Karen Tomuri, owner of Nirvana Interiors in Greytown. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

Research has shown that confidence among small and medium-sized enterprises in the region is improving, with more businesses expecting to grow in the next 12 months. But the spread across all sectors was uneven, with hospitality in particular still wary of the future.

The survey snapshot from Mind Your Own Business, a large accountancy services firm, surveyed more than 400 Kiwi SMEs and found confidence levels were up since March.

While 64 per cent expected the economy to decline over the next 12 months, 29 per cent thought it would improve, which placed overall sector confidence at minus 35 per cent.

Despite the negative territory, the level of sentiment was a marked improvement on MYOB’s previous survey, that showed business confidence was at minus 71 per cent.

MYOB New Zealand country manager, Ingrid Cronin-Knight, said that, while it was very early days for businesses aiming to make up for the lockdown, it was encouraging to see sentiment improving in the SME sector.

“The covid-19 crisis has been labelled as unprecedented for a reason, and there’s no doubt that local businesses have been hit extremely hard,” Cronin-Knight said.

Mark Wellington, owner of the Highwayman Motel in Masterton, spoke to the Times-Age in May and detailed a hard-hitting lockdown. From June into July business had reportedly been great, “even better than pre-covid”, but he said the school holiday boom had been a temporary catalyst.

“I think it was the school holidays: our occupancy this week compared to last week has gone down 60 per cent.

“I believe people had put money away to go to the Gold Coast, or the Cook Islands, or Fiji, for their midwinter school holidays.

“They had the money and the time off work, but nowhere to go. We had more families with children for multiple days. Historically, Masterton hasn’t really been the destination for school holidays.”

Wellington said that, while revenue was up, he was being cautious with any optimism, and was also lacking confidence in the government’s ability to control covid-19, citing Australia as an example where everything looked to be improving, then turned bad again.

“They’re getting 200 to 300 cases a day, and they’ve gone back into lockdown. If we go back into lockdown, a lot of businesses just won’t make it.”

Crystal Thompson, owner of cafe Wild Oats in Carterton, said that community had been the key to returning after months of uncertainty, and a boost to confidence.

“This is why we’re lucky in Wairarapa, because we’ve got a supportive community. Are we confident? Yeah, I suppose we are, but it’s important not to get too confident, just in case, because it can change in a matter of moments.

“It’s been quite nice, because people seem a bit more aware and concerned that things can change just like that.”

Thompson said that foot traffic had almost returned to pre-lockdown levels.

“We’ve had about the same, which is nice. But we don’t want to overcommit to anything, I think everyone’s being cautious – cautiously confident.”

Karen Tomuri, owner of Nirvana Interiors in Greytown, said her confidence was definitely up as the region entered mid-winter.

“We’ve had an amazing June. I think we had our biggest month ever.

“But I do think we’re in the right industry: people have been in their homes for so long, and with no travel, they’ve decided to spend on their home.”

Tomuri said that during lockdown she was using Facebook to promote her business, and came out on a good footing to open again, but admitted there was a drop of confidence when Level 4 was first announced.

She said that coming out of lockdown had made her want to prepare better if it happened again.

“I’ve gone ahead and made myself a working website now – it’s jolted me into getting a bit more prepared if something like that did happen again, but we’re obviously hoping not.”