Going above and beyond to please

Over the holiday break I was sent an email which had a picture (or a jpg) attached to it, which stated: “I have declared January a ‘free trial’ month for the year — and now I am going to pay for the rest.”

Both funny and apt as January regularly speeds by at rates not experienced through the rest of the year — the winter months being a particular case in point.

Over the summer break I lost weight, got fitter and gave new life to my personal plan. I followed the instructions of a mentor to completely switch off emails, and while I was still available for clients and did a little bit of work over the two weeks away, this worked well.

But while you are away the wheels of business keep turning, and I experienced some outstanding examples of Whanganui businesses doing great things.

The first was the service and excitement provided by Whanganui Scenic Experience Jet and its jetboat tour of the Whanganui River.

We were joined by friends from Motueka, who found it a real highlight of a tour of the entire North Island. And I totally agree.

Business owners Claire and Mark Wickham have developed a truly memorable experience, whizzing around the water and seeing first-hand the prehistoric wonder of the river, and allowing you to stop and explore the natural beauty of our greatest natural feature.

It is an experience that has you thinking about coming back and doing a more extensive tour (for example, up to the Bridge to Nowhere).

This was a business that was successful in the 2016 Chamber of Commerce business awards.
The second example of a great Whanganui business was one where the customer service was above and beyond.

We have all had appliances and tools that either don’t perform or fail spectacularly. For the Bells, 2017 followed a pattern set when our water pump failed on Christmas Eve 2015. This time it was our washing machine, which died on New Year’s Eve, and so I reached out to Pahia and Njela Turia of Appliance Repair Care.

Given that New Year’s Eve fell on a Saturday, my expectation was that they could arrange a temporary machine the following Wednesday.

But true to the high levels of service and care which others who worked with them have talked about, we had a temporary machine delivered on the Saturday by the owners themselves. A crisis averted and expectations exceeded.

The third, and by no means last, example was last weekend, provided by John Bartley and the team at Stihl Shop.

While away on holiday we got to experience a Weber barbecue and, our old one being a bit long in the tooth, decided to check out the range.

The sale of a replacement to us was a given, but what wasn’t was them letting me take the display model (because my ability to self-assemble is non-existent).

They also really know their product so I was confident that we were making the right choice, and having it delivered Saturday morning was really appreciated.

Three businesses doing great things, but the key is that they exceeded expectations.

Airborne heroes fill vital gap

Last week I highlighted 10 businesses which, in my view, stood out as excellent in 2016.

I had a lot of feedback which was great, with a number of business owners reminding me why they deserved consideration and – to be fair – they all had pretty good cases. It is great to see the quality of service and products strong and improving in Whanganui.

I said I was going to choose an overall winner of the inaugural Business Zen Award and (there is no point dramatising the announcement because by now you have already scanned the article …) the winner is:

Air Chathams

This article won’t mention by name the business that once provided the passenger air service into Whanganui before it dumped us, but I make inference on the basis of the significant gap that was created by the move.

Such a gap could have been a major deflator of economic activity and a long-term detractor from the many great things our city and region has to offer.

When I first heard that our only option for flights could have seen us stuck with a Palmerston North commute, it felt much like a Rhys Darby safety video – unfunny and anger-inducing.

Enter Air Chathams which has picked up the Auckland route since we bade farewell to the taxpayer-owned incumbent.

It was (and is) a brave move which is not without risk, but Air Chathams represents that great spirit of small-to-medium business which we see in our region – plucky determination, malleability and a desire to do really well.

The values of this business are evident in each interaction. Gone are the days of sitting on hold for ages to make an inquiry – the phone is answered in seconds by a friendly voice. Gone are the tiny planes with no service – replaced by a fast plane with leg room, coffee and Timtams.

But most impressive is the fact that the extortive pricing for Whanganui travellers which accompanied our national carrier has been replaced by extremely reasonable fares.

This from an airline which many of us would not have known a great deal about – however, Air Chathams is now the largest privately-owned airline in New Zealand, owned by Craig and Marion Emeny.

They started in 1984, based on the Chatham Islands, and flew between Chathams and Napier with passengers, general freight, and seafood. They now export 400 tonnes of live crayfish annually, and over 700 tonnes of Chatham Island seafood of all species.

Over the years Air Chathams has operated under lease and contract for a number of airlines, and have operated in Fiji, Niue, Darwin and the Kingdom of Tonga. They have now set up a large hangar facility at Auckland International Airport, which provides flight operations and engineering services to Air Chathams and other third party airlines.

One of the unfortunate “maxed-out corporate” (to quote a friend of mine) decisions by the previous provider of Whanganui’s air service was to restrict access of paid Koru Club members to the airport domestic lounges.

In this regard, Air Chathams is looking at incentives for travellers such as frequent flyer and reward benefits. Their fast bag equivalent is a good feature too.

Talking to them, it is clear that Whanganui is very important to Air Chathams. They have invested heavily in the Saab 340 aircraft for Whanganui, and it appears to be doing the trick based on good patronage in the past two months operations and great feedback from the travelling public.

However, it remains crucial that we continue to support them.

Duane Emeny of Air Chathams says they are “in this for the long haul”. This is an airline which isn’t just interested in providing a service, but to also develop a community and region by working closely with local business and government to help that happen.

I will sign off 2016 in the same manner (though not as accomplished) as Etevihe or “E” – who has to be one of the best hostesses in the air right now – I hope that you have enjoyed our journey through the year of business.

My Business Zen award winners 2016

The year is winding up, schools are almost out for summer (but not forever) and people are turning their attention to Christmas.

That includes me – although, as I get older, I don’t appear to have the same enthusiasm that I had as a child.

In preparing this article I pondered a number of potential subject matters. These ideas spanned from the marketing of annual Christmas songs, the materialism of the season and how it is incredibly hard to buy presents for me (and why chocolates are the great ‘go to’ present for ageing males).

However, after considering in brief some great customer service last week I have decided to commence … The Great Annual Business Zen Awards.

So, rather than regaling readers with stories of business yule, my penultimate article of the year will list those who I feel have contributed really well to our business fabric this year (some on the basis of reported success and others direct experience).

My final article will be fuller feature on the business which has impressed me the most in 2017.

Note that the criteria are purely in my head and no correspondence will be entered into blah blah blah (said with a smile).

And without further ado, here are the “finalists” (in no particular order):

1.Q-West
I had a chance to catch up with Q-West boss Myles Fothergill on a flight from Auckland last week, and his business is doing some amazing things, and the ferries which will provide transport options in gridlocked Auckland are built here. Also great to see Myles appointed to the Whanganui and Partners board.

2.Air Chathams
The air connection to our city is crucial and Duane Emeny and the team have taken a risk but provide a truly excellent service – we must support them!

3.Double Farley Creative Partners
The Whanganui Chamber of Commerce supreme award winner for 2016 is a business offering innovative services and new ways to work. If you are a small business, you should check out their “confluence” co-working spaces – a collaborative shared office.

4.Jolt Coffee House
The best and fastest coffee in town – end of.

5.Big Orange/Ceramic Lounge
Hailed by Heather Du Plessis Allen as the best café in New Zealand and you really should try the new menu (at Ceramic), the chef has pulled together something quite special.

6.4 Square, Anzac Parade
Customer service is their ace and a recent article of mine was the most shared and commented on in many years – and all saying what a fantastic experience it is dealing with them.

7.Andersons Clothing
I am not a fan of shopping for clothes but I always choose this business when need arises (or Mrs Bell requires a new look). Their service around school uniforms is first class.

8.Monaghan’s Barbershop
A new favourite. Walk in, chill out, talk about footy while getting what little hair I have professionally cut.

9.Paige’s Bookstore
A wonderful range and a business which supports locals in many ways.

10.Country Lane
The place to go for gifts for your significant other. I still remember the efforts that they went to assist with and then beautifully wrap Mrs Bell’s birthday presents.

There are a number of other business who – to quote Donald Trump – are “really, really great”, but these have stood out just that little bit more in 2016.

Next week I will write a feature on one of these business as part of my final article for the year. In the meantime, I hope that you get to enjoy the lead-up to Christmas.