The death of a New Zealand and Australian retail institution

“Dick Smith – that’s where you go…”

How many people remember that familiar jingle?

For decades Dick Smith was a New Zealand and Australian retail institution. It was a store where you went for to get parts for your electronics project – whether it was diodes, L.E.D. lights, or spare wire, Dick Smith had it all. The chain of stores that was set up by its name sake was

On Thursday I decided to say my farewells to this dying chain. I will say dying instead of calling it a store about to be executed because wandering around inside it looked depressing, as dying is. There were staff milling around not quite sure what to do with themselves. Some were just staring at empty shelves. Others were helping customers. None of the exchanges I heard either between staff or between staff and customers sounded particularly happy or chirpy. Many of the customers were just milling around too, perhaps taking in the fact that this would be probably the last time they entered a Dick Smith store.

The shelves were barren and will have become more so since I wandered around the Riccarton store in Christchurch on Thursday afternoon. What was left were a few phones from the major mobile companies, cords, plugs, U.S.B. bits and memory sticks. All around were signs noting what else other than stock was for sale. As the shelves themselves, and other fittings such as the security gates that detect anyone trying to steal items without paying for them are for sale as well, the death of Dick Smith stores will be when they are empty spaces with no character or life left in them.

After some wandering around, taking in the sight of a dying retail chain, knowing this is happening in stores all over Australia and New Zealand – Dick Smith had 363 stores across the two countries, including 35 in New Zealand, which will be closed by 29 April – I purchased a couple of memory sticks. All the good stuff had gone, despite the number of customers milling around possibly suggesting otherwise. After taking a couple photos of the store, I took a final look around and concluded that this particular store would be lucky to still be open at the end of trading on Sunday.

It is sad to see such an institution go, though I have been told their decision to make a foray into things such as flat screens may have been their undoing as there were numerous chains already in a competitive market. It is shocking because of the way in which the staff have been treated by management, though in some ways lower level management was as much a victim as the staff they were responsible for.

Come 30 April, New Zealand will be in the post Dick Smith era. We cannot save the store or the staff from losing their jobs, but if there are any lessons to be learnt they must surely be about how to treat staff in such situations as this, as the communication by all accounts has been abysmal at best.


1 thought on “The death of a New Zealand and Australian retail institution

  1. Dick Smith was my brother-in-law’s good friend. We all went ‘caving, tigether. The war was going on in Viet Nam. We were just awakening to noticing China.
    He started electronics selling back in the days when computers filled big rooms and you had to learn fortran 2 programming language and make punch cards to send to the machine overnight to perform its calculations. . There were transistor radios, which were amazingly small with transisters that replaced those great big valves There were electronic calculators that were replacing mechanical ‘facit’ calculators.
    Another brother-in-law was working at uni on ‘flip flop’ circuits, you know the 0’s and the 1’s.
    We all dabbled in electronics and needed to be able to get the transistors and the resistors and the capacitors. Dick got them for us.
    Yes, he sold the company. Yes it was successful. Yes it morphed into a ‘ready made’ electronics store. Yes, it could not transision to the level of the ready made consumer big boys. Yes it sad that such an Australasian institution is disappearing.
    Were to go now? Well my daughter works for RS components in th UK as their digital marketing manager. They were ‘ Radio Shack’. They have depots world wide. If you order from them online your order will arrive practically overnight. My husband has been playing with Rasberry PI’s from RS. Great fun. A small computer with usb input and wifi about the size of a cell phone but versatile – you can program what you want with it.
    I think DSE had to attempt the transition to ready made consumer electronics. They could no longer compete as an electronics parts store either.
    They were caught between a rock and a hard place.
    RIP DSE. I knew you well.


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