the technical term,” she notes. “But that’s the goal, to create this [online] marketplace so small businesses can come on and sell their New Zealand made products, and we can have a one stop shop essentially. One location where you can source all of these things.”
Currently that location is the Facebook group, but as the number of members surges, its limitations are becoming clear. Colcord volunteered her time when the group was first made, answering questions and organising procedures for posting. Between herself and one moderator, they screened and filtered posts.
Now, the number of posts pending at any one moment can reach 7,000.
“The Facebook group has grown and the demands of the people have also grown with it. There’s a need to shift all of this traffic onto a website,” Colcord says.
More moderators have been recruited to share the workload as Colcord looks at establishing the website, which will allow consumers to search products and services by topic. Such a website would provide a low-cost, long-term advertising and promotion option for our local businesses.
Till then, the online community chugs along. What it has done for business owners and families (considering that small businesses are commonly a family operation) is two-fold. Revenue and product orders are a tangible success, while less tangible — but equally heartening — is the hope it has given businesses and consumers alike.Support Villainesse