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Battle begins for small business

Written on the 25 January 2013

Battle begins for small business

By Claire Heaney
Herald Sun

Following a difficult period for the small business community, 2013 will be a pivotal year. Claire Heaney reports.

A big year looms for the small business community.

After years lobbying for a voice in the federal Cabinet, the small end of town finally won that battle last March, when the Small Business Minister Brendan O’Connor joined the inner sanctum.

This, in theory, will give the sector a louder voice in a crucial election year.

This year also sees the appointment of the first National Small Business Commissioner.

Mark Brennan, a career public servant, with a dash of his own small business experience, is seen as a promising choice.

The unassuming, sportsloving Brennan was Victoria’s first business commissioner, and most other states copied the position.

More broadly, low interest rates have been positive for small businesses across the nation, but so far have failed nation, but so far have failed to take the heat out of the Australian dollar ensuring manufacturers still compete with cut-price imports.

Franchise Council of Australia deputy chairman Stephen Giles said while the past year had been difficult, the franchise sector continued to out-perform many small businesses.

Franchisees and franchisors are close to their customers and move quickly to adapt,’’ Mr Giles said.

He said crippling retail rents continued to be a bugbear.

I think landlords need to meet the market a bit more. Sometimes it has to get to the stage where people will almost walk away before will almost walk away before they do anything.’’

Australian Retailers’ Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said while some of the smaller shopping complexes were likely to negotiate with tenants, it was not the case with the bigger landlords.

He said the plight of struggling smaller shopping strips continued to be a problem.

Mr Zimmerman said traditional bricks and mortar outlets were still coming to grips with e-commerce.

Some were doing well by complementing online offerings with strong customer service and unique goods.

While the much-promoted online shopping sale called and penalty Association online shopping sale called Click Frenzy late last year seemed like a fizzer, Mr Zimmerman said some outlets did well out of the day and garnered increased interest in their websites.

He said customers were increasingly using mobile devices to find goods before walking into shops and asking for them.

They will go into a shop and say I know you have this because I have seen it online’,’’ he said.

He said penalty rates would continue to be a hurdle for small business.

The ARA is among the groups to make a submission to Fair Work Australia seeking a reduction in penalty rates.

The big pressure on business is wages and penalty rates,’’ Mr Zimmerman said.

The Franchise Council’s Mr Giles agreed that penalty rates were a big impediment to prosperity.

While groups such as the Council of Small Business of Australia have championed the appointment of a National Small Business Commissioner, Mr Giles questioned if it was adding yet another layer of red tape.

COSBOA executive director Peter Strong said while it was pleasing to have greater prominence in Cabinet, it was now time for the Federal Government to "bring home the bacon’’ particularly in an election year.

He said red tape relating to paid parental leave and superannuation had to go.

And a specific small business award should be developed to cater for the unique situation small business operators found themselves in.

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