Regarding 7 day trading and deregulated trading hours in Geraldton

To lighten a Monday morning, I posted a tongue in cheek message on our Facebook page about CGG not being open on Sunday. 

Anyone who's been following Everything Geraldton for more than 5 minutes knows we've been supporters of deregulated trading hours for a long time. But I acknowledge the fact that those who make the laws that will affect the days retailers have to work, are themselves not compelled to work on a Sunday. Hence the post. 

Mayor Van Styn rightly pointed out that the services that make sense for the CGG to open on a Sunday, such as Aquarena, the tip, and the Library, are in fact open. Not to mention others such as the Visitor Centre. 

So while I personally fall on the side of free trading hours for all business owners, I DO understand some of the arguments against 7 day trading, and am sympathetic to them. 

But as always when this topic rears its head, most often the arguments are made by those with the most to gain/lose. 

For example, a few years ago we pointed out the hypocrisy when a certain local supermarket that is open each Sunday, funded a campaign that argued that Sundays were a family and sports day, and thus businesses should not be open. Except them of course. 

During council meeting debates another local business owner stood up and argued that he could not sell Vegemite as cheap as Woolworths or Coles, and that's why the big supermarkets shouldn't be allowed to open on Sunday. 

I nearly choked. Here a man was arguing that council needed to do what was best for HIM, rather than what was best for the 40,000 Geraldton residents. 

Hey, I'm sympathetic to a small business trying to compete. Try launching a small media start-up in a town like Geraldton and see how well treated you are by the likes of SevenWest.  But believe me, the council has never had a mandate to protect the interests of a handful of millionaire businessmen over the needs of the single parent trying to make ends meet. 


So what does deregulated trading hours actually mean?

When you walk around a shopping centre in Perth or Mandurah on a Sunday, you'll notice something very interesting. Many, sometimes most, of the independent retailers are closed. They don't have to open. And they choose not to. Coles / Woolworths / Kmart etc are always open. 

So just because the CGG is trialling deregulated trading hours, doesn't mean retailers will be obligated to open. 

In addition, most small retailers ALREADY have deregulated trading hours. 

This fact is often lost in the debate. 


So why are some business owners opposed to deregulated trading hours?

Competition. Plain and simple. The biggest losers of full deregulated trading will be anyone who owns small supermarket. Their unique selling proposition is (mostly) that they're open more often. 

There is one other reason, and it has to do with the fact that it is best for a community if EVERYONE is closed on Sunday. I can see the logic to this argument, and there are in fact business owners in town that subscribe to this view. These business owners COULD open if they wanted, but they put their money where their mouth is, and you can't call them hypocrites. 


Other businesses also have overlap with places like Target and Coles.

These businesses currently survive without having to open on a Sunday. But, should we all decide that Sunday is our new shopping day, Target would pick up that trade, leaving smaller business with a tough decision... open on Sunday to compete, or lose money, or go broke and close the doors. 


Some small business owners argue that as soon as Coles, Woolworths, Target etc have eliminated enough of their competition, they'll simply go back to trading whenever suits them, and that may or may not include Sunday, thus leaving Geraldton worse off in the long run. 

A case in point is the Woolworths fuel when it moved to Geraldton. 

For a short while, they were super competitive on price. They would always be lower than all the fuel stations in town, and there was just no way any fuel station nearby could compete. Woolworths could sell fuel at a loss for a century without blinking. Sure enough, the other fuel retailers in the centre of town closed down completely. And guess what Woolworths did after that. Yes, they raised their prices. By a lot. The other fuel stations learned the lesson, and didn't try to compete on price with Woolworths any more, making sure their price each day was slightly more than Woolies, and Geraldton went back to having fuel prices substantially higher than Perth, with MLA Ian Blayney having to send letters questioning why our fuel is so dear. (Although it should be noted, right now Geraldton fuel prices are on par with metro prices).


But it's hard to argue that deregulated trading is bad for jobs or tourism. Surely it's quite the opposite. And small businesses around WA seem to be doing just fine everywhere else there's deregulated trading hours. Moreover, it's council's job to make decisions that will be best for ALL of the residents, not just a handful of business people.  


Some of the laws currently make no sense!

There's a few businesses that currently can't open on a Sunday that make no sense at all. For example, BCF, the kind of store you desperately want to visit on a Sunday, cannot trade on Sunday. But Bunnings right next door is ok to open on Sunday. And certain franchises, because of how they are corporately structured, even though they're owned and run locally with just a small staff, are not allowed to open on a Sunday. 

There's also a limit on the amount of staff you can have if you open on a Sunday. So some busy stores that trade on Sunday are forced to NOT HIRE MORE STAFF because they'd lose their ability to trade on Sunday, which they love. 


So what does it come down to?

The decision regarding deregulated trading hours basically comes down to whether you believe the following:

1. All business owners should be allowed to choose when they open and close. 
2. Council should decide when each businesses should be allowed to open and close. And the more successful businesses should be penalised. 


How will this trial work?

It's worth noting that even in this trial, trading hours are not completely deregulated. 

You can click here to read about the CGG deregulated trading hours trial. 

The CGG have said that "At the end of the 12 month trail period a review will be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the deregulation of general retail trading hours as a means to stimulate economic activity and meet community needs and preferences."

It would be nice to know the exact parameters the CGG are using to measure the success or lack-thereof with this trial. It's unclear what "a review" will consist of. It could be the Mayor walking around town asking 5 people and getting a rough feel for things. Or it could be based on actual trading figures from dozens of retailers.

If the public is given, up front, a very clear picture of how the review will be carried out, and how the success of the trial will be determined, we could rest easy knowing that if it's clear that the new trading hours are not in the public's interest, it will be scrapped. And if it is in our interest, it will be implemented permanently. 

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Jason Smith

Jason is the author of Everything Perth. He’s also a law student, small business owner, husband, and father of three boys.