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Clever online presence wins business award

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Think back to 1996. Jim Bolger’s National Government was in charge. Shihad’s debut album dominated our airwaves. And at the 1996 Waikato Business Awards, Fish City Hamilton was celebrating an extremely successful evening, winning awards for Small Business of the Year and Overall Business of the Year. 

Twenty-five years later, Fish City Hamilton still keeps things fresh and exciting. They have established a robust online presence with a tongue-in-cheek brand voice that saw them win the Social Media & Marketing award at the 2021 Waikato Business Awards. 

Describing themselves as “a bunch of good buggers”, the Fish City Hamilton team are humble, adventurous lovers of the outdoors. They pride themselves on being a knowledge source for anglers and hunters in the Waikato and wider New Zealand. Family-orientated, staying genuine, and having fun are core values for the business, evident in their online content. 

General manager Max Christenson is the son of Ross Christensen, one of the founders, and has helped steer the fishing and hunting retail business through a period of rejuvenation. For Max, winning the award and continuing to grow the successful business started by his father and his friends has been an incredible experience.

“For me personally, coming on and helping the business win the award has been pretty special. It’s a validation of all the work we’ve done over the last couple of years, and it’s been pretty cool to see how well the team has embraced the change. We’ve had to change everything, from our inventory system to how the different sides of the business are structured.” 

A few years ago, Fish City Hamilton was in a vastly different position. The showroom had seen declining revenues for ten years, and an outdated website, unlinked to the inventory system, was creating headaches for employees and customers alike. That is when Fish City
Hamilton decided to embrace digital and invest in its online systems and customer experience, a decision that has paid off considerably. 

“Since we started the website journey and leaned into that side of our business, we’ve seen revenue increases of 40 percent per year over the last three years. Twenty years ago, you needed a separate retail store to reach customers around the country. Now we can reach customers from Auckland to Christchurch through our website presence. While we’re a Waikato-based business, we’ve transitioned to a national company reaching customers from north to south.”

Having a crisp, user-friendly website is only half of the new offering. A clever, genuine and comedic brand voice on social media has seen Fish City Hamilton’s online audience explode, with 15,000 loyal followers from all over the country consistently sharing, commenting and engaging with the retailer’s social media content. 

Max credits this to a strong understanding of their customer base, knowledge gained through almost 30 years operating in the fishing and hunting space.

“You’ve got to resonate with your target audience. Our audience is anglers and hunters, and we know they like genuine raw footage with a comedic twist. You don’t need to put together a professionally cut video; something they like with an off the cuff, detailed explanation comes across as more authentic.”

“We aim to be a knowledge base for our customers, so they turn to us and social media when they want to know something. Having genuine educational content enables us to position ourselves as industry experts. We don’t even use a call to action most of the time. We only use it when we have an excellent deal to offer people.

Like any business over the past three years, Fish City Hamilton has not been exempt from the pressures of Covid, although not in the way you might expect. After the first lockdown, predicting a quiet winter, Fish City Hamilton started several expansion projects, including building a new workshop, recladding the showroom and redesigning the website. However, the lull never came; instead, Fish City Hamilton experienced a surge of demand from anglers and hunters keen to get back outdoors. 

“As soon as people could go fishing again, it was game on. We ended up juggling the most growth we’ve had in years alongside multiple expansion projects simultaneously. It was a very challenging and interesting experience for us and one I think we handled exceptionally well.”

The success of the last few years has the Fish City Hamilton team excited and recharged to continue helping anglers, boaters and hunters across the country create their own adventures. 

“We love the Waikato,” Max says. “It’s where our family has always lived. It’s a great community for fishing with coasts on both sides and easy access to good hunting spots all over the region. It’s the perfect location for a hunter/fisher type person. We plan to continually improve our website’s customer experience until we have the best in the country, guaranteeing our customers can make the most of our beautiful outdoors.”

It is an exciting time for Fish City Hamilton. The business has returned to its roots that made it so successful 25 years ago. A focus on innovating the customer experience while offering exceptional product knowledge will undoubtedly see the local fishing fanatics competing for the Supreme Award again soon. 

“It would be nice to come back and win the Supreme Award, but we are thrilled with winning the Social Media & Marketing category for now. I want to thank the entire team for their contributions. The marketing team does an awesome job on the social and digital side of things, while our showroom team works hard to ensure they are up to date with their product knowledge to provide our customers with an incredible in-store experience. There have been many people involved in winning this award, and it’s because they all genuinely care about our customers that we were able to win.”

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