WHERE WE WERE, WHERE WE ARE: The changing face of retail
COMPARED to just 20 years ago, Warwick’s retail economy is almost unrecognisable today.
According to history buff Graham Gillam, family-owned businesses filled Palmerin St shopfronts, service stations lined most corner stores and shops were only open five and a half days a week.
Even the streets, he said, were a little wider and the palm trees a little taller.
“When you look around now, the big names, and the small ones too, are all gone,” he said.
As we look at the rapidly changing face of Warwick — one can’t help but wonder, what will the next 20 years of Warwick retail bring?
According to Southern Downs Regional Council 2019 data, agriculture, forestry, and fishing was the top sector, followed closely by healthcare and construction.
The largest employers were John Dee, Grove Juice, the Warwick hospital, Big W distribution, Frasers and Wickhams.
“We don’t know what the new world will look like,” he said.
“For those out there who have lost their jobs, the world has come crashing down. Businesses are in for a long recovery and some business will never recover.
“Those who adapted are the ones who will continue on and those who get tired, they’re the ones that tend slip through the cracks
“Having been in business for 14 years and running two from home now, hanging onto the profits is the problem.”
For long-time businessman Danny Lyons, hanging onto profits in the ‘new normal’ wasn’t the only thing challenging Warwick retail.
Heading into his 38th year on Palmerin St, Mr Lyons said a limit in companies holding stock increasingly put the onus on small business to sell.
“It’s a nightmare. They want the retailer to have the worry of keeping the stock,” he said.
“I used to go to Brisbane for the day and bring all my stock back but now I place an order six to 12 months in advance.
“You don't know what you’re going to sell — coronavirus could come, drought could come but you still have to take the stock.”
The online world was also came with its challenges.
While Facebook advertising had presented a cost-free boon, the same didn’t apply for a website — which was why Mr Lyons had avoided one until this year.
“After coronavirus, we’ve started to set up online store, it’s a matter of having to do it,” he said.
New data shows online retail is only increasing.
On the back of lockdown, online shopping jumped 52 per cent above a six month average during the week of March 22.
It is something Rox and Buck Liddle from Swan Creek interiors can vouch for.
The pair had moved their online business to Palmerin St but earlier this year went back to a digital only business model.
Their online revenue has boomed.
It wasn’t a negative move for us at all,” Mr Liddle said.
“More important than turnover was time to work on our business rather than in our business. “Having no shop just frees us up.
“I think it’s going to be a theme within rural business. People want to be diversified and have to do more than one thing.”
For those who had never considered the idea of abandoning brick and mortar, Mr Liddle knew it could be confronting, but having a in-person relationship only made the transition that much easier he said.
“Just like you can get good advice for shopfronts, displays other business aspects, you can get really good advice for your online presence,” he said.
“We didn’t know anything about it before we started but we were able to upskill ourselves. “More important than having skills is being prepared for the change — you have to be constantly embracing change.”
For Cr Pennisi, embracing change would also come with embracing local as Warwick headed into the future.
“It’s about balance for me we want big companies to come but they shouldn’t be at the cost of ignoring mum and dad business,” he said.
“Just on the Granite Belt, we have 4000 different businesses, if one of those businesses shuts, that’s one or two jobs. If a really big business disappears, we lose a whole heap of jobs.”
With over 68 per cent of people stuck working from home, the invaluable proximity of Warwick couldn’t be discounted.
“In my DNA, the Southern Downs’ time will come,” Cr Pennisi said.
“What people can’t take away from us is the geographic location, we’re just a couple of hours from Brisbane. We’re well located to hop into a car and drive 15 hours once a week.
“In my lifetime, I started school with a slate and now kids go to school with an iPad. We will use that technology going forward to determine the future looks like.
“I see a very positive future. The Southern Downs are a resilient people, honest and hardworking and enthusiastic. When you’ve got those type of communities, it will evolve organically to bigger and better.”