With Mark Knoff-Thomas (Newmarket Business Association CEO)

Mark Knoff Thomas 5aWhile Steven Adams may have made his name in the NBA, CEO of the NBA (Newmarket Business Association, that is) has also been taking it to the hoop, so to speak, in facing the future of retail and what it takes to make sure Kiwis continue to go to Newmarket in Auckland.

– Have you always been focused on a career path in business?

Although I spent many years of my early career providing professional advice to others, I didn’t really apply the same methodology to myself! My career has evolved without much planning; it has really come down to the people I have met and strong, mutually rewarding connections I’ve made. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with start-up businesses, SMEs, large multi-national organisations and currently a not-for-profit. Over the years I’ve been a teacher, broadcaster, recruiter and a celebrant, with recent roles being senior leadership positions.

– What’s your vision for NBA? Did you bring this with you to the CEO’s role?

I didn’t come with any preconceived ideas. However, I did lots of due diligence beforehand and spent time gathering feedback and a solid understanding of where the NBA was at. I used this research to take on board collective views and then charted a new, prudent course of direction. Consequently, we have become more open, accessible, transparent and communicative, with a much more targeted focus on consumers.

– When exactly did you take on your role and what major initiatives have you set in place since?

I started at the NBA mid 2014, and since then we’ve become far more commercial in our approach – and that’s more reflective of the 1300 diverse businesses we represent. We have adopted an ‘always on’ marketing strategy and have moved away from being overly events-heavy. We have also launched a monthly print publication called NEWMARKET.

– What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis?

My role is incredibly varied. One minute, I’m attending a red-carpet event, or hosting politicians, and the next I’m with the Auckland Council refuse contractors investigating dumped rubbish bags; everything from high-level strategy meetings and attending launches, to dealing with cracked pavers and tree plantings. No two days, or even two hours, are the same, and I really love that.

– Has Newmarket become the premier retail centre of central Auckland? If so, do you think Queen Street can reclaim that crown?

Without a doubt! Newmarket is a retail powerhouse and has proven history as a major trading destination. Over the years, people have travelled far and wide to buy and sell products here. Frankly, that hasn’t changed; we’re just a bit more sophisticated in our offering these days. We have beautiful, tidy streets, and we’re not too congested. We have a huge variety of stores, a substantial mall and an amazing strip selection of shops. Interestingly, retailers make up only about 33% of our members – the remainder are hospitality, commercial, corporate and some light industry.

With regards to Queen Street (it desperately needed to lift its game) being the main street of Auckland City, we need it to be strong; we need all retail areas to be strong.

– Online shopping threatens to usher in the demise of retail stores. Is it a case of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ retail stores become extinct?  How has Newmarket adapted to compete with online shopping?

I don’t think retail stores will ever become extinct and it’s not a case of online versus bricks and mortar – the two complement each other really well. Smart retailers focus on the customer experience – whether online or in store – and most embrace both. They understand their consumer base may choose to interact with them physically or virtually.

Many Newmarket retailers have embraced omni-channel retailing. Fundamentally, I think retailers have to ensure their customer experience will keep consumers coming back to spend.

– What can shops offer that online retailers can’t?

There’s more emotion involved when you are in a physical store. All your senses are stimulated, and you have genuine, human experiences. For me, shopping is a tactile experience offering personal interaction with people. You just can’t beat that, in my view.

– What can be done to boost retail foot traffic; does it need boosting?

We always want more foot traffic! The days of retailers opening their doors and waiting for customers to walk in are limited, if not over. Smart retailers constantly work on in-store activations, leveraging their databases and effectively engaging with their customer bases.

Newmarket is morphing into more of a town centre. It has two new malls in the pipeline, an established range of superb main street shops and nearly a dozen new apartments going up. Collectively, these developments will ensure foot traffic climbs and our residential population increases.

– If you could be Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs for one day, what would you do first and why?

Three things – apply GST to all online purchases; ensure multi-nationals pay their fair share of NZ tax; and tie the income tax thresholds to inflation, so they rise accordingly – all of these initiatives would ensure a level playing field.

– If you could invite any three business owners/company founders to dinner, who and why?

Harry Selfridge (the American who founded Selfridges in London and set the standard for retail excellence), Bill Buckley (a true Kiwi bloke and inventor who has consistently punched miles above his weight on the global stage) and Tim Berners-Lee (the brains behind the World Wide Web).

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