The Press, December 2011

In the immortal words of Steve Hansen, the next All Black coach, it’s time to ‘flush the dunny and move on” in Christchurch. It has been a year none of us will forget, with the impact in human terms enormous.

Business too has had its challenges, and, like the noble citizens of Canterbury, needs to reflect on what has been and move on in 2012. To do this it’s helpful to look back over what has changed in local business, so in the spirit of Bruce Raines’ great book “You know you are from Christchurch when . . . “:

You know you are doing business in Christchurch when premium retail brands like Ballantynes, Barkers, Trelise Cooper and Plush can operate out of old shipping containers, and we love it. Cantabrians have ripped themselves from the blandness of the malls to flock to City Mall’s Restart, a bunch of shops housed in painted metal boxes. Nobody would have believed it 18 months ago.

Restart shows that the only way the central city (or New Brighton, Sydenham or any other non-mall area) can compete at retail is to offer consumers a distinctly different experience to the malls, even if that means shipping containers.

You know you are doing business in Christchurch when the biggest advertisers are demolition companies and insurance firms. Ad spots extolling the virtues of giant demolition cranes or pleading patience with your insurance provider seem normal these days in Canterbury.

While it’s a relief from the constant barrage of impotence advertisements, it is actually a pity that the region’s largest home insurer, AMI, seems quite silent in comparison to other insurers, and has certainly been the weakest at communicating with its customers.

You know you are doing business in Christchurch when meetings could be held anywhere from a suburban sandwich shop to a McDonald’s meeting room, and home offices have become the norm. Particularly in the weeks after the quake meetings were being held in all manner of random locations - I attended one in the sleepout of a client’s teenage son. Luckily he’d picked up his underwear prior to the session.

As in many other social situations the earthquakes have broken down rules of etiquette, making the conduct of business a little more relaxed and informal. Even the lawyers and accountants have managed to chill out a little, a few adventurous types even seen to be going without ties.

You know you are doing business in Christchurch when you learn how unprepared some large national companies can be when it comes to a crisis. The outstanding example would have to be Wilson Parking, who were hopeless at dealing with customers with cars stuck in various buildings after February.

Slow to communicate and reluctant to provide any useful assistance, they gave the impression it was money that was important to them, not protecting your car. This was emphasised by the fact our company received an invoice for use of our carparks for March 2011, no matter that our company’s cars were stuck under the crumbling edifice of the Hotel Grand Chancellor. Wilson Parking later acknowledged the mistake, but the fact it happened said volumes for their lack of customer focus.

You know you are doing business in Christchurch when the Government actually helps pay for your visits to overseas customers. A number of companies took up this offer, one of many programmes of assistance provided by the Government through various agencies. It was critical because although offshore customers were sympathetic for a few days, the patience didn’t last long before they expected normal service to resume.

Government assistance overall post-quake was quickly given, with minimal red tape and maximum intention to support. This has helped a number of businesses continue, and retain jobs that might have otherwise been cut.

Useful on-going support is being provided by Recover Canterbury, a joint venture between the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and the Canterbury Development Corporation. As companies struggle with post-earthquake issues, they are providing support in the form of funding, mentoring and other advice, free seminars and the like.

You know you are doing business in Christchurch when you actually care about business continuity and disaster recovery strategies. From yawning when thinking about computer system backups and relocation plans, we’re all now experts, stripped down and ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Finally, you know you are doing business in Christchurch when old age rivalries are put aside in the name of commercial, and sporting, gain. Next March it will be remarkable to see the Crusaders playing their Super Rugby games at Rugby League Park, a decision that would have had league and union diehards spluttering into their pints prior to the earthquakes, but is now commercially sensible for both codes.

What next in this spirit of post-earthquake cooperation?  The Anglicans and Catholics building a joint cathedral?

Whatever miracles emerge from the trauma of 2011, business like any other sector will be focussed on getting on with life in 2012. And given another global financial crisis is predicted, it will like being back to normal.

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