Western NSW business: Federal election, drought and online are having an impact

There have been a lot of challenges for our region's businesses thanks to the drought and two elections this year, so we spoke to business owners and representatives about how consumers, retailers and the government could work together to strengthen regional NSW.

WHILE consumers and businesses may not be able to make it rain, there are some things they can consider doing which could increase resilience and strengthen country communities contending with drought.

As Western NSW endures one of the most severe droughts on record, many retail businesses in country towns and cities are struggling to keep their heads above water.

Unsurprisingly, a recent NSW Business Chamber business conditions survey revealed the Far West and Orana regions had some of the worst conditions in the state.

"Results were woeful, with more than half of the businesses surveyed reporting deteriorating conditions, falling revenues and profits," Western NSW Business Chamber regional manager Vicki Seccombe said.

"In the Central West, it wasn't much better, with around 45 per cent of businesses reporting worsening conditions and falling profits."

Retail is being disrupted right across the world.

Western NSW Business Chamber regional manager Vicki Seccombe

Ms Seccombe said while most businesses are struggling, the level of difficulty each one is in varies across the region.

"Our smaller communities, who are solely reliant on agriculture, are the hardest hit and towns like Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo are slightly less impacted due to their larger and more diverse industry sectors.

"If things don't improve soon, then there is a real risk that we'll start to see jobs lost and a big drop-off in the availability of certain goods and services around the region.

"The worst case scenario is that families are forced to leave their homes and towns in search of work elsewhere. That clearly has a devastating impact on a community."

Everyone living in regional communities needs to take an active role in supporting a vibrant local retail sector, Ms Seccombe suggested.

"We need to support our local businesses or they will close and we will no longer have access to those products or services and jobs will be lost," she said.

PROMINENT ADVOCATE: Western NSW Business Chamber regional manager Vicki Seccombe represents many businesses across the Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo regions. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

PROMINENT ADVOCATE: Western NSW Business Chamber regional manager Vicki Seccombe represents many businesses across the Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo regions. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

It is not only consumers who have a role to play in building the resilience of retail outlets to withstand harsh domestic and international economic challenges.

Businesses could also consider innovating and changing the ways they do things to better align with consumer expectations.

"Retail is being disrupted right across the world," Ms Seccombe advised.

Online shopping is here to stay and we will continue to see changes around this sector. As business owners, we need to keep working on a blended approach to retail - regional bricks and mortar retailers should have an online presence.

Western NSW Business Chamber regional manager Vicki Seccombe

"Online shopping is here to stay and we will continue to see changes around this sector. As business owners, we need to keep working on a blended approach to retail - regional bricks and mortar retailers should have an online presence.

"We need to make it easy for locals to buy local."An online presence shows what products are on offer and gives people an opportunity to shop online locally, Ms Seccombe said.

"Products can be sent to customers or picked up in store, and research shows customers tend to buy more when they come into a physical store to pick up goods ordered online."

Ms Seccombe said smaller retail outlets in Dubbo, Bathurst and Orange are already reaping the rewards of investing in the establishment of online shopfronts.

"Online is providing business owners with an opportunity to grow their businesses and employ more locals," she said.

"Businesses like Ruby Maine in Dubbo, Bobbies in Orange or Incy Interiors in Bathurst all have strong online offerings.

"While growing numbers of consumers prefer to shop through their phone, tablet or desktop device; shopping in person at a physical retail may actually be more beneficial to consumers.

"Consumers should not assume that products will always be more expensive locally or you can't shop online from local shops - because that's just not right," Ms Seccombe said.

"So before you shop online or assume that the product or service is not available, give our local businesses the opportunity to assist," she advised.

Federal election outcome to help retailers

MIRACULOUS MORRISON: Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking on election night after pulling off a surprise victory. Photo: DOMINIC LORRIMER

MIRACULOUS MORRISON: Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking on election night after pulling off a surprise victory. Photo: DOMINIC LORRIMER

AUSTRALIA'S decision to re-elect the federal government will help give struggling businesses in the western region more confidence to invest in their communities and plan for the future, the NSW Business Chamber says.

"Business needs certainty and particularly in NSW where we have had two elections in the space of two months," Ms Seccombe said.

"There is no doubt that important business decisions like expansion, taking on additional staff or bringing on extra product lines have been held off until these election results were known.

"The return of the coalition government will be well received by the business community and they will now move forward with investing in their business capabilities, without the added concerns about issues such as workplace relations."

In the workplace relations policy space, the Labor opposition was promising to boost the wages of low paid workers who had their penalty rates cut by the Fair Work Commission, but the Morrison government is vowing not to go against the commission's recommendation and give poorly paid workers more help.

Instead it will lower the corporate tax rate paid by small and medium sized businesses, from 27.5 per cent to 25 per cent by the middle of 2022.

The NSW Government is committed to working with our farmers and our regional communities

John Barilaro

The government is also increasing the small business discount for unincorporated small businesses and expanding the instant asset write-off from $25,000 to $30,000 for small and medium businesses.

Energy prices will also fall by up to 15 per cent by July 31 for small businesses, the government is promising.

A new energy efficient communities program will also be rolled out, offering grants of up to $25,000 to eligible businesses so they can save energy and reduce their power bills.

BACKING BUSINESSES: NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro during a visit to Bathurst last year. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

BACKING BUSINESSES: NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro during a visit to Bathurst last year. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

Closer to home, John Barilaro, deputy premier in the recently re-elected NSW government, feels his team understands "the effects of this drought are hitting communities and businesses across the state very hard".

"The NSW Government is committed to working with our farmers and our regional communities," he says.

"We will continue to deliver the right support and assistance measures to help them manage the impacts of the current drought, recover quickly from it when conditions improve and to prepare for future dry spells."

Maintaining support for local business in changing times

STAYING POSITIVE: Bake, Table and Tea owner Melissa Kelly.

STAYING POSITIVE: Bake, Table and Tea owner Melissa Kelly.

Businesses in Bathurst are continuing their push to promote the benefits of shopping locally in the face of a changing retail environment.

The ongoing effects of the drought combined with a competitive online market has caused plenty of concern for local businesses, but owners are maintaining a defiant stance in the face of the challenge.

Bake, Table and Tea owner Melissa Kelly said the key to maintaining morale during tough times is to promote a business as something more than a simple sales driver.

"The promotion of a positive in-store environment is paramount, as it's important to ensure customers feel comfortable," Ms Kelly said.

"In times of uncertainty, consumers feel less comfortable about spending money, which is why it's important for local businesses to build relationships beyond the selling process."

Ms Kelly said local business plays a vital role in growing Bathurst's economy, with much of the revenue remaining in the local community.

"The strong, community-centric atmosphere of local business is something you cannot replicate online," she said.

"With the retail environment continually changing due to advances in technology and shifts in consumer interest, it's important for local businesses to continue driving innovation into the future.

"At the same time, it's important to maintain a focus on building genuine relationships with customers, because they are the key to keeping local businesses alive."

Bake, Table and Tea has been open since 2015.

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