John Martin & Co.

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1998 demolition work on John Martins Department Store, (North Terrace side).

John Martin & Co. Ltd, colloquially known as John Martin's or simply Johnnies, was an Adelaide-based company which ran a popular chain of department stores in South Australia. It operated for more than 130 years, from 1866 until its closure in 1998. Johnnies, owned by the prominent Hayward family for the majority of its existence, became an Adelaide icon, responsible for the famous Adelaide Christmas Pageant.

History[edit]

John Martin's was a respected "middle market" retailer, with a reputation for quality, range and value. Indeed, for many years, their claim was that they were the "Big Store" in Rundle Street- Adelaide's major shopping precinct. They had business links with other major regional department store retailers (Sydney's Grace Brothers and Tasmania's FitzGerald's) with joint ownership of the "Intercontinental Buying Group". This was in an era when Australian department store retailing was largely State based. Also, John Martin's had significant shareholdings in other prominent South Australian companies.

When The Beatles visited Australia in 1964, John Martin's sponsored their visit to perform in Adelaide (which was not on the original tour itinerary).

In the 1970s, John Martin's developed a national discount store chain - Venture. Ultimately, this chain was sold, and it operated under separate ownership until 1994 (when it closed due to financial problems - unrelated to John Martin's).

By the 1980s, department store retailing was becoming increasingly competitive, and regional chains were under pressure to consolidate- to increase sales and cut costs (by spreading fixed overhead costs over a broader store network). John Martin's department store competitors were expanding nationally - for example, Myer acquired Lindsay's (the basis for their "Target" chain), Boans and Grace Brothers. Then, food and discount retailer Coles took over Myer in 1985. Also, the discount store phenomenon was gaining momentum, with Kmart and Target expanding rapidly, and the establishment of BIG W.

Another pressure was the increased availability of bank credit cards. Before 1974, when Australian banks introduced "Bankcard", the majority of retail purchase credit was offered by department stores through "in house" credit cards. John Martin's was a major credit card issuer, with their distinctive "orange" credit card facilitating purchases in their stores. The wide availability of credit which was not tied to a particular store gave customers additional freedom to shop in a broader range of stores.

Against this background, John Martin's operated in a significantly more challenging business environment. In the early 1980s the publicly listed company was the subject of takeover activity. During this time, at one stage the major shareholder was prominent retailer Solomon Lew. Ultimately, ownership settled in 1985 when the Adelaide Steamship Company controlled David Jones Limited acquired "Johnnies".

David Jones continued for some time to operate the John Martin's stores as a separate retail chain, more down market to their David Jones-branded stores. During the mid-1990s, John Martins operated in the face of more aggressive competition, including the continuing rise of discount department stores, and the expansion of local competitor Harris Scarfe (which expanded from its Rundle Mall base into suburban Adelaide locations). Retailing in this era was characterised by frequent "off price" promotions. John Martin's endeavoured to relaunch and counterattack, with a new logo in early 1994 and publicity of a "price match" policy. However, these measures did not improve sales and profit,

The stores at Elizabeth Shopping Centre and Westfield Arndale (now Centro Arndale) were sold to Harris Scarfe. Elizabeth became Harris Scarfe in late June 1997 and Arndale in late November 1997, the Elizabeth store is now a Myer and the Arndale store is still a Harris Scarfe. The stores at Westfield Marion and West Lakes Mall (now Westfield West Lakes) were rebadged as David Jones in late October 1996. The John Martin's outdoor furniture store at Keswick was also closed (this store was a former "Clark Rubber" store operated by another company within the Adelaide Steamship Company).

The last John Martin's store to close was the Rundle Mall flagship store in the Adelaide city centre. Despite strong public opposition, the store was closed on 15 March 1998. Soon after, the Art Deco building was demolished to allow for the Adelaide Central Plaza complex which was to house a new smaller David Jones store and other retailers which opened in August 2000. The previous David Jones building was sold and reconstructed to become the Rundle Mall Plaza complex opening in 2002. The John Martin's carpark had apartments built on the top of it and the John Martin's Plaza is still there but is now known as Charles Street Plaza. Several attempts were made to have the John Martin's building heritage listed, but all failed.

Legacy[edit]

Since the closure of the stores, David Jones have returned ownership of the "John Martin's" name to the Hayward family.

The memory of Johnnies remains with former employees continuing to reminisce at staff reunions, and the continuing heritage of the annual Christmas Pageant.

During its operation, John Martin's contributed significantly to South Australian society. This included sponsorship of major events such as the Adelaide Christmas Pageant and the Adelaide Festival of Arts.

The Christmas tradition of the Magic Cave at John Martin's store in Rundle Street (now Mall) may date back to 1896. [1] In 1933, Edward Hayward instigated the first John Martin's Christmas Pageant, which from 1934 has concluded with Father Christmas arriving at the store and entering the Magic Cave.

The Magic Cave tradition, including its connection with the pageant, is continued by David Jones. David Jones however does not continue the tradition in the same way that John Martin's had previously. John Martin's had a dedicated area set aside each year for the Magic Cave which was located next to the toy department and was surrounded by Christmas decoration and Trim. A special Santa Express Lift was used to transport children direct to the Magic Cave. In David Jones the Magic Cave is much smaller and is located up near the furniture department. The pageant itself is now owned by the state government, with naming rights given to the five major credit unions. The pageant is now known as the Credit Union Christmas Pageant.

Further reading[edit]

  • Atkinson, Bruce. "John Martin's icon about to fade from retail scene", The Advertiser, 26 January 1998.
  • Wood, Leonie. "DJs Lifts Veil On $300m Adelaide Tower", The Age, 21 February 1997.

External links[edit]