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Eye on business relevance

We all want to have a thriving business community. Owners want a business that is profitable and that can afford to hire and maintain staff; staff want a business that they enjoy working at and can ensure job security.

Often an indicator of whether businesses are achieving against these benchmarks is longevity. We see this reinforced by businesses with slogans such as “Established in 1895”, “A proud supporter of the community since . . .” But like anything, how old a business is does not guarantee success in today's world.

I've been thinking about this in relation to the Gisborne Chamber of Commerce. The first meeting of the Gisborne branch was held in 1894 and was chaired by Mr W. Morgan. The remainder of the committee consisted of eight Messrs (no Madams). In the interest of raising the profile of the Chamber, at the 1900 opening of the Te Karaka railway a four-metre-long banner with Chamber branding was presented to the business community. Today's equivalent would be an intensively targeted social media campaign to the local community.

Going down this rabbit hole of history got me thinking about businesses that have not lasted the test of time (unlike the Chamber of Commerce), businesses that have adapted to change, and what the Chamber can learn from these.

Of course, the advantage of being a long-established business is name recognition and reputation, but that is not going to count for anything if laurels are rested on.

Look at Kodak — they had longevity, brand recognition and a dominant market position; they had even developed a digital camera in 1975. But Kodak failed to move with the times because it wanted to protect its film business. Remember, Kodak had all the good things of a company with longevity, and blew it. Kodak lost its customers because it did not plan for the change in technology that was inevitable in its industry, and therefore was no longer relevant.

Compare that to a US DVD company that decided to compete against the now defunct Blockbuster chain. This company was based on the mail-order business model. It recognised that customers wanted to watch movies but convenience was key. Customers could go online, order movies and then get the DVDs delivered to them. Brilliant. Except that around eight years later, its leaders could see that the future of watching movies was streaming online and their business would not be relevant. They adapted to changing technology to stay relevant by offering a movie/TV streaming service. I'm sure there's not many of you who don't have a Netflix account.

How does this relate to the Chamber of Commerce? We are an organisation with longevity and are recognised as being an independent voice for business. Back in 1894, holding a quarterly meeting was enough for members. Times have changed and while the Chamber has adapted over the years, in 2021 we need to ask, “is being the independent voice of business enough?” My thoughts are no.

To ensure longevity (and thus relevance), not only do we need to have excellent communication with our members via our new website, e-newsletters and social marketing, we really need to engage with the whole business community.

Feedback has told us that events where businesspeople can catch up and listen to speakers are important, so we are looking to showcase the wonderful and innovative businesses in our Chamber community as well as guest speakers. Our advocacy work is continuing with a climate change survey coming out shortly — if you get this in your inbox, please take the time to answer this important piece of work. Also, please contact me if there is something that you want to see from the Chamber — and you are a member, or future member.

For the Chamber to have longevity, we need to adapt to what our business community wants, and we're prepared to do that. We want to be Netflix NOT Kodak.

■ Belinda Mackay is president of the Gisborne Chamber of Commerce.

■ Interested in joining the chamber? Connect, share and grow — raise your business profile locally and nationally. Contact Lena Bevan on 021 448 146 or lena@gisborne.org.nz for more information.

Gisborne Chamber of Commerce president Belinda Mackay. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell