On a beautiful July Sunday afternoon, I walked into the Stuttafords Eastgate store, determined to get my favourite perfume at 80% less at their closing down sale. What greeted me was none of the usual madness that goes with a retail sale. But rather, the ghost of retail past, empty shelves, whole departments cordoned off with barrier tape.
A Ghost Retail Store
The once opulent shelves, lying bare, no Gucci, Lancome, Estee Lauder…. just nothing. The staff gathered at their till points, looking pretty much useless and wondering why “us” the shoppers were still there.
I reached for my smartphone, I had to capture this. A ghost retail store. I glanced across the vast expanse of open floor, and over there, was another “shopper”, capturing the desolate Stuttafords on camera. We passed each other in the aisles. “How sad” she said. “Yes, how sad”, I said.
The Harrods of Joburg
I took a moment to reminisce on my childhood years, growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when Stuttafords was the Harrods of Johannesburg. I remembered taking the bus, or even grander, the train to Park Station Johannesburg. It was a real weekend treat outing, walking down Eloff Street, where all the grandest department stores were…. Greatermans, John Orr’s, and Oh, Oh, of course, Stuttafords!
Stuttafords was the grandest of grand. It had all the departments, everything you could ever want in a department store. And, it was oh so posh! I remember going for tea and scones in the restaurant. My family was by no means rich or wealthy, but when we had tea at Stuttafords, we were grand, and living the high life.
But, don’t take my word for it. According to Gerald Garner who runs tour company, Joburg Places, “ It was like Harrods is to London – something of an iconic store, as quoted in Financial Mail’s synopsis on The Death of Stuttafords.
The Death of Stuttafords
But, the question begs. What has caused the death of Stuttafords? Was it in fact the apparent bad blood between the two main shareholders, the Rubensteins and the Ellerines? “Arguments are often why family-owned businesses don’t make it to the second generation.” Says Pavlo Phitids, Aurik Business Accelerator’. “Stuttafords had a great business model.” “They created a wonderful experience. But things have changed.” “Stuttafords is South Africa’s Kodak”, says Phitids.
Be it the family’s influence, or shareholder conflicts, the collapse could have been avoided if the decision-makers had realised that even great and successful business models age, and eventually die, because market demands change. An understanding that is fundamental in all annual strategic planning sessions is to address: “What has changed in the external landscape? Does it affect us? How should we adapt to meet the new market changes?”
After 159 years as South Africa’s most iconic retail store, ENCA reported that Stuttafords officially closed its doors last week, after a bid to save the company fell through at the 11th hour.
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