Cambridge – high performance in business

06 June 2018

Already known for its high performance sport, the town is attracting niche companies whose owners and workers are drawn by the famous Cambridge "vibe" and the lifestyle opportunities.

Cambridge Chamber of Commerce chief executive Tania Witheford and Waipa District Council economic development manager Steve Tritt point to global companies Parking Sense, Nyriad and Shoof International as high flyers but says that there are "pockets of really cool companies".

"People are attracted to what's here in Cambridge," they say.

"Our proposition around Cambridge and Waipa is high performance. High performance in sport, high performance in business and high performance in the sort of companies we want to attract."

This includes a bevy of high tech and creative companies that are beginning to carve out a niche in the Town of Trees. While all business is welcomed in Cambridge, the advantage of the types of companies Steve refers to is that they don't have huge infrastructural needs.

Cambridge Nova

Steve believes more professional services are establishing in the town and says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce works with a lot of start up, home-based businesses and "hopefully they will push on".

Steve also refers to the "Richard Florida effect". "Creative people moving to a place and then looking for something to do. Sometimes they are dropping out of corporate network and they turn up in the place and think ‘what shall we do'? Those are the people that come with great networks or global experience and that's who we want."

Tania Witheford says many of the businesses the town attracts find its environment fits beautifully with the lifestyle they want.

"Add to that the opportunity to bring up your children and families; it encapsulates the key things we deem as important. Sense of purpose, responsibility and environment."

"I would like to see more commercial and best fit businesses for Cambridge. There is a view that we are aging population and now is a prime opportunity for us to attract that best fit business opportunity so people can have pathways."

Overall the town is humming and pedestrian counts are healthy. Tania says after a relatively steady six months in the later part of 2017, 2018 has started strong.

"So far this year we have seen a steady rise in the number of people walking the main street," she said. April's Autumn Festival Carnival Sunday set records with nearly 5000 people traversing Victoria St to see the street entertainers, music and dance of local performers and to visit the open shops.

Ensuring there is enough space for new business is a priority. Commercial properties are in high demand.

"There's usually a waiting list for new leases – especially on the main street," says Steve. Empty shops don't even reach the market, they are scooped up by people in the know."

The new Lakewood Cambridge mixed-use development is playing a part, adding 10 percent to the town's gross floor space for retail while Steve and Tania see opportunities for commercial infill.

Steve says meanwhile the town's CBD has in effect also been extended.

"The CBD used to be defined from the roundabout at the bottom of Victoria St to the Town Hall. Now it goes up to St Andrews roundabout so we've stretched the CBD."

Solid residential growth backs up the commercial growth. The St Kilda residential subdivision has been significant while Norfolk Downs subdivision near the Expressway is moving quickly. Steve says future growth cells are planned either side of Cambridge Rd on the town side of the Avantidrome.

"There's good growth and there's committed and enthusiastic developers."

Building activity set new records last year and building permits for the calendar year 2017 totalled over $320 million. Four hundred and sixty seven of these were new builds and at 2.5 people per household this represents a growth of nearly 1200 people.

Notable openings in Waipa last year were the Visy packaging plant, Podium Lodge, Takapoto Estate, Perry Community Water Sports Centre, Cambridge Oaks Freedom Lifestyle village and Aztec. In March Canoe Racing NZ set up a training centre at Lake Karapiro, joining Rowing NZ and Cambridge Yacht Club.

Meanwhile tourism continues to flourish. The visitor industry is strongly in growth mode with 16 percent more tourists in Waipa last year. Total visitor spend in Waipa is up to $166 million of which $31m is international money. Average stay nights across the year measured by MBIE are still less than two, indicating that winter and shoulder seasons are quiet and the town needs more winter activity.

New events for 2019 include a second UCI World Track event and a new feature, the NZ Classic Cycle Road Race which will be part of a Waipa cycling festival. Cambridge's signature events such as polo, Maadi, Waka Ama and equestrian lead a full summer schedule of more than 50 events.

Cambridge is more green valleys than silicon valleys.

That's the memorable phrase of Rocketspark co-founder and director Grant Johnson.

Cambridge Rocketspark

Rocketspark co-founder Grant Johnson.

It suggests the value of the town's lifestyle for a cloud-based business such as his, which could operate from pretty much anywhere in the world.

Grant is recently back from several years getting Rocketspark going in the UK, and is enjoying Cambridge's friendly vibe.

"It's a really nice town. People seem to take the time to chat – when you're buying something, say in a bookshop, and you end up having a chat with the woman behind the counter."

He's also struck by the way in which operators do things to a high standard, including a plethora of top restaurants to choose from when taking clients out for a meal.

The company set up in Cambridge in 2010, and now has a team of 12 including 10 in the town office. It provides a platform for businesses to easily create and run their own website, and Grant estimates about a third of the town's businesses would use Rocketspark for their website. They have 14 design partners in the town – graphic designers and others who use Rocketspark to build websites for their own clients.

All that gives them a concentration of potential feedback virtually on their doorstep, which would be hard to replicate in a bigger city.

Grant also says the smaller scale of Cambridge gives an added impetus for customer service which flows onto how they treat clients around the world. "In a small town you are really aware that the degrees of separation between people are small so you know that great service will be rewarded with multiple referrals and poor service needs to be resolved pronto."

Cambridge Jamie

Networking has paid off for Jamie Everson.

When Jamie Everson moved with her partner from Taupo to Cambridge almost four years ago, she did the sensible thing – she started networking.

Jamie, who owns a digital marketing and social media business, soon realised she was in the right place for building contacts and relationships.

She started with the Venus business women's network. "There was a large community of women business owners there that was really amazing and they've been probably about 50 percent of the increase to my business."

Her accountant then referred her to another networking group and, in such a connected town, her Brightside Media business flourished.

"I think what's different about Cambridge is that they really want to help other business owners. They all band together and offer advice. There's a lot of referrals and networking. It's a really different atmosphere."

Jamie has lived and worked in Auckland and other parts of New Zealand, and in major cities around the world, including London, Melbourne and Jakarta. Out of all of them, she says she's never been anywhere as safe and community-based as Cambridge.

It also offers the benefit that she can readily tap into numerous other businesses in the town with connected skill sets.

"There's a real buzz in Cambridge at the moment. There's already a strong community here but I think it will actually increase a lot more over the years and become even more vibrant. I reckon it could be a leader in community spirit because it is really closely knit but welcoming to outsiders as well."

Think of Cambridge as the hub. Radiating out from it, Rotorua and Tauranga are each an hour away, Hamilton is a scant quarter hour, Auckland maybe an hour and a half, depending on its notorious traffic.

That's more or less how Andrew McCathie sees it, and so it makes perfect sense that he and business partner Sam Mackenzie would base their Nova Health business in the town, in one room of a restored villa across the road from the town square.

It no doubt plays a part that they are Cambridge boys, having gone to school there together. Andrew brings a business background, Sam trained as a nurse, and their agency retains its original focus on providing palliative care nurses, while also expanding to cover other elder care.

They bought the business three years ago, and Andrew started out running it from a spare bedroom; these days they have a staff of up to seven, with about 200 nurses and caregivers on their books, and this year they added Auckland to their existing presence in the Bay of Plenty and Lakes districts as well as Waikato.

Despite the growth, they have no intention of shifting from Cambridge, which provides everything they need. It's a five minute walk for Andrew to see his insurance broker or lawyer, and a 10 minute walk from home.

"The lifestyle, the community, the vibe here, to walk down the street, to know people, to feel included, is something that big cities lose," he says.

"Cambridge is growing and it's inevitably going to grow more, it's a very attractive place to live."

Debbie Simes owns and operates Footloose Shoes and says she decided to open up shop in Cambridge because of the town's uniqueness.

Cambridge Footloose

Debbie Simes of Footloose Shoes.

In 2011 Debbie decided she wanted to follow her dream of having a business. She has always been living in Cambridge and believed the town would be a great place to start a business because of the small community aspect.

"Cambridge is a good place to do business, it is growing, but it is still very much a small community-oriented town," says Debbie.

She believes the charm and uniqueness of the town attracts people. Her store fits right into the towns vibe of offering a boutique shopping experience.

Footloose Shoes offers locals and customers a range of high quality footwear across top brands including Neo, Hogi, Minx, Bresley, Gelato, Dr Martens along with many other European brands. She also sells jewellery, scarfs and designer handbags.

In her eight years of business in the town, Debbie says she has seen it grow rapidly with a lot of outside people from Auckland and overseas relocating.

The key to doing really well in business is to look after your customers and be involved within the community, says Debbie.

"As long as you look after your customers, they'll like to keep supporting local businesses and keep the shops in the community," says Debbie.

For the business community in Cambridge to keep thriving and the people to keep coming, Debbie says the town only needs to keep it's unique aspect intact.

Stephen Deverell is not a stranger in Cambridge, he has been in business there for many years now and currently owns the Mitre 10 Mega.

He started out with Cambridge Timber Hardware before buying a small Mitre 10 store approximately 15 years ago. In 2010 he decided to upgrade to the mega brand and has since owned and operated the town's Mitre 10 Mega.

He is now working within a joint business venture with a partner and says that in the past five years he has seen substantial growth in the community and his business.

"In the last four or five years we've seen a strong growth in the business, we actually managed to double our turnover," says Stephen.

He does admit though that business is starting to slow and thinks this is probably due to the competition in town and their proximity to Hamilton.

Cambridge Mitre10

Stephen Deverell of Mitre 10 Mega.

Stephen has enjoyed doing business in the area for so long because he believes Cambridge is a nice small rural town that has lots of charm.

He says people are attracted to Cambridge, because of the charm, because it is self reliant and it offers locals and visitors a range of activities.

To see further growth in Cambridge and the businesses, Stephen thinks they need to become more proactive and creative towards bringing in more infrastructure to the area.

Currently he is supporting the idea of a third bridge to be built in town, he believes this is a huge priority and infrastructure is now the key to extending growth.

"I think we can do better with infrastructure around town, these things will allow the town and business to grow better and faster," says Stephen.

René Aveyard and Julia Crickett are the stylish ladies on the corner of Duke Street in Cambridge who own and run their very own fashion store, Rumor.

Rene comes from a banking background in London and Julia had been working as a florist before their paths crossed at Wintec 10 years ago.

The pair had been studying fashion design at the institute. When they graduated, the opportunity to have their own store in Cambridge popped up for them.

Cambridge Rumour

René Aveyard and Julia Crickett of Rumour.

"This store had become available when we finished our studies and we thought that it was a good time to take it over," says Rene.

They have now owned the store for seven years and stock over 50 streetwear and designer brands including Federation, Huffer, Coop, Status Anxiety and even their own label, Loaf & Coco.

Rene said they always wanted to have their own label and two years ago they put that dream into action. Their label is made in New Zealand and focuses on being a luxe essential and wardrobe staple provider.

They have liked running their business in Cambridge for so long because of the people and the charm of the town.

"We've always loved Cambridge, the people and the community are very loyal to the local businesses here," says Rene.

The pair were attracted to Cambridge for all the reasons they think other people are. To them the town is buzzing, with so much going on and so much to see and do.

"We are really lucky, we have quite a lot of neat little stores and nice places to eat and so we have a lot of people coming through quite often," says Rene.

They are happy with how business is rolling at the moment, they do hope though that their town doesn't get much bigger. To them Cambridge is the perfect little town and they want to keep it that way.

- Waikato Business News

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