22 Nov, 2021
Keeping any business alive and thriving requires dedication, passion and a whole lot of hard work, and once the first curve Covid-ball was thrown their way in 2020, local owners and managers have found creative ways to roll and evolve with the shifting alert levels.
Since the August 2021 lockdown dawned in Mangawhai, effectively cutting Auckland off from Northland, local businesses from real estate agencies, eateries to finance advisors and hairdressers have adapted and found new ways to keep their professions alive and kicking.
Location, location, location
The dining room table has now been converted into a work hub with computers, phones and paperwork, the kitchen a staff room, and the lounge has ‘morphed’ into a boardroom for staff meetings and sales training, Kaye says.
“The immediacy of the Covid-19 lockdown meant we had to think laterally, and luckily we have very generous living areas. It’s a bit of an adventure for all as we live in a rural environment with lots of bird life, frogs in a nearby pond, cattle and a farm cat,” she says. “However, a surprising benefit of the shift in office and routine is discovering a lot about our colleagues that we didn't know - our relationships have definitely been enhanced.”
From a business perspective, and due to extra effort from the team, Kaye says work has ‘flowed pretty seamlessly’ for their clients and customers.
“Our technology ensures that wherever the office we can work and provide our service. For us, the shifting office scenario is good for a mindset that overcomes difficulties and faces challenges.”
Stewart McElwain says the team has had to embrace technology while the border restrictions are in place, organising online auctions and property viewings via FaceTime and Zoom with some deals being sealed without buyers - mainly from Auckland - even visiting their new home.
“We have the technology and procedures to work remotely and we plan to continue doing exactly that while our new premises are being built,” he says. “Of course, we still also meet with people, our existing clients strongly remain our focus during this transition period and we’re also excited to establish new clients and contacts.”
The couple have owned the Ray White Mangawhai franchise for over nine years and had the Molesworth Drive office purpose-built, ‘so it was definitely time for a new office evolution’. Kaye says they were thrilled to announce the Ray White team was moving to ‘a sleek and stylish new office’ at MC.
“Mangawhai Central will provide a much-needed retail and commercial hub for Mangawhai and we’re really excited to be one of the successful businesses that have secured office premises in this new development,” she says. “For us, the new hub of activity is ideally located between our two patches, the Village and the Heads, and our new space will be fitted out very differently to what one thinks of a real estate office.”
Until then the team will have another month working within the Oruawharo countryside, now the government has fixed December 15 as the date for a shift in Auckland’s borders.
“We are pleased we now have a date to be able to operate from our popup office in Wellsford. Stewart and I are looking forward to having a quieter home, our personal space back - it does some days feel like we only have an office, not a home!”
Change of style
The hair stylist, who took ownership of the business in March 01 this year, ‘right on lockdown’ after being an employee for 15 years, has had to go mobile, and now visits Northland clients in their homes.
“I thought the August lockdown was just going to be a couple of weeks but after five weeks had passed, realised we were going to be locked out of the salon for a while,” she says. “Not much was involved with going mobile, we advertised on local social media and word of mouth, and our clients soon got in touch.”
New Dimensions has a team of four, with three members living within Northland and two mobile hair stylists, Denise Rogers and Sonya, servicing their large number of clientele residing in Kaiwaka, Mangawhai and Maungaturoto.
“The disadvantage is that it’s hard to colour hair as we haven’t got portable basins, so it’s not a full mobile service but more of a way to cater to our clients in Kaipara, to keep them happy.”
Prior to Auckland moving to Level 3.2, Sonya was unable to get an exemption to cross the border into Wellsford to sanitise the hair studio for when they can finally re-open, and even wrote to her local MP about her application. She says she was concerned ‘when we were even going to get in there to work again’, however, an exemption has since been granted and the team can now prep the salon, ready to welcome back their clients once Auckland gets the green light for a shift in levels.
“Clients do seem to love the mobile service so I’m happy that they’re happy. I miss working with the team in New Dimensions though, definitely prefer the salon to the road,” she says. “I can’t wait till we finally have a date to open… it’s just a waiting game.”
With many of his clients based on the southern side of Mangawhai’s border, Zane says the initial setup was a challenge, switching from in-person meetings to present different financial options
for clients, to adopting new systems and working remotely. He thanks ‘the miracle of Zoom and a good calendar booking service’ for the transition.
“Clients can now join me in a meeting from wherever they are, they just need a phone or computer with Wi-Fi or data, and all they need to do is click a link for a time they wish to meet anytime they like,” the senior mortgage consultant and financial adviser says. “Our booking service collects all of the details so we can have options ready when we join the Zoom call. They can also have their partners join the same if they wish, from wherever they are, so everyone is not rushing around trying to make a certain time, they just click and join, it's that easy.”
Zane says the online system allows him to present information to clients more clearly and transparently, including their goal plans and different scenarios for lending right in front of them.
“It's a lot clearer to see visually than an in-person meeting or a phone call, which is essential for complex subject matter, it's much easier to understand,” he says. “We also have the option to record our meeting together and send it back to them, so if there is anything they don't understand the first time, clients have something to refer back to and can clearly see their goals and the path to achieving them at any time they wish. We can also offer as many meetings as they need to get the job done, and this has worked out much better than our old process.”
As a business owner in the financial sector, Zane says surviving Covid restrictions has created a raft of new bank regulations as well as rising interest rates for home loans.
‘The effects and other regulations that have been implemented over the last year has been challenging to navigate to say the least,” he says. “On the other hand, due to this regulation Covid itself has had a positive effect on the amount of business we have, we are definitely busier and clients need us more than ever, so it's a double-edged sword.”
Clothes, coffee and great food
Liz sold the idea to Funky Chic owner and friend Rowena Clare over a glass of wine one afternoon after noting the limited amount of local commercial property available, the ‘crazy rents’, and witnessing the sub-letting model in Japan and Auckland.
“If it’s a good combo, it really works. A man’s shop wouldn’t work though, had to be something that women would like, such as homeware or clothing… we’re often finding cold coffee on tables now as customers have got distracted by the racks of clothes.”
Oasis became the site of two businesses in just over four weeks, the building of the wall giving a job to a tradesman who was cut off from his usual workplace across the Auckland border, and materials supplied with haste by Mangawhai Carters ‘which was very cool’.
While some regular patrons have surprised Liz with negative comments about the changes, the majority of customers have been understanding.
“There’s been mixed emotions… but when I’ve told them that my hand was forced, most people are amazing.”
Although advertising for temporary staff to fill in at Dizzy Lizzy’s, finding people with ‘the right mindset or their hearts in it’ has proven difficult. Although Liz has also had to downsize staff, she has managed to keep team members employed by manoeuvring them between the Oasis
and Pizzeria. She says for her, business is not just about the money ‘it’s about people’ and providing ‘the best service and food that I can’.
“I care about my staff… didn’t want to lose my amazing manager at Dizzy Lizzy’s, but she can’t work there alone so just had to shut it down. I gave her my hours at Oasis and I’m now working at the Pizzeria,” Liz says. “Obviously Covid has affected everyone, it’s a big thing for our small community and I know I’m not the only eatery having to do something, changing how we work is a sign of the times. Kiwis are pretty resilient but this whole Covid thing has hit us from behind… but I’m hoping we don’t all lose our smile.”
The home of Ray White Mangawhai owners, Kaye and Stewart McElwain, has morphed into an interim work hub, while the team wait to move into their Wellsford pop-up shop once Auckland’s borders change. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Oasis Bar & Eatery is now the site of two businesses, sharing the space with recycling boutique, Funky Chic, in order to keep staff employed through Covid restrictions. PHOTO/JULIA WADE
Local mortgage consultant Zane Torkington thanks ‘the miracle of Zoom and a good calendar booking service’ for his online transition to service clients separated by borders. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
“Obviously Covid has affected everyone, it’s a big thing for our small community and I know I’m not the only eatery having to do something, changing how we work is a sign of the times.”
- Liz Hutchin
“We advertised on local social media and word of mouth, and our clients soon got in touch.”
- Sonya Collins