A comprehensive survey of Warrnambool businesses has revealed booming confidence in challenging times

TRENDING: The Warrnambool Business Trends Survey has revealed business confidence over the next 12 months is higher than in 2015.
TRENDING: The Warrnambool Business Trends Survey has revealed business confidence over the next 12 months is higher than in 2015.

DESPITE ongoing construction in Warrnambool’s central business district, retailers have higher business confidence for the next 12 months compared with those outside the hub.

Findings of the 2017 Business Trends Survery were released at the Great South Coast Small Business Festival event, State of the City: An Economic Perspective earlier this week. 

From 269 respondents, 71 per cent indicated they had medium to very high confidence in Warrnambool’s business environment, compared with 60 per cent in 2015.

Warrnambool City Council’s city growth director Andrew Paton said the overall results were positive.

“Warrnambool is home to a strong and diverse business sector,” he said.

“Many business owners have suggested that they intend to expand their operations, with one third suggesting that they are likely or very likely to invest in their business over the next year, the highest proportion the survey has ever recorded.”

Deakin University senior lecturer and researcher Scott Salzman, who presented the results at the event, said 56 per cent of respondents believed their businesses was faring good or excellent compared to similar businesses in other regional Victorian cities. This result was up eight per cent from 2015.

When comparing business confidence between the central business district traders and others, more operators in the CBD indicated high to very high confidence in Warrnambool’s business environment over the next 12 months compared with businesses in other city locations.

The CBD is currently undergoing a $15 million revitalisation project.

Respondents were also asked to list three activities they believed would best assist the growth and development of businesses. The top four areas were:

  1. Promote buying locally (24 per cent of responses)
  2. Parking (11 per cent of responses)
  3. Rent (7 per cent of responses)
  4. Promotion of buying local, and not just Liebig Street (6 per cent of responses).

Seventy per cent of respondents who stated lower rent would be helpful also indicated they traded in the CBD.

More than 40 per cent of Warrnambool businesses who trade outside the city reported that their business exports increased over the past 12 months while eight per cent said they decreased. The council is advocating for further trade with China, with a specialised Warrnambool China Bureau established this year to facilitate transactions.

The results report showed only 16 per cent of respondents employed Deakin graduates, however when asked ‘do you think it is important that graduates of our local university are involved in Warrnambool businesses?’, 84 per cent stated they believed it was, at least, somewhat important. Almost half thought it was ‘very important’.

WE ARE ON THE MOVE: Dealer principal Steve Callaghan stands in the renovated space of the new site of Callaghan Motors, on Warrnambool's Raglan Parade. Picture: Rob Gunstone

WE ARE ON THE MOVE: Dealer principal Steve Callaghan stands in the renovated space of the new site of Callaghan Motors, on Warrnambool's Raglan Parade. Picture: Rob Gunstone

Investment driving dealer’s bright future

AFTER outgrowing its Fairy Street site, Callaghan Motors is investing in Warrnambool for the long term, with a new state-of-the art site under construction on Raglan Parade.

Dealer principal Steve Callaghan spoke at the release of the business survey results, giving an overview of his city business.

He said the move came after significant sales increases.

“Over the past 10 years we have had 38 per cent growth,” he said.

“Even prior to that the site was too small. It has been on our agenda for a long while. 

“One of the other motivations was to offer our customers more services. 

“We will be able to do things we couldn’t do in Fairy Street because we were restricted with size.”

Improvements at the Raglan parade site will include a tyre service, a safety-stop brake tester alignment machine, and an automatic car wash.

Mr Callaghan said the move was also instigated by a want to improve amenities and have a better working environment for staff, and manufacturers wanting improved facilities to meet standards.

Callaghan Motors are also adding Mercedes Benz vans to its offerings, which currently include Mercedes Benz, Holden, Mitsubishi and Suzuki. New Era caravans and TJM 4x4 are already open for business at the new site.

Mr Callaghan said the city was the regional hub for car sales, with buyers coming from across the south-west, Victoria and even interstate.

“The general trend across Warrnambool is that there are more buyers coming in from further away than what they did 10, 15 years ago,” he said.

Callaghan Motors place a high importance on training for its 56 employees. 

“We need to keep working on ourselves and evolving. That’s our general philosophy,” Mr Callaghan said.

“We are always looking at what we can do better.”

Internet trading boosted

The explosion of the internet has been a game-changer for many industries.

The Warrnambool Business Trends Survey asked respondents if they generated sales over the web, with respondents saying the proportion of business sales online grew from 39 per cent in 2011 to 50 per cent in 2017.

Callaghan Motors dealer principal Steve Callaghan said the Warrnambool car dealership fully utilised the web and social media.

“I think the world has got smaller by the internet. It has changed things,” Mr Callaghan said.

“A third of our sales are via the internet.”

Callaghan Motors has seven websites and three Facebook pages across the group.

The business promotes cars online with up to 20 photos and comments about the vehicle. 

“You have to move with the times,” Mr Callaghan said.

“You have to keep evolving because the next competitor will. If you are standing still, you are really going backwards.” 

Deakin University’s Dr Scott Salzman said the various industry groups that were represented in the survey had shifted slightly this year.

“Most responding businesses could be described as small to medium enterprises,” he said.

“They employ 50 people or less. About 70 per cent of our local businesses employ less than 10 people.”

Dr Salzman said local business owners were “keener than ever before to invest in their businesses”.

“The overall level of confidence is trending upwards,” he said.

“This is the third best set of statistics we have witnessed over the past seven years.” 

The results report noted there were two major issues that may have affected Warrnambool businesses and their responses  – the downturn in the dairy industry which resulted in low farm-gate milk prices and the council’s city centre renewal project, which involved complete redevelopment of the main street in Warrnambool with the aim of improving the shopping experience.

More businesses in 2017, compared to 2015 and across all years combined, expected to increase the number of employees they had. 

Survey data was obtained by an email and printed forms distributed to businesses in the Warrnambool City Council municipality. 

It was conducted by the council in partnership with South West Credit and Deakin University.

About 1300 hard-copy surveys were mailed out directly to Warrnambool businesses while a further 700 were emailed an online version. 

Respondents were from a variety of industry sectors including retail, hospitality, professional, manufacturing, education, government and trade services.

The survey has been held annually since 2011, except for a hiatus in 2016.