When I need some time to think about a tough business situation (or non-business situation, for that matter), I walk around the corner to C4 Coffee and ruminate over a short black with cream. I’m not sure if it’s the walk, the coffee or simply the change of location, but coffee breaks are quite effective at helping remove mental logjams.
I was pondering things the other day over a coffee when Guy, the owner of C4 and the person who bought good coffee to Christchurch, came and had a yarn about a new mailorder coffee business that has been set up and which conveniently (although not for Guy) ripped off much of his branding to decorate their packaging.
Now Guy is a bit of a philosophical chap who tends not to whine much. Over 25 years of being in business he’s had his fair share of people treating him badly and his tendency is to just shrug his shoulders, down a long black and keep going. But the situation he told me was interesting and an example of just how uneven the playing field is for Kiwi businesses.
It seems that the individual or company that has set up a New Zealand coffee home delivery business, is actually based in Australia. Now that doesn’t sound like a big deal at face value – admittedly if you’ve got a strong parochial bent you’d be a bit huffy about an Australian company passing itself off as a Kiwi one – but other than that, fair’s fair, right?
Well, not quite. You see, were my mate Guy of a mind to expand his coffee empire and decide that the Aussies deserved to enjoy what Kiwis can and get C4 Coffee delivered to them, he’d have a bunch of hoops to jump through. Obviously, he’d have to sort all the logistical issues involved in Transtasman business, but those issues are the same for both sides, or so you’d be forgiven for thinking.
Turns out that if you’re a commercially minded person in Melbourne, Madras or Monteverde, you can buy a New Zealand internet domain name and, happy as Larry, trade as if you were based in New Zealand. So long as you had sufficient numbers of “yeah, nah” statements on your website, no one would know the difference. Now, of course, if you’re the sort of person that obsesses over ownership, there are ways of finding who owns the internet address of the site you’re looking at (they call it a WHOIS lookup, just in case you were wondering). But the fact remains that it’s far easier to pretend to be a New Zealand company than it is, for example, an Australian one.
Compared to his Aussie competitors, my mate Guy hasn’t got it quite so easy. If he wants to trade in Australia (and, indeed, as we had to do at Cactus Outdoor when we wanted to move across the ditch) he has to first register with the Australian authorities to get an Australian Business Number (ABN) and then go through the process of registering for tax and all the rest of the hoopla. And that’s before he even starts thinking about how to include “Gidday, cobber” into his website.
I’m all for making commerce easy and absolutely believe that, so long as national interests (like, the ability to generate tax revenue from trading) are protected, that we should make it easy for the market to do what the market does. But that only works properly when there’s a level playing field.
We’re only a little nation, and our ability to dictate to others is limited. My little coffee tale is a good example of how that impacts our entrepreneurs.