The Launceston Chamber of Commerce with the support of Cityprom has surveyed 118 retailers, with the majority located in the Launceston CBD, and a total of 80% being smaller businesses with less than 10 staff.

32% of the retail businesses surveyed advised they had reduced their staffing levels in the past 12 months. According to the responses, this equated to 76 FTE’s job losses over that period. When asked if penalty rates were either reduced or abolished if they would open on Sundays and public holidays, 40% responded positively. This equated to 95 new positions - at least over the weekend and public holiday periods.

The Executive Officer at Launceston Chamber of Commerce, Maree Tetlow said “although we know it has been tough in retail over the past 12 months, we were surprised with the number of job losses from just 118 businesses. We also know that penalty rates have been a big issue for retailers and the hospitality industry for some time – especially when businesses decide not to open on weekends and public holidays. However, we were surprised with the level of likely employment that would be generated if penalty rates were changed”.

When asked the question “Do you think Council could do more to stimulate more retail business in your area and what are your suggestions”, 58% of respondents indicated assistance was needed from Council with parking related costs.

The Executive Officer from Cityprom, Vanessa Cahoon said “The survey highlighted there is still significant concern by members in relation to parking in the CBD. Despite the fact that there are a number of free parking initiatives already in place, it is perhaps time to review their effectiveness; we’ve already had preliminary discussions with Council and will continue these discussions in the coming months”.

Ms Cahoon also added that “There is no doubt retailers are under pressure at the moment and anything we can do to ease that pressure must be a priority”. Cityprom will launch its Rebrand in late September, early October and we are confident that the delivery of our new marketing campaigns will generate an increase in visitation to the city centre”.

The main reasons given why retailers suffered over the past 12 months was lack of turnover mainly due to reduced consumer confidence. Whilst this is a national phenomenon it becomes more pronounced in Tasmania as the retail sector makes up a larger proportion of our key economic drivers (Gross Value-Added) than the rest of Australia. This was highlighted by Saul Eslake this week in his annual Launceston Chamber of Commerce address.

But there were some positives from the survey with 47% of retailers indicating that their profitability for the next 12 months to be similar to last financial year - with 26% forecasting it will improve. Maree Tetlow advised “hopefully this means we have turned a corner and this financial year will be a slight improvement for profitability than last year.

Other positive aspects from the survey show that over 62% of retailers have changed their business model in the past 12 months with 36% placing an increased emphasis on their website presence and 12% moving to transacting on their own website. Also 36% of retailers have placed more emphasis on developing their social media strategies to build their customer base.

A total of 39% of retailers intend to increase their online capacity in the next 12 months supporting Launceston’s reputation as a web savvy city as awarded by Google.

Launceston Chamber of Commerce and Cityprom will analyse the data further, and hold discussions with retailers and other stake-holders to consider how to improve the sector over the coming months.