The 'Sea Change' Concept: Stories from franchisees of Quest's regional properties

The concept of a ‘sea change’ or ‘tree change’ is one which is probably contemplated by many an urbanite who endures long commutes, overcrowded public transport and hectic schedules. Throughout regional Australia, community spirit is palpable, the sense of belonging strong. And because life’s a little more relaxed, regional Australians have more time to spend on the things that really matter, like family and friends. Sports clubs, festivals, events, restaurants, nightlife, theatres, galleries, shopping – it may not be the big smoke, but regional Australia takes its lead from the capital cities through the variety and breadth of what it has to offer – and usually without the city price tag.

Visions of open spaces and fresh air, a five-minute drive to work, and a relaxed lifestyle are enticing propositions, which became a reality for a number of franchisees who took the opportunity to own a Quest Apartment Hotels franchise business in regional Australia.   With 37 regional locations, plus more growth on the horizon, Quest is the undisputed leader of apartment hotel accommodation in regional Australia.

The hub of the Riverina, Wagga Wagga is the largest regional city in NSW. Vibrant, cosmopolitan and welcoming, there is great natural beauty, period architecture, great shopping, career opportunities and affordable housing. Ben O’Sullivan, Quest Wagga Wagga Franchisee, has been at the helm of the business since 2016 with his wife Kylie.   

Ben cites the excellent Wagga Wagga community for his family made up of “genuine people”, the laid-back regional lifestyle, and avoiding the “rat-race” environment of the capital cities as reasons to invest and live in regional Australia.   

From a business growth perspective, Ben comments: “Inland cities are a hive for government and business activity. Due to the number of people relocating to the regions, there is a huge amount of investment in infrastructure and services, for example, the Inland Rail and electricity hubs.

“Furthermore, with the advancement of the National Broadband Network (NBN) more businesses are moving to the regions and with it comes more business activity.  Advances in connectivity created by the NBN mean that we are able to easily and efficiently communicate with our friends, family and colleagues located in the city through apps like Skype and WhatsApp.” 

In line with generally lower costs of living in regional areas, Ben also remarks on affordability of buying into a regional business: “Regional Quest locations are generally a lot more affordable than purchasing a Quest Apartment Hotels business in city areas.”

Getting into business in regional Australia is a great way to reinvent your working life. It's also an excellent way to become more involved in your new community. However, the public debate about our regional areas is severely prejudiced by negative generalisations. The most damaging of these generalisations is that ‘there are no jobs in regional Australia’. This is not the case and the data clearly shows consistent job growth in regions and a rising workforce shortage. 

“Since late 2016, job vacancy growth in regional areas has outstripped vacancy growth in our largest cities. According to the latest Internet Vacancy Index released by the Australian Government, vacancies in regions have grown by 20 per cent since February 2016 compared to only a 10 per cent increase in our largest cities,” says Jack Archer, CEO of the Regional Australia Institute.

“These growing vacancies are occurring across a range of job opportunities. Vacancies for machinery operators and drivers have grown by a staggering 44 per cent in regions in the last two years. Also, 35 per cent more technicians and trades workers are needed. Before jumping to the conclusion that it is only trades and lower skilled workers regions need, it’s important to note that vacancies for managers and professionals have also grown by 20 per cent and 23 per cent since February 2016. Both skilled and unskilled workers are needed to support growth in regional economies,” Archer continues.

The current rise in vacancies and growth in job opportunities in regions is no flash in the pan. Long term data shows that regional Australia reliably contributes new jobs to the national economy. Despite the end of many big mining construction projects in regions which caused a sharp downturn in jobs in what had been boom areas, overall 108,525 new jobs were created between 2011 and 2016 in regional Australia.

And the lifestyle that awaits seachangers and treechangers is certainly attractive.  With easy proximity to our nation’s natural assets, those who have made the move are taking full advantage of the attractions on their doorstep.

Quest Wodonga Franchisee, Natasha Callewaert, made the move from Melbourne to the regional border town of Albury Wodonga in 2013, along with her husband Jason and their two young boys.  Prior to this time, Natasha had managed Quest properties in central Melbourne for over 10 years. Natasha had spent some time in Wodonga and become familiar with the plans that lay ahead for the City of Wodonga including the growth pipeline for business opportunity.  Since their ‘treechange’, the Callewaert’s have also enjoyed the benefits of country living, with great access to the outdoor lifestyle, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and snowboarding are just some of the activities this family gets up to in their down time.

This sentiment is echoed by Quest Nowra Franchisee, James Blanchett.  James and his family made the move from suburban Sydney to the NSW South Coast in 2015.  

“We live in Kiama – a small, picturesque coastal town.  We have loved getting to know our town and are so happy for our kids to be growing up as part of a friendly, close-knit community in such a beautiful part of the world. Instead of battling traffic on weekends, we spend our time relaxing and enjoying the natural beauty of our local area, riding bikes, going to the beach, walking the coastal track or visiting friends, most of whom live within a five-minute drive,” says James.

“A similar story can be told for my involvement in my children’s schooling.  Now that I am self-employed, if I want to attend their school assemblies, concerts, or sporting matches I can do so without having to ask permission to do so from my boss,” James continues.   “This makes me feel so much more engaged with not only my family, but the broader community as well.”

Options for schooling are also strong in regional Australian cities.  Some families who have made the transition from the capital cities find that private schools are a lot more accessible and affordable than their city counterparts.

With much commentary on housing affordability at present, despite record low interest rates, a move to regional Australia - and the housing affordability it offers - is a compelling proposition for some.  If the lifestyle and community integration benefits aren’t alluring enough, some state governments have attractive grants on offer to first home buyers in regional areas.  For example, the Victorian state government currently has a $20,000 grant available to first home buyers in regional Victoria.

And do these Quest franchisees plan to stay in regional Australia for the time being?

“Absolutely, as I cannot highlight enough the financial, community and family benefits of owning a business and living in a regional location.  In fact, we are currently in the process of buying our second Quest business in regional Queensland. Quest as a franchisor do a lot of legwork before opening all of their locations to ensure there are signs of short, medium and long term potential,” explains Ben. 

“For sure – we love being a part of the South Coast community.  Amongst the local business community, there is a great spirit of support and solidarity that I just can’t imagine you would find in the city. The lifestyle benefits just don’t compare,” says James.  

A word of advice, however, for those serious about a seachange or treechange:

“Make sure you carefully consider services like schooling, childcare and jobs for members of the family who are not going to be working within the Quest business.  Also, take into consideration climate and the general sense of the region,” advises Ben.

And Ben’s concluding recommendation on moving to regional Australia:

“Just do it!”

 

With thanks to evocities.com.au