Earlier this year, New Zealand business owner Fiona Tomlinson made a very sweet move, taking her well-established macaron company with her as she relocated from busy Auckland to Hawke's Bay, on the North Island's pretty East Coast.
“I bought a really nice four bedroomed bungalow for a fraction of the price it would have cost in Auckland,” she says.
Indeed, her bold shift seems to have paid off big-time; she's left the traffic jams behind, her freight rates have dropped and she's connected well in her new community.
Fiona is part of a growing trend for savvy entrepreneurs who are leaving Auckland to set up business in picturesque regional areas, as the IMF reports that New Zealand's house price affordability ratio has dropped to the world's lowest over the last six years.
And while the Massey University Home Affordability Report shows parts of regional New Zealand (like Central Otago Lakes) are also seeing a spike in house prices, regions are still ripe for both lifestyle and business opportunities for those willing to take a punt.
Entrepreneurs have one big advantage in a sea change move: they won't rely on the notoriously tight job markets in smaller cities and towns.
But while internet and mobile access have opened up huge opportunities for those wanting to set up shop outside a major centre while still accessing a global market, business owners need to do their market research carefully if they will rely on up-take or services from the local population, or if they hope to find skilled labour to work on-site.
But despite anecdotes of Aucklanders cashing in their pricey city homes for life in smaller centres with cheaper housing, less stress, and a long-term trend for the city's population to shed residents to other parts of the country, demographers expect that New Zealand's biggest city will continue to thrive.
“Sixty percent of New Zealand's population growth over the next two decades will occur in Auckland, with the golden triangle being Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga," says Massey University sociologist, Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley.
He adds that, while there's evidence that some entrepreneurs are moving to regions, much of the move out of the city is those searching for a lifestyle change rather than a business opportunity.
Three very different New Zealand-based entrepreneurs spill the beans on the pros and cons in combining the sea-change lifestyle and rural Kiwi businesses:
Fiona Tomlinson says there's been a swag of benefits in relocating her macaron business from Auckland to Hawke's Bay in March 2016.
She now realises just what a hassle it had been to produce and transport her popular macarons (meringue- based biscuits sandwiched with a creamy filling) in Auckland.
Fiona bought the partly-established business around three years ago – and says she had spent an average of four hours a day criss-crossing the city by car.
With an airport nearby, Fiona has found her freight costs have actually dropped, and the time it takes to shift product has dropped dramatically – it is now easier to get her products to the South Island, so business is booming.
Her social life is also buzzing – “there's so much music and art here" and she's found it easy to make new friends.
Fiona can walk the short distance into town to have drinks and then catch a cab home again.
Support has come from the local business community too. “I've had lots of encouragement from the Napier Business Hub and the Napier City Council. There's also a business network, Great Things Grow Here, that I am part of."
Fiona's aim within the next 4-5 years is to have half a dozen food brands that she will develop.
Napier was a place Fiona had visited many times in the past and its blend of Art Deco culture and seaside living always appealed to her. Having made the change she has no regrets and an added bonus is her mother Irene, 87, who relocated too, is happy with the move.
Once she worked for the United Nations in Europe - but now Georgina Langdale is putting down roots near Napier, in the region she grew up in.
These days, she works full time on her own natural skin care business, Archeus.
Her apothecary workshop, where she hand batches all Archeus products, is just a steps away from her house and many of the flowers and herbs she uses, grow abundantly around the 2 hectare property she shares with her partner Al.
“Archeus is perfectly located for what I require; it's peaceful here so I am able to focus 100% on what I'm doing, yet it's not too far from town,” Georgina explains.
She says that operating in a regional area is no longer a barrier. “You can do so much of your business on-line,” she says. “If anything, [being regional] has helped because it gives Archeus a distinctive sense of place."
Archeus will turn three in December and Georgina is very happy with sales on-line and from an increasing number of retail outlets.
She also runs apothecary workshops to teach others how to make skin creams – and despite her more remote location, these have been successful.
Previously, Georgina's career took her all over the globe, but along the way she'd always fostered her love of nature by studying her “private passions" including aromatherapy, herbalism and massage therapy.
“For me quality of life was important,” she says, adding that living a rural existence has let her create a business that gave back to nature.
A percentage of all Archeus sales go to local conservation projects.
Having the courage to dive into her entrepreneurial vision has been “terrifying" but, she says, “I love the actual grit of running my business, it's very creative and stimulating."
When Sarah Gilbertson left her tourism career in Auckland to marry a farmer in 2008, she thought the skills and network she had built up wouldn't be much use in her new life on a remote rural property.
But fast-forward eight years (and three children) - and Sarah is piggy-backing on her previous occupation to offer “glamping” accommodation on Ridge Top Farm, the 1500 acre sheep and beef property she owns with husband Angus, in Tapuae, a tiny country settlement near Feilding in Manawatu.
Sarah was expecting her third child when she spotted an ad wanting landowners to set up “glampsite” franchises under the Canopy Camping brand.
Joining a franchise meant that much of the marketing was taken care of, and Sarah and Angus had a business template to guide them.
“It put all our ducks in a row in terms of giving me something to do at home and used my previous experience in hospitality and gave us a work/ life balance on the farm," Sarah said.
Sarah and Angus made the investment required, setting up a permanent and somewhat luxurious kitchen and bathroom on a scenic part of their property, along with semi-permanent canvas tents, beds with hotel-style linen and even outdoor luxury bathtubs.
Sarah's previous tourism experience has helped her spot opportunities for extra attractions for paying guests. Angus runs shearing demonstrations and clay target shooting, and Sarah has come up with a walking package complete with picnic lunch – and offers home cooked meals as a lucrative sideline.
In two years, the glamping business has grown steadily with an increasing number of international travellers keen to sample the great outdoors in comfort.
For Sarah, combining her previous career with country life has been the perfect combination.
“What makes it all the more sweet is the fact that we belong to a vibrant community with lots of young families and an excellent school,” she says.
Boosting Regional Business
Despite these successful stories, Spoonley says that boosting regional business will require a more comprehensive government policy framework – and better economic development strategies from the regions themselves.
“Every region needs something it can attach themselves to, to try and grow the innovation and diversity of their region,” he says, adding that there's a need for regions to identify common goals and invest in them.
Regions can be naïve about recruiting entrepreneurs, he said.
“Entrepreneurs often need like-minded people around them to spark off and work together, so co-location becomes important and there aren't many regions in New Zealand that can offer that; they offer a good lifestyle but often they don't provide the infrastructure or skilled people that an entrepreneur needs."
But it's not all bad: Spoonley cites three regions that have begun programs to attract business talent: in Hawkes Bay, Matariki plans to create 1,000 jobs per year for the next five years; Kawerau in the Bay of Plenty collaborated with a nearby Council to fill jobs on a large farm operation with out-of-work locals through a project called Seamless Boundaries; and in the Clutha district, a program called Ready Steady Work is boosting employment skills for local youth.
So the future can be promising for those making a sea change.