A rapidly-growing virtual community is providing a lifeline for local small and medium-sized businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kiwi businesses are using the New Zealand Made Products Facebook group to promote their products and link up with consumers.
Twelve days after its launch at 10.30 this morning, the group had hit 104,700 members. By noon, it had reached over 107,700.
Some posts from business owners had gone viral in the group.
For upholstery business owner Vickie Davis, the digital community had been “a God-send”. Ms Davis creates her own cushion covers and bags for her company Vickies Originals Nelson. She also up-cycles 1960s and 70s furniture into “functional art” and does classic car upholstery.
“[Covid-19] hit my business way back in January… then it just deteriorated,” she said. Before the pandemic, Ms Davis said she mainly relied on tourists and market-goers for income at the Nelson Saturday Market.
“I've had sales and I also now have commission work booked in and people are going to send their pieces from all over New Zealand.”
She said after she made a post on the community group, she’d had nearly 3000 people visit her website over the past three days. She’d normally get about 60 over a similar time, but business had dried up over the lockdown.
“I’m now going to be able to tick along.”
Ms Davis said the lockdown had renewed interest in Kiwi-made things. After lockdown, she said she hoped Kiwis would buy from local businesses to help them get back on their feet.
“People have realised now how much we rely on imported stuff.
“Shop local. You might have to pay a bit more, but it’s quality.”
Meanwhile, Jasmine Adams of the family-owned Top 10 Holiday Park in Rotorua said the group had given her hope. The pandemic had led to the loss of tens of thousands of dollars worth of bookings after tourism in the region dried up.
“It was just the most devastating thing,” Ms Adams said.
“Hope is much better than money at the moment … just hope that the world will improve.”
Since making a post on the page, she said she received hundreds of inquiries and messages “from people with just kind messages and support”.
“It’s quite emotional,” she said. “It just went viral. It went crazy.”
While it wasn’t the holiday park’s first viral post on social media, she said this one was “so much more personal” as she and other business owners in the group had been sharing their personal struggles through the pandemic.
“It’s been overwhelming the response… there’s been zero negativity [in the group].”
Ms Adams said she got in at the right time last week while the Facebook group was a little quieter.
She also said the Facebook page had led her to start buying “the most random things” she didn’t know she wanted from other Kiwi businesses, whereas before she’d buy things online from overseas.
“The idea of becoming a self-sufficient country and using our skills… is exciting.
“Embracing our back yard is exciting,” she said
The group’s growth has taken its Auckland founder Sarah Colcord aback. Taking inspiration from a similar Australian Facebook group, she said she’d given up on constantly refreshing the page and watching the numbers grow by the hundreds each time.
“I myself, like others, lost contracts at the initiation of lockdown,” Ms Colcord said, who owns an event management business.
“[The Facebook group] was about creating a community of Kiwis who are really interested in buying New Zealand-made and connecting them with local businesses.
“I was sitting there at first… and kept refreshing. That’s how shocked and amazed I was.”
She said the page now “easily” contained over 2000 small and medium-sized businesses.
Ms Colcord said she hoped to create a directory of locally-owned businesses by the end of the week and develop resources to help small businesses grow.
“I’m working on getting up a website of some kind… in which people could promote their products.”
She said she hoped it would help bring renewed attention to the Buy NZ Made campaign that started in the late 1980s.
“Although they still exist, that narrative has somewhat drifted off,” Ms Colcord said.
“This message is something I want to push post-lockdown.”
With the group’s ballooning also came an increased workload to ensure each business’ post would receive as much attention as possible.
Ms Colcord said about 2000 posts were sitting in the group’s queue for approval. She said moderating the group, which she does for free, had turned into a full-time job as she staggered the posts and did quality control throughout the day.
She’d since enlisted the help of additional moderators, including Swanie Nelson who first started the Pātaka Kai movement.
A Colmar Brunton poll of more than 600 people released yesterday showed three in five New Zealanders planned to support locally-owned and New Zealand-owned businesses.
Research director Edward Langley told TVNZ1's Breakfast: "I feel like this period of lockdown has given us the chance to think and reflect upon our lives and we've made a lot of, if you like, Covid resolutions in terms of how we'd like to live our lives."
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said yesterday that with the pandemic, it was more important than ever for Kiwis to support their communities.
“We have a lot of small businesses who haven’t been able to generate any revenue over the last four weeks,” he said.
“Now is the opportunity for us to all support those businesses in our community… I really encourage New Zealanders - I always do, in fact - to buy local.”
Mr Robertson added: “Being conscious consumers is a really important part of all of our jobs in normal times and even more so now.”