Brashs was founded in 1862 by Marcus Brasch. The C in the name was dropped during the first world war due to anti-Germanic feeling. The first store in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne specialised in pianos and reed organs and remained the company's flag-ship store until the group's demise. For the latter half of the 19th century and all through the 20th, Brashs remained a leading Music House although Victorian wide expansion didn't begin until the mid 1950s and interstate 30 years later, through a combination of acquisitions and new store openings. This resulted in over 100 stores in all states and territories.
Brashs first opened in 1862 at 108 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne by Marcus Brash. Originally it retailed pianos and other musical instruments, with the slogan, "a home is not a home without a piano". Later it would expand their product line to include sheet music.
The business was later taken over by Marcus' son, Alfred Brash. Alfred traded the business through the Great Depression, with an astute idea allowing his customers to repay the debts owed on the pianos over a longer period (20 years rather than 5), as it realised that the pianos would be kept in a better condition in the customers' homes than repossessed in his warehouse. Post World War II, Brash boomed, as it sold refrigerators and took trade-ins on old ice chests. The traded in ice-chests were then on-sold in sales in South Melbourne, then a poor community.
Geoff Brash later took over from his father. By the 1970s, Brashs expanded further, adding vinyl records, pre-recorded and blank cassettes to their line. in the mid 1980s, it stopped selling whitegoods. In an effort to streamline operations, Brashs was split into Brashs, a company that sold audio systems, microwaves and compact discs, and Allans, which focused on musical instruments. Geoff Brash stepped down as executive Chairman in 1988 but stayed on as a director. By the 1990s, its product base expanded to selling Hi Fi stereos, video cassette recorders, microwaves and televisions. It also resumed selling white goods.
Brashs struggled from the early 1990s onwards. Its re-entry into the whitegoods market was unsuccessful, and sustained heavy losses. According to Geoff Brash, the last family executive, the problems that caused the collapse were authoritarian leadership, cheapening of values, advertising that didn't deliver, over-expansion, faulty management information systems, increased competition and internal conflict.
Brashs was a company listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. In 1995 the Brashs retail chain was placed into voluntary administration. It was delisted and shareholders did not receive any return. Subsequently, it was purchased by the Singapore based businessman Ong Beng Seng at a cost of $40 million. During February 1998, the chain fell into receivership with debts owing of $80 million, which was managed by accountancy firm KPMG. At that time the Brashs chain had 105 outlets, employing over 2,000 staff members.
Brashs mainly used television advertising and print for promoting their sales and products. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Australian television personality Tony Barber appeared in most of the stores' television promotions, when announcing sales on audio and video equipment.
Brashs promoted its products with two print marketing strategies; product catalogues and the "Music" magazine.
The first was the regular release of sale catalogues that were available in-store. These catalogues mainly covered the Hi-Fi, audio, video, whitegoods, and blank audio and video product lines.
A satirical tribute page for Brashs has been operating on Facebook since January 2015. It has attracted a loyal following and has even attracted some news coverage.
- A Brash look at the way to do business Australian Financial Review 9 June 1990
- Ducking For Cover Sydney Morning Herald 10 August 2003
- "Australia's Brashs Crashes Music Chain In Receivership; Sale Possible".
- Tony Barber Brashs television advertisement from 1992 You tube clip
- Tony Barber promotes latest Brashs catalogue - 1992 You tube clip
- 10 Melbourne Stores Gone but not Forgotten Herald Sun 18 August 2015