Dick Smith casual could see the signs

By Laurel Stowell

4 comments
Founder Dick Smith is critical of equity company owners' 2013 share float.
Founder Dick Smith is critical of equity company owners' 2013 share float.

A former casual employee at Whanganui's Dick Smith store could see the company's receivership looming when he worked there.

Unwilling to be named, the staff member worked during a "fire sale" in a previous summer.

He said the sale had staff wondering what was going on. It had very low profit margins - about 10 per cent compared with a usual 80 per cent.

"The distribution centre held back product during the sale to try and create false demand. From that and the sale put together we were thinking 'How is this viable?' Even before I left the company it was quite obvious that it wasn't going to last much longer."

He thought at the time Dick Smith would be in receivership before the latest Christmas.

"I don't know how they did it, but they really held it out. This Christmas absolutely destroyed them."

He felt for the four current staff at Whanganui's Dick Smith, who now cannot honour gift cards and store credits.

The shop is still trading, with a notice in the window about the receivership and not honouring gift cards and deposits.

The receivership was announced on January 5.

The receivers are Ferrier Hodgson, and a letter from them leaked to the National Business Review says there are 30 businesses looking to buy the stores. There are 393 stores across Australasia, with 3300 staff. New Zealand has 62.

New Zealand Herald business reporter Hamish Fletcher says the Dick Smith electronics business has had a chequered history.

Australian Dick Smith gave up control of the successful brand he created when he sold it to Australian supermarket giant Woolworths in 1982.

After that the number of stores grew and the product changed from electronic components to consumer electronics.

In 2012, the chain was bought by a private equity firm, Anchorage Capital Partners, for A$94 million. In 2013, Anchorage floated the business in a A$534 million public listing.

Since then, the company's shares have fallen to be worth just A$84 million on Monday last week, the day before receivers and administrators were appointed.

Founder Dick Smith has criticised Anchorage over the float, telling one Australian media outlet that the firm had "a lot of explaining to do".

Last year, Matt Ryan of Forager Funds said Anchorage had pulled off "the greatest private equity heist of all time", turning Dick Smith from "a $10 million piece of mutton into a $520 million lamb".

Anchorage has said it put in place "a rapid and highly successful turnaround programme" for the electronics chain.

The blame game for the chain's woes has begun, and the Herald's Hamish Fletcher says the founder, Dick Smith, is certainly not the person to blame.

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