The knives are out over the carcass of Dick Smith Electronics.
And, surprisingly, it has nothing to do with their completely confusing advertising campaign last year that featured “The Mad Butcher”, Sir Peter Leitch.
At least they didn’t advertise “55 Inch LED TVs – only $9.99 a kilo!”
A couple nasty viruses called “Greed” and “Private Equity” fried DSE’s circuit boards and the damage seems irreparable – our memory files of Australasia’s most well-known electronics stores have been forever corrupted.
I remember going to Napier’s first Dick Smith store with my Dad in 1980-something-or-other.
It was a tiny shop on Latham Street, just a couple hundred meters towards Marine Parade from and on the opposite side of the road to McLean Park.
It was packed full of the “latest” 1980’s innovations – Car radios with cassette tape players and the most basic of digital watches not to mention shelves full of plugs, switches, wires, diodes and solder.
The epitome of tech DIY!
But they didn’t.
Instead there was a small, quiet man – almost certainly wearing glasses and a sleeveless knitted vest that answered your questions and pointed you in the right directions to get just what you needed.
There were no bells and whistles (unless you were looking at wiring up an early home security alarm) because the shop manager was an electronics hobbyist himself – he knew where each gauge of wire, light emitting diode and self-returning switch was and exactly what they did.
They weren’t rocket scientists, but by 1980’s provincial New Zealand standards they weren’t far off.
We purchased our first ever computer, a Sinclair ZX81, from that shop.
You had to plug it into the TV via the aerial lead and tune it in to get a picture. With no on-board memory, programmes were loaded and saved via either plug-in cartridges, or a cassette tape recorder that also needed to be plugged into the tiny keyboard / motherboard unit.
While there appears little doubt these private capital chumps are guilty of killing Dick Smith Electronics off financially, it could be argued that advances in technology had been undermining the chain’s original core customer base for many more years before that.
As technology developed it got considerably smaller, phenomenally cheaper and required far less input.
Where once, back in the 80’s, someone would spend weeks and hundreds of dollars building their own computer or some other type of electronic timesaving gadgetry, today you could pick up the same item for $10-$20 at any one of hundreds of discount electronics stores, who bought the item in bulk from some massive production facility where workers are paid five cents per item produced.
When that item breaks or stops working, do you try to fix it like my father’s generation did? No, you just buy a new one at an equally cheap price.
There has been a generational attitude change from “Do It Yourself” to “Cheap and Nasty”, which is a great shame. Because not only does it enable those who pay a pittance for the production of electronics and then make massive profits themselves, it also detracts future generations from investigating just how things work, thinking up ways of improving them and making improvements themselves – we’re wiping out a skill set!
Dick Smith himself lamented the change in culture. When Supermarket chain Woolworths bought him out they steered away from core basic electronics into these dangerous waters of cheap, premade electronic goods.
The service in the stores seemed to echo an equally cheap supermarket mind-set.
Gone were the studious, knowledgeable old men. In came fresh faced teenagers – cheap to employ, apparently not worth training much beyond cash register usage or incentivising in sales – just as disposable as the goods they sold.
In the last few years I went into Dick Smith stores several times and am still waiting for anyone to ask if I needed any help finding what I was after – I did, so left the store empty-handed and found what I was after elsewhere.
The loss of Dick Smith Electronics is a sad one, especially for those who are now left out of pocket and potentially jobs by those who blew smoke, erected mirrors, took the money and ran. But it was not unforeseeable – just like the demise of the video store.
Perhaps if someone could make a time machine we could travel back thirty years into the past and warn those in charge of Dick Smith to focus on their core products and put passion for what they do ahead of profit.
If only there was still somewhere we could by the parts for a Flux Capacitor..