Emerging artists and designers transformed 12 shipping containers into tiny shops and designer studios last summer on Taranaki Street Wharf. The 12-week venture added over $250,000 to the Wellington economy according to an independent Angus & Associates economic impact evaluation report.
Tenants and products included jewellers, artists, a quilter, children’s fashion designer, interior designer, essential oils, women’s clothing and body products.
In what has been called a “terrific idea” by out-of-towners, the initiative is the brainchild of Wendy Jasper and Helena Tobin, the team behind the underground market.
“The pop-up village is a business incubator for emerging creative businesses and a stepping stone for them to go on to bigger things,” says Jasper.
The planned return of the village has been welcomed by Wellington’s acting Mayor, Justin Lester, and city councillor, Jo Coughlan, chair of the Council’s Economic Growth and Arts Committee. Lester says the village is a simple and very cost-effective way to get exposure for business start-ups, especially during the busy summer cruise-ship season.
Coughlan adds: “This initiative ticks all the boxes – it adds even more colour to a lively waterfront, it’s good for tourism and the local economy – and it’s a great way for creative businesses to get going.”
The report states that the initiative helps Wellington’s small business community and creative growth by building businesses with a view to full-time retail and export operations, and by creating networking opportunities for operators to interact with each other and provide a collegial, supportive community.
According to the report, there are various reasons for artists wanting to participate in the project. These include the opportunity as a new business to test a concept, to test having a retail space seven days a week, and to get direct feedback from customers and passers-by.
The report states that the key motivation of getting a pop-up shop was to trial a permanent retail store, and for this purpose it worked really well. The level of foot traffic was generally very good and the location near Te Papa was perfect.
There is also another, less obvious role for the village. “The shop operators were surprised to find they became ‘ambassadors’ for Wellington, helping direct tourists who were looking for assistance and advice,” says Jasper. “It gives tourists a peek inside our creative capital, and a chance to meet those who make it tick.”
“It’s a refreshing change from High Street shopping too,” adds Tobin. “There’s something magic about being able to purchase souvenirs made by genuine Wellingtonians.”
Reflecting on the experience, an operator says, “I now have three months of market research and sales stats that will help my financial forecasting and business planning as I develop my business and I had the opportunity to reach a broad audience from all walks of life, including international visitors.”
The report concludes that the venture has economic impact and social benefit to the region, helps to develop artisan businesses and contributes to Wellington’s creative culture for both locals and visitors.
The organisers are already gathering a list of potential new creatives for the 2016 village. “There are so many promising new creative businesses in our region, and this is such an innovative way to introduce them to the market,” says Jasper.
The next market will open January through to mid-March, and applications will soon be called by the market operators on their website www.undergroundmarket.co.nz and Facebook page.