Doubt on future of private Godfreys

John Johnston co-founded Godfreys during the Great Depression and created a successful business but there is doubt about whether the 99-year-old can revitalise the struggling vacuum cleaner retailer today.

The founder of Godfreys Group, John Johnston, hopes to buy back the struggling retailer.

The founder of Godfreys Group, John Johnston, hopes to buy back the struggling retailer.

Mr Johnston, who helped establish Godfreys in 1936 with Godfrey Cohen in Melbourne, already owns 28 per cent of Godfreys and wants to buy the rest in a $13 million deal.

But marketing and retail expert Jack Cadeaux from the University of New South Wales is skeptical as to whether Godfreys would do any better as a private company.

Professor Cadeaux says things have changed since the days of door-to-door salesmen and product demonstrations.

"Godfreys is known for product demonstrations but no one cares about that so much anymore because they can read reviews online," he said.

Prof Cadeaux questions whether there is still a market for a specialist retailer largely selling its own brands when big brands are sold online and at stores such as Harvey Norman and department stores.

"There are big brands like Dyson and imitators including Aldi's low price products that Godfreys are up against," he said.

"And now we have Amazon."

He said Godfreys had a narrow category and vacuum cleaners traditionally have long lifetimes, meaning people replace them infrequently.

The Shaver Shop, a company that Mr Johnston also has a share in and which has also struggled with falling sales up until recently, is a better specialist proposition in that the products it sells are bought more often, Prof Cadeaux said.

Since listing in 2014 at $2.75, Godfreys has suffered falling sales, multiple changes of senior management, and a sustained slide in share price.

On Tuesday, Godfreys' shares rose 8.5 cents, or 40.5 per cent, to 29.5 cents after Mr Jonston's Arcade Finance made an all-cash bid of 32 cents a share on Monday night.

The company's board has urged shareholders to take no action until an independent expert has determined whether the offer is fair and reasonable.

It is understood a successful takeover is not expected to result in closures of any of the 200-plus franchised and company-owned stores in the Godfrey's network, or job losses among its 400-strong workforce.

Godfreys' like-for-like sales dropped 6.2 per cent during the six months to February 20 and it made a net loss of $58.6 million.

The company has previously blamed fierce competition and the failure to move quickly on the "stick" vacuum cleaner trend for its declining sales.

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