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When NZ Natural moved its clothing store out of Ōtaki’s Railway shopping strip recently, some locals became concerned about a retail slide, but one expert says there are positive signs.

“I see a very exciting future for Ōtaki, but we need to work on building those anchor attractors and heighten consumers’ awareness of the area’s offer and experience.” – Chris Wilkinson

Chris Wilkinson, whose First Retail Group drafted a retail strategy for Elevate Ōtaki earlier this year, says there’s still plenty of confidence in Ōtaki.

“NZ Natural has built a very large and successful online audience,” he says. “It’s a good example of a business transitioning strategically to a model that can serve a broader and more resilient audience in a more economical way.

“From conversations with them during development of the [Ōtaki] strategy, it was clear that they were comfortable and positive about the future success of the precinct, but were wanting to concentrate greater emphasis on their Australasian e-commerce sales.”

That was confirmed to Ōtaki Today by NZ Natural chief executive Phil Grant, who says the company has boosted it e-commerce considerably. Sales from the 2022-23 year show online at 55 percent, the Norsewood store 30 percent and Ōtaki at 15 percent.

However, Phil acknowledges the expressway has made the Ōtaki highway area a much nicer shopping experience, from being able to park easily to road noise reduction.

“One of the factors we will miss is the try-before-you-buy online factor at Ōtaki from the Wellington market,” he says.

Chris says he’s heard of interest in Ōtaki from others in the outdoor clothing category, and as the First Retail strategy points out, “building ‘cluster and destination value’ around this and other categories could help the precinct find it’s USP [unique selling proposition] as a place to travel to for these products”.

It would also fit well with the area’s “gateway to nature” potential that Chris believes is imperative for future tourism marketing.

He says there are other positive signs at the Railway, where businesses are expanding or moving in to the area.

Jacqui Simpson at Books & Co has recently bought the building the store occupies, which includes a small space next door. She says that space will be set up to trial a children’s bookshop annexe called Books & Co Kids.

“We do feel very positive about the Railway retail area with it being a much more pleasant destination now for shoppers,” Jacqui says. “It is very convenient for people to pull off the expressway and visit us, as well as the cafés and other shops; parking is usually easy and our local community do want and need a good range of retail options.”

She says local support has given her the confidence to invest in the precinct.

Just next door to the bookshop is a new bakery, Blackhood Bakes, which opened on November 22.

Owner Harry Kharoud says he’s been overwhelmed by local support for his bakery, seven years after he first visited Ōtaki.

“We were cruising around and stumbled upon this little piece of heaven,” he says. “I don’t know how to explain it, but Ōtaki had this very positive, calming effect.

“At that time I dreamt of opening a little bakery of my own in this town. I am hopelessly in love with the community of Ōtaki, the love and support they had offered us from day 1.

“We try to bring something different here, and we have received overwhelming feedback and support from the community. At the end of the day it’s all about family, and we have that embedded in us, we love our family and Ōtaki is what family is.”

 Chris says the arrival of the bakery is an important step in enriching Ōtaki’s food and beverage offering, which First Retail also identified as a priority.

“Places and offers like this, that locals might be travelling outside the area for now, are especially important with the revocation work that could otherwise be impactful for businesses,” he says.

Revocation is a process in which Waka Kotahi “revokes” the state highway status and hands the road over to Kāpiti Coast District Council. Kerb-to-kerb enhancements on the road are part of the deal. That work has already begun and will continue for another two years.

The effects on accessibility, convenience and visitor experience during revocation works were identified by First Retail as key risks.

“Businesses, many of which are already facing challenges from changes in audience and spending, now face upcoming disruption from construction which they are unprepared for. Furthermore, the precinct lacks the collective representation to ensure impacts are minimised and mitigated, wherever possible.

 “We need to double down on maintaining and growing goodwill and priority for this area, which requires enablement of the promotional, curatorial and community-building aspects of the strategy with priority.”

He recommends engaging a local specialist who can do this alongside the businesses.

“Ōtaki still needs to tell its story cohesively and needs to be recognised as an important part of the district’s tourism plan.”

This is especially important given Ōtaki’s attraction as a place with seasonal events, which include the Ōtaki Kite Festival, the Māoriland Film Festival, and the Festival of Pots and Garden Art. The district also hosts weddings, has a unique Māori racecourse, new cycleways and other recreational attractions.

Chris says the retail precinct should be the area visitors orientate to and from, but it needs strong advocacy.

“I see a very exciting future for Ōtaki, but we need to work on building those anchor attractors and heighten consumers’ awareness of the area’s offer and experience.”





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Challenges, but optimism for Ōtaki shops.


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