Opinion: Is David Jones losing its soul?

David-Jones_EmporiumDavid Jones is acknowledged as the oldest continually operating department store in the world. It began operations in Sydney 50 years after Europeans first settled in Australia. David Jones – the man – was a true merchant who set about creating an emporium that blended – in his own words –  “stock that embraces the everyday wants of mankind at large” with “the best and most exclusive goods”. From its foundation, the business was anchored in Sydney and its magnetic allure emanated from aspirational merchandise in a strong merchant culture that knew its customer intimately.

When David Jones retired for the first time and left the running of the business to investors, the business failed and he had to return from retirement to buy them out and resurrect the business by returning it to the merchant culture and aspirational focus that had given it life.

The contemporary David Jones business bears little resemblance to its origins as a family owned and controlled emporium. However as Vittorio Radice – the man credited with resurrecting Selfridges from a near death experience – said to me, “what originally makes you famous is what will sustain you”.

David Jones is now moving to Melbourne. Head office will be in the shared, purpose built compound of a Group. Ring any alarm bells? It is today owned and operated by a South African retail investment conglomerate. It is moving increasingly to verticality and cross-selling of Group brands blended with “strategically relevant international brands”. In the process of its relocation it will distance itself from its origins in many ways. Not the least of which is the loss of culture and intellectual property that resides in the many key executives who have refused to relocate and will subsequently leave the business.

In their formation years, David Jones was to Sydney what Myer was to Melbourne. Brilliant but very different merchant cultures infused with the nuances of their home bases. Now they will share a home city. They will arguably share an investment ethos rather than a merchant ethos. And while many question the contemporary role of a department store, I am not one of them. The problem is that most people do not understand what a department store really is and most disconcertingly that includes the very people who invest in them.

Making a business turn a profit is one thing. Sustainable profit growth over time is quite another. Applying intellectual rigour is very different from applying the skill and experience of true merchants. Soul matters. It informs the 1000 small decisions that a merchant takes every day which drives the success of the business. Your origin point matters, as does what put you on the map for your customers. If you are looking to grow your business think carefully about what you may lose in the process of what you think you may gain. Every action has unforeseen consequences and impacts. And something has been lost, is very often impossible to find again.

David Jones may or may not end up satisfying the current owners ambitions. But for every proprietor in the country there are lessons that can be learned from what they are doing and the way they are doing it. And the most important is never risk losing your soul unless that soul is utterly and irreparably corrupted. And I don’t believe that is the case with DJs.

Peter James Ryan is head of Red Communication and can be contacted on (02) 9481 7215 or at peter@redcommunication.com.

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  1. Amy Roche posted on March 6, 2017

    Great post Peter, I agree entirely... and well written. There is so much that can be done in Department Stores, so much space and excitement that 'could be' created for their shoppers.

  2. Evan posted on March 6, 2017

    The store seems pretty good to me. They sell good brands offer exchange and refund and stand by the products they sell. I understand you want to peddle your business though why single out a company that seems to be doing a reasonable job.

  3. Dave posted on April 23, 2017

    Some of my family members worked in the retail industry too. Infact my late father ran a rag trade factory in the Moorabbin area (then my silly cow of a mother flogged off the machinery too cheap, upon his sudden death). I am a great op shop fan & I have been buying used clothing from these op shops along Glenhuntly road & Chapel Street,over the years. But in recent times the quality of the donated merchandise has dropped off quite dramatically & the old school (now called "retro") clothing is being sold on-line by the retail(rip-off) charity shops , whom are too lousy to pay anyone, but still demand a "police check"-hence the old English saying "As mean as charity!" . Also many of David Jones 2nd hand items used to be dumped at the op shops, but increasingly (due to Paul Keating's 'economic rationalist' policies-cut all tariff barriers) Australia was flooded with "cheap" shoddy communist made crap from China (& don't tell me Chinese stuff is any good, because IT IS NOT!!!) . So thus the re-cycle chain goes 1) 1st Chinese made crap is dumped at DJs with sewn in brand designer labels, which means F**k All, when all of the same clothing articles are made in the very same factory in China!!! 2) Then the "surviving" clothing items are then (what's left of them) sent to charity shops, which are really no good any more, due to their poor quality, to begin with! But we in Australia threw away our clothing & textile manufacturing industries, because "we had to be competitive"(inc my late father's factory) , according the ideology of the Federal "Irish" Treasurers, Paul Keating & Peter Costello. 3) Now the old "retro" clothing is now highly sought after & sold on-line sites like Ebay etc. DJs are f****d! You can't get away selling Chinese (& other cheap Asian sweat-shop) trash anymore(neither can the rip-off op shops) . A brand/designer label, no longer means anything, if all of the clothing items come out the same cheap, sweat-shop factory in China (or now Bangladesh). Of course dumb Australians are import "junkies" & love paying thru the nose for poor quality cheap imported crap, just because it has a brand/designer label on it! And here's my poem I AM AN INDIVIDUAL The West has only, one mind The East has two minds! And the neo-liberal ideology of Economic Rationalism Has no mind, no heart or any soul!

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