By Andrew Frame, Man About Town

Dymocks Booksellers in Napier is gone, closing its doors for the last time on Saturday 29 January.

For me it’s a personal loss, as I’ve had a close association with the business for seven of the more than ten years it was in operation. I worked there for three years, starting when it was in lower Emerson Street, before moving to the old Gahagan’s Pharmacy building where it had been up until now. I was proud to work there. I loved the books and I worked with some very smart, interesting and funny people. I met my Beloved while I was working there. She came in looking for a book and left with the shop assistant. She ended up getting a job there too and outlasted me – 5 years service.

Retail may not be one of the most respected, highly paid or glamorous jobs, but I have to say there was not a single day while I was working at Dymocks that I woke up and thought: “Oh crap, I have to go to work today”.

I’m sadder about the shop closing down than Beloved is. She is looking forward to having a break away from work for a few months, while I’m lamenting not only the loss of income and easy access to discounted books, but a big part of our lives and what I always considered to be one of the best shops in Napier. It may sound simple, but one morning early in my time at Dymocks, I was setting up the specials table outside the store and thought “I work in Emerson Street, that’s pretty damn cool! I’m an ambassador to all the customers and visitors to Napier’s premiere retail precinct on just how good this city can be”.

Dymocks joins ‘street and surf’ clothing store 3Sixty in a growing list of long-established local, central city retailers closing down in the face of big overseas-owned chains (and at least one big, red, New Zealand-owned one), e-commerce, increased product and transport costs, customers with less disposable income, and central city property owners deludedly increasing rents (upwards of 20% in some of the ‘cheaper’ cases) in the rather obvious face of hard times.

The book trade provides a good example of how difficult the current situation can be:

  • The cost of materials has increased. It now costs upwards of $60 (up from $40-$50 a few years ago) for a hardback novel as the price of ink, paper and cardboard increased. And books are one of the heaviest items to transport. Skyrocketing fuel prices have had a direct effect on the cost of stock deliveries.
  • Big chains have the power to buy in bulk, reducing the individual price of products. They use tactics like ‘loss-leaders’ – purposely selling a product below cost to entice customers into their store to buy even more with their ‘savings’. The smaller retailers must match their prices, for fear of losing customers, which reduces their margins. When their rents rise markedly, they are increasingly being forced to move or close. What is becoming more common in Napier is that another big chain with the finances to cover the higher operating costs will move into the vacated shop, putting pressure on even more small businesses.
  • “E-tailers” like Amazon, without the overheads retail shops incur, can offer cut-price products without the customer ever having to leave their home, chair, or bed. I never understood why Hallensteins in Emerson St for a time had their shop’s entire front window dedicated to advertising their online store. It was essentially saying “Don’t waste your time coming in to be served by our shop staff – just order online and when we make them redundant we’ll pass even more savings onto you!”
  • Times are financially tough. New Zealand may have missed most of the fallout from the “World Financial Crisis” due to our isolation, but bits are catching up with us. Consumers have become more frugal with their money – spending less and saving more in case times get ‘really hard’.
  • Despite times being hard, less money being spent and less customers in the streets (Emerson Street has been scarily quite at times during the day), some central city property owners and investors (who missed the property boom leading up to the worldwide bust) are desperate to grab one last fleck of gold. So they increase their tenants’ rents or leases by remarkably ignorant amounts. Twenty percent is a large increase at the best of times. At the worst – well, we’re seeing the results now with empty shops. Many owners seem to have no experience of retailing or knowledge of the current financial and regional situations (more investors are from outside of Hawke’s Bay and in some cases New Zealand).
  • And don’t even talk to me about “E-readers” like “Kindle” or “Kobo”. They will never replace books for me. Books have soul and magic. They smell of paper and ink, they are big and tactile. I spend too much of my time staring at a screen for work and writing at home to do exactly the same for pleasure or relaxation. One day I’d like to own a house with its own little library, with entire walls of fully stocked bookshelves and cozy chesterfield chairs in the middle.

This situation is something you are only likely to discover if you go for a wander through town. You’re unlikely to hear or read about hard times or empty shops in the media. 3Sixty’s demise made one of the inner sections of the Hawke’s Bay Today, but Napier’s Inner City Marketing’s P.R. shows nothing but a cheery exterior in its newsletters and occasional item in the Courier or Napier Mail. The organization set up to promote and protect Napier CDB retailers, big and small, prefers to welcome the new stores, rather than acknowledge that the loss of the unique and old, faithful ones could be signs of a problem.

There has often been the demand (or threat) for Napier to have a mall. Like St Luke’s in Auckland or Queensgate in Lower Hutt. But we already have one in our paved Emerson Street precinct. It covers a similar floor-space and even has the added bonuses of being prettier (from the outside it doesn’t look like a giant aircraft hangar) and has free air conditioning and lighting care of Mother Nature. Unfortunately Emerson Street is losing so many of its locally-based shops and boutique-style stores to the cookie-cutter collection of chain stores so common to its megalithic cousins.

Perhaps we should have gone with plans to reserve an area for ‘big-box’ retailers and chain stores between Napier and Hastings, away from the eastern CBD leaving Emerson Street for the more unique, smaller, local stores. They could incorporate a large park or green-space with retail complex and call it “West Fields”.

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11 Comments

  1. I agree – Linda and Jess from Dymocks are a sad loss to Napier and also to the educational community in Hawke’s Bay – Linda has a passion for and knowledge about young adult fiction that I deeply appreciated, as an English teacher. I will miss them, and their wonderful shop, sorely.

  2. Thought of you and the Wife when I heard. I must admit to being shocked at the prices of books when I got back to New Zealand – I buy all mine from http://www.bookdepository.co.uk – books themselves are way cheaper, and there is no shipping cost. Plus I can shop happily in the evening without dragging around in the heat, dodging the cruise-ship tourists. That being the case, there is still a lot to be said for a bookstore where the staff actually know books.

  3. Celebrating our businesses:
    Every year at Art Deco time the Cathedral tells an aspect of the earthquake story at the Art Deco Service. This year’s service (Sunday 20 February at 5pm, Waiapu Cathedral, Browning St, Napier) will tell the Shopkeepers’ Story and celebrate our local shops and businesses. Come along to hear their stories and to celebrate the businesses we do have, and those who have been and gone. The Hawke’s Bay Youth Theatre are presenting a dramatic piece; our own shopkeepers will be telling their stories and the Royal NZ Navy Band will delight us with their music.

  4. I write primarily as a bookshop owner, Beattie and Forbes in Tennyson Street however my points are general and applicable all local retail stores.

    We retailers need to attract customers to come and shop with us. We need to be polite, helpful, knowledgeable and efficient. We also need to embrace new technologies in order to improve the customer experience for example with online ordering and a good web presence.

    We simply cannot compete with ‘e’ commerce prices (especially off- shore companies that pay no GST) and pay our overheads but we do need to remain as competitive and innovative as we can to make shopping a great experience for example:

    *All our team read books and are happy to make recommendations to suit our customers.

    *We run several book clubs, evening and daytime and have a ‘tweens’ club that is proving to be very popular.

    *We produce an ‘e’ newsletter and post articles of interest on our site.

    *We hold author events and will shortly be holding events specifically for school librarians.

    *Tennyson Street retailers have teamed up together and market collectively and co-ordinate our Christmas decoration to great effect. ‘Christmas on Tennyson’ was again a great success this year.

    *We even have a Grand Piano in the shop played most mornings during the week.

    These are a few things we have done but there are other great examples across the city of great service and beautiful shops that are a pleasure to visit.

    That said, and this is my point, if the people of Hawke’s Bay want to have local businesses in the CDB and the sort of ‘uniqueness’ that most would agree is a nice thing about our cities then we must all support them by shopping in them. Unless we do support good local business then they simply will not be able to survive in the face of rising costs particularly rent and staff costs. As we have seen recently we have lost 3sixty, an established local business and a part of a large franchise in the shape of Dymocks. Whichever they are the effect is on local people that own and work in these businesses and indeed on us all as we lose choice. We will continue to enjoy the challenges and opportunities ahead presented by both the market and emerging technologies such as ‘e’ books. We wish Jesse and Linda the best for the future and will try to step-up-to-the-mark as the opportunities present themselves.

  5. I fully endorse James’ comments. When we buy books from our local booksellers, we are not just buying an item: we are showing our active support and appreciation for local retailers.

    Many retailers in Hawke’s Bay are struggling, and the closure of Dymocks and other shops in our towns is a sad reminder of that.

    For those of you who appreciated the quality stock and customer service provided at Dymocks, I recommend you visit Beattie and Forbes. You won’t be disappointed!

  6. Sadly, I suspect a sign of the times with worse to come? How many MORE cafe's and junky trinket gift shops will fit into the soon to become vacant Farmers building? When, how many of those sorts of small businesses have already gone down the gurgler or on the market for sale? Hoping – more like desperate – for an unsuspecting buyer wearing rose tinted glasses. By the "ingrained" reluctance of Big Box fan Mayor Barbara and her councillors. Not to want to ban the heavy, noisy, diesel fume-spewing noisy trucks from Napier's iconic Marine Parade proves they are completely oblivious to the "real" business world. The Marine Parade needs to be "people" friendly … Not juggernaut truck friendly.

    It's worth noting the Marine Parade (road) belongs to Napier City Council – us ratepayers. Not Tranzit! And that now we have the Hastings-Napier motorway and Prebensen Drive/Ahuriri heavy truck bypass – heavy trucks should be "enforced" to use it! Same goes for the heavy trucks using, abusing Meeanee Quay, Westshore – Prebensen Drive should be used!

    If the Mayor and Council still insist on sitting on their hands doing nothing, one can't but think if someone's on the take.

  7. Dear electronic readers,

    Just a few comments about Dymocks.

    Whilst Dymocks was a lovely bookshop with very learned and accommodating staff, time moves on.

    I once had Hawke’s Bay Thursday Trader a buy-sell-exchange magazine selling over 200,000 magazines a year. It was a goldmine at the time. I sold it to Australian Consolidated Press in 2002 and with the advent of Trade Me the business started losing sales. The owners just hung in and hung in until they eventually walked away from it.

    Victoria said she buys her books at http://www.bookdepository.co.uk. After looking, I foound it is a fabulous website. So is http://www.paperplus.co.nz/ where books are for sale online without any delving into their website to find them.

    Now look at http://www.dymocks.co.nz/. See what’s on the bottom? “Dymocks Online (NZ) does not currently offer online shopping. You may, however, email your preferred store if you would like to make an inquiry about a specific product. Submit an inquiry via our Online Book Inquiry Form.
    Visit dymocks.com.au (Australia)”.

    I buy my books here http://www.whitcoulls.co.nz/ebooks/ebooks/45/ from Whitcouls e books online. I buy them from my armchair at home directly into my IPad usually before they are even in the shops at about half the cost of shops.

    After losses last year the local Dymocks franchisees were not prepared to sign a five year lease. I don’t blame them. They did not even make a counter offer to the landlord. The landlord has since refused three Australian “chain” offers and gone with a stand-alone local shopkeeper.

    For their 8.5% of turnover Dymocks head office should have supported their shops better.

    This is a warning for Beattie and Forbes. No e-book downloads and no online purchases visible on their home page.

    Further, it is also a warning for other retailers. Where do you advertise? According to Colmar Bruntion/TVNZ 22% of all New Zealanders time is spent on the internet. 3% of all New Zealanders time is spent reading newspapers and 2% of all New Zealanders time is spent reading magazines. Books were less than 1%.

  8. I would just like to correct Max in that Beattie and Forbes do have a fully transactional web site and have had for 5 years. You can search out any book by various criteria as you would expect.

    We display our stockholding so that our customers can see if a title is in stock – many of our customers check or browse on line before coming in. We have upgraded our site this year in readiness for new technologies and are in the process of refining it further. We will look again at the homepage and improve it if we can.

    Just a couple of other points;

    The ‘e’ book opportunity is being worked upon behind the scenes. When we have developed a solution that works well with our partners be they publishers, wholesalers or others we will move ahead with what will be a huge opportunity. Right now we cannot and should, I believe, concentrate on our core business while working on a solution.

    Like many Independent Booksellers in NZ we are not afraid of,nor are we resisting new technologies. We use Skype, send our newsletters electronically, we post information online.Yes we have used iPads, yes we have iPods and are trying out all the readers, we are on Facebook and we have QR codes printed on our business cards. We have a strong Booksellers Association in this country and as a group we will make the best of the changes that face us.

  9. Pru Langbeins number one best selling recipe book currently sells at all bookstores for $59.95.

    Mightyape.co.nz ..a kiwi site sells it for $47 and Fishpond.co.nz is pretty much the same.

    I sympathise with all retailers but e-commerce is here to stay so, as we all adjusted from the days when the wheel was invented, i guess it's a case of adapting the best way you know how?

    good luck though as i see today Whitcoulls and Borders are closing down in Auckland and , i presume, across the country?

  10. Dear James,

    I wrote, and I quote “No e-book downloads and no online purchases visible on their home page”.

    John, I wanted to be constructive and you do have a good website (made especially for Booksellers by Circle Software, Christchurch).

    You do not have any e-books at all, and the paper books you sell have to be found on pages other than your homepage.

    If it was my website I would have the things I sell on the front page, it would quadruple sales.

    Web buyers are fast, if what the want isn’t easy to find they are off. See here: http://www.whitcoulls.co.nz.

    I would (or perhaps with your association of booksellers could) become sellers of e-books (used on ipads, kindle, Nook, kobo etc). Now that Whitcoulls is “shaky” you may get sole rights. Whitcoulls have, so far, cornered the e-book market in New Zealand and are just "partners" of http://www.partner.kobobooks.com

    Lastly, do you advertise online? Obviously a lot of your customers use Bay Buzz.

    Truly best wishes to Beattie and Forbes

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