Tokoroa business woman shows community spirit

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A Tokoroa business that exemplifies the power of community spirit has responded to Covid-19 by giving back and supporting locals.

Events company The Event Girl saw its revenue disappear with the Covid-19 lockdown, after being on track for a great year.

“We were due to have our biggest year ever,” says owner Rebekah Garner. “2020 was going to be massive for us. I had just hired a full-time event manager. “You know, the team has grown, we’re all prepped, and probably about 72 hours before lockdown happened we lost everything. We went to nothing.”

Rebekah Garner

She turned to Ignite, a Tokoroa business association she founded last year, to come up with a memorable Mother’s Day initiative that injected $20,000 into the local community.

Garner could see other local businesses struggling like hers, and contacted them through Ignite to gauge their interest in being involved in a Mother’s Day collaboration.

She bought vouchers and products at full price from local florists, balloon sellers, hairdressers and clothing stores, packaging them into bundles to be sold via a plug-in on The Event Girl’s website and Facebook page – provided free by their web designer, who is also a local.

The bundles, each with an Event Girl balloon, allowed customers to support many different local businesses in one convenient purchase, and Garner and her team were inundated with orders.

“I didn’t comprehend the amount of admin to process all those orders. We got absolutely slammed,” she says. “Every day I think we had three of us working full time, right up to Mother’s Day. And then my whole team came in on Sunday and we worked 11 hours.

“The community [here]is really big in supporting each other and I think that’s why the Mother’s Day collaboration went off as much as it did.”

She has had requests for similar initiatives to be rolled out on Father’s Day, and year-round for birthdays. In the meantime, The Event Girl has turned to balloons and grazing platters to help make up some of its lost income.

“I wouldn’t have survived without the government wage subsidy, so that’s been a massive lifesaver.

“We’re just doing as much as we can, with the hope that we go to level 1 soon and can go back to normal.”

Garner has shown her support for locals in other ways beyond the Mother’s Day offering.

That includes paying her lease through the lockdown, despite the plunge in revenue. She says her landlord is a small business person who owns a local food outlet, which was closed during the lockdown. “So I didn’t want him to suffer.”

She says she also chose, against the advice of her accountant and business manager, to refund all the deposits The Event Girl had for bookings.

“I thought, you know, Covid is shitty enough as it is, and those people are struggling and hurting too.”

She sees the community rallying during the pandemic.

“The community is trying to shop local for everything,” she says. That includes supporting her own business through the purchase of their balloons, and she says Tokoroa residents are also asking local businesses if they can supply products rather than heading straight to big box department stores.

“So they’re even trying to spend local if we don’t already have it here.”

There’s one part of the story that isn’t strictly local: Garner sings the praises of Rotorua-based business support company Firestation, which helped her pivot the business during Covid-19 and had also helped her earlier.

“I did one of their courses and it exploded my business and so I went to them with the idea for Ignite and they helped me work with the council.”

Ignite is aimed at bringing business owners together to collaborate, bond, engage, and learn from one another.

“Support networks for business owners make businesses stronger, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve with Ignite.”

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