Community is key: Why rural retail is having a resurgence


After relocating from the city in search of a country lifestyle, Belle opened Texas Jane in 2019 with her business partner, Eloise, after identifying the limited range of fashion brands and products in Wagga Wagga. Despite strong demand, she said it was difficult to find local and international labels in the large regional hub at the time of opening. However, just a few years later, there’s an amazing range of retail businesses in Wagga that cover all bases for women living in the local area.


About 28 per cent of the Australian population live in rural and remote areas, and with these locations come distinct opportunities and challenges for retailers in these areas. 

According to Buy from the Bush founder Grace Brennan, the most significant challenges faced by retailers based in these locations include visibility and access, cost and timeliness of postal services, connectivity and lack of access to childcare services.

Belle explained that Texas Jane is able to run a strong e-commerce business, but faces logistic challenges, as the business isn’t able to provide same-day services. Another significant challenge is the frequency of natural disasters, which impact regional communities immensely.

She said the business relies on people who work in the agricultural industry – who make up a large segment of the Wagga Wagga population – to spend, and stimulate the local economy.  When fires, floods and droughts ravage those areas, the first thing to go is non-essential household spending.

She added that initiatives like Buy from the Bush are particularly helpful in connecting regional and rural retailers with new markets and customers.

“Being in Wagga Wagga, we’re really lucky because our region is supported by so many, different industries. But, there’s definitely small, regional communities that [rely] on individuals who work in the agricultural sector,” Belle told Inside Retail.

“Natural disasters are expected as part and parcel of life in these areas. [So] government support around stimulating and promoting regions that are going through the[m]– and trying to divert traffic from the cities into regional areas – is something that would be hugely beneficial for these communities.”

Accelerating e-commerce

According to Australia Post’s executive general manager of customer and commercial Gary Starr, the logistics firm has a very large delivery network that covers long distances, which typically means it takes longer to deliver to rural and remote areas than in metro areas.

Starr said that significant weather events have presented some challenges for deliveries, with post offices and delivery facilities impacted by flooding as well as local road closures, and the inability to safely access sites. He added that mail collection and delivery arrangements vary from place to place, depending on the size and needs of each community.

“A very small proportion of rural and remote areas do not have street mail delivery due to accessibility, delivery cost and the general volume of mail for the areas. In these instances, the nearest Post Office will hold mail and parcels for collection,” Starr told Inside Retail.

“We are very focused on the delivery service we provide to our rural and remote areas. The vast majority of our parcels arrive on time and we’ve invested heavily in our network to reduce complexity which helps us to deliver faster.”

During Covid-19 restrictions, Belle identified that the brand would have to adapt and figure out new ways to connect with people and conduct business.

Consequently, Texas Jane set up its e-commerce channel, which enabled customers to buy products from across Australia.

This is part of an acceleration of e-commerce in regional, rural and remote locations across Australia over the last few years. 

Starr explained that four in five Australian households shop online, with e-commerce representing 20 per cent of total retail spend.

While letters remain an important part of Australia Post’s business, the rise in online shopping demonstrates the changing needs of its customers.

“We have to continue to find ways to balance these important services for our community as more people embrace digital services,” said Starr.

Crisis-proofing the bush

After moving from the city, Belle believes the community and relationship-building aspects of operating in a regional area is unparalleled. 

She also said that some costs, such as rent, tend to be reduced compared to the city, and that there’s been a renaissance when it comes to the boutique shopping experience in these locations.

“Texas Jane is on Fitzmaurice St, which is an incredible melting pot of locally owned and independent retailers: from makers and creators, to retailers and restaurants,” she said.

“When you go to some [of the] cities, a lot of the major retailers offer the same type of goods. Here, each business offers a shopping experience that can’t be replicated.”

She added that customers from metro areas should consider supporting these businesses, because they might find quality products and services that can’t be found elsewhere.

“Once you start pulling on that piece of string, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and impressed by the number of incredible regional businesses that are out there,” she said.

Meanwhile, Brennan added that, when you buy from the bush, you’re making an investment in the future viability of small towns.

“Your dollars flow far beyond the cash register and make lovely ripple effects through rural Australia,” she said.

“You are creating layers of opportunity and diversity to rural Australia. You are helping to crisis-proof the bush.”


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