back to article Australia's Dick finally drops off

Imagine a parallel universe in which Steve Jobs or Clive Sinclair decided the best way to bring their products to the world was a chain of retail stores, complete with a Colonel-Sanders-like icon of their very own faces to helm the brand. That's more or less what happened in Australia, where in the early 1970s a chap named …

  1. Adam 1

    dropped off a *long* time ago

    Dick Smith of 25+ years ago was a very different store to that which finally closed down.

    There was a time before they became a JB HiFi hardly normal wannabe when their catalogue looked more like jaycar's. Their sales staff would ask about your project and be able to suggest the part combination to solve your problem. The latter day "tech-sperts" could tell you which lightening or micro USB cable plugs into your phone. It really was a shell of its former self.

    1. Gavin King

      Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

      Even the Dick Smith of 15 years ago was a different beast: I have in front of me the 2000-2001 catalogue. Fully half of it is "actual" electronics (components and the like), and that's not including the reference section or the aerials/radios.

      I kept going back for a time, but eventually they lacked anything that I found interesting. A wee bit sad; the first electronics I ever played with were the "Funway" series. I've still got the components in a box, and the books are cluttering up my Mum's spare room.

      1. Adam 1

        Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

        > I kept going back for a time, but eventually they lacked anything that I found interesting

        That is freaking ridiculous. Entirely true, but freaking ridiculous.

        The opportunities for aspiring geeks today are massive. From Arduino to drones, mesh WiFi devices, NFC activated automation and other IoT Pfaff, even computer controlled Christmas lights would have been a natural fit for their former self.

        There was never a need for them to sell TVs. Their stores could only physically fit 2 or 3 options for each size. Go in looking for say a 40" and you would get a choice between a who knows what home brand with crap refresh rate and colour reproduction for cheap or some 4K 3D smart panel with a curve for about 8x the price. With only so much room in most their stores it was always going to struggle against good guys, JB or Harvey on selection.

    2. Flat Phillip

      Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

      Yeah, 25 years seems about right. I was an employee of Dick Smith back then. Half of us had electronic interests and you could see things changing. While there was a full complement of electronic components, there was this temptation to go into consumer electronics because that's where the cash was (Telephone Answer Machines and My kids first computer)

      Move forward a few years and noone had any idea and electronics components were those under-stocked annoying things in the corner nobody cared about. I stopped going and went to plays like JB or online instead.

      Strangely enough, Jaycar hasn't changed terribly much and is still going.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

        Strangely enough, Jaycar hasn't changed terribly much and is still going.

        … and they're basically following Dick Smith into oblivion, they're just 10 years behind.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

        Found a mint/unsoldered "Universal Voltage Regulator" kit (DSE K-3592) that I got to probably run my Discman in the car before I finished uni and went overseas for a bit. Probably the last time I entered a Dickies store ... I never really understood the purpose in the market of the new brand. I might build it in memoriam DSE, before popping down to my local Jaycar (again) to pick up more bits for the Arduino/etc. based gadgets I build & tinker with.

    3. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

      Sounds like Tandy in the UK..

      30 odd years ago, you could go into a Tandy store, give them a project, and a list of parts you needed, and the chances were that if a component fitted your needs better than one you specified, there would be someone in the store who could tell you that.

      Toward the end (man, that was nearly 20 years ago, I feel old), they employed staff who knew almost nothing about electronics, but were happy to sell you a new Mobile Phone contract.

      1. AlbertH

        Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

        Right now in the UK, the same thing is happening (has happened) with Maplin. They started off as a small component retailer / mail order shop in Essex, selling components and kits to electronics enthusiasts. Years ago, I designed a couple of kits for them, and they paid quite generous royalties per unit sold.

        Electronics construction is not as popular as it once was, and so Maplin "diversified" into all sorts of cheap electronic tat - sold at premium prices - in the mistaken belief that this would get customers into their shops again. They still can't see where they've got it wrong, trying to be Tandy. They've lost their core customers.

        Their component prices are incredible: They charge the same for four cheap ¼W resistors as I pay for 200 of the same value from the Far East! Their range of parts has been radically reduced, and they seldom have actual physical stock of parts in their shops despite their computer system always insisting that they have lots in stock.....

        Dick Smith - sadly - went exactly the same way as Maplin. I don't expect the English company to last much longer - they've already shut about a third of their branches - they're selling the wrong things at the wrong prices. Maplin are certain to suffer the same fate as Dick Smith!

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

          "so Maplin "diversified" into all sorts of cheap electronic tat - sold at premium prices - in the mistaken belief that this would get customers into their shops again"

          When you realise that Maplin is owned by the same people who own B&Q, it would explain much about the state of both chains....

          "I don't expect the English company to last much longer - they've already shut about a third of their branches"

          Which is interesting in itself because they were still opening new branches even 5 years ago.

          "they're selling the wrong things at the wrong prices"

          And largely in the wrong locations. Punters won't go to shops which are difficult to get to when it's trivial to jump online and order stuff.

          As for component prices - it's a bit like PC World: I only go there when something is stupidly discounted and worth getting, or when I need something _now_ and can stand the premium price. Even then it's not at all uncommon (in both) to find that the part I want is only available in one store with abysmal parking access 20 miles away (and not the 3-4 closer ones) - so the need has to be pretty desperate.

          FWIW: Dick[head]Smith component pricing was much the same deal even in the 80s - you could invariably buy the same stuff cheaper from independents - and much better quality - DSE was clearly buying the bottom of the barrel as transistor gains were all over the place (vs getting 100 components within 1% of each other from other suppliers) and if you bought 100 red LEDs you'd find they were 100 different combinations of colour and brightness (vs the independent selling you Philips LEDs which would be brighter, consistent colouration from year to year and 1/4 the price)

          Thumbs up for the Jaycar mention. They always had better quality components and were usually cheaper too.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

          Maplin haven't shut a third of their branches at all. All bar a couple of closures have been relocations and the ones that haven't been relocated were due to no suitable local sites being available after landlords terminated the lease, usually due to bigger developments taking place. For your information, the reason for the move away from the hobbyist was that there was absolutely no profit in it. Selling components at pennies per piece doesn't pay high rents and wages.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

            "For your information, the reason for the move away from the hobbyist was that there was absolutely no profit in it. Selling components at pennies per piece doesn't pay high rents and wages."

            You're possibly right about the economics, but as Alan Brown said, that's also going to be dictated by the locations. There's a Maplin in a retail park near where I live; it's been open for several years now. I pass it most days when I'm out running- I could literally sprint there from my house in under three minutes- yet I've only been in four or five times at most.

            The generic computer part prices are- or were the last time I was there- are just generally mediocre.

            As for basic electronic components (a la resistors, etc.), I still remember looking at some around three years ago and noting the price of a simple electronic switch (something like 4 quid, or was it 6?) as not just overpriced, but *shamelessly* overpriced. It wasn't all that bad, to be fair, but it was expensive enough that I would only buy stuff I absolutely needed there.

            You're probably right that there isn't enough margin in reasonably-priced components to make them worthwhile, but that's because it's a big box store in a generic retail park.

          2. Vic

            Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

            Selling components at pennies per piece doesn't pay high rents and wages.

            RS and Farnell don't seem to have done so badly. But then then didn't concentrate on gouging the unwary at every opportunity...


        3. John 48

          Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

          Yup, Maplin's first shop in Westcliff used to be a place of wonder. Folks would walk in and describe a project they wanted to build, and one of the lads behind the counter, would pull a pencil from behind their ear, sketch out a circuit, reach for the shops calculator and compute some values, before checking how much the customer wanted to spend and their preferred assembly technique (vero board etc). Then bagging up all the bits for them!

          More recently the spotty youth behind the counter asked me what a grommet was for when I bought one ;-)

          I guess there is only so much market for hard core electronics shops - let's face it Maplin used to sell mail order all over the UK from the one shop. There is only so much need to be able to go and browse / look at resistors! (although playing with the assembled synthesizers or the early Atari 400 and 800 machines on display was always worth a visit).

      2. Dwarf

        Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

        Ask anyone in Maplin now what a 2n2222 is and see what response you get

        Its not an electronics store any more, which is a shame, particularly in the Raspberry Pi / Arduino / Beagle Board / IoT (sic ? soc??) days

        1. John 48

          Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

          It has to be said some of their customers are pretty clueless as well though... A mate of mine (Engineering graduate) has a weekend job there.. he gets people walk in and say things like "I need a lead for my computer"... He asks "what kind of lead?", they answer "I don't know, you're supposed to be the expert!".

      3. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

        > Sounds like Tandy in the UK..

        Sounds like Radio Shack in the US (which I believe is was associated with Tandy.

        You could get all sorts of electronics, and the employees were knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

        Now? Cheap cellphones and toys, all crap.

        1. NotBob

          Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

          And most of the radio shack shops are closed here.

          I bought the last of the stock in ours for about $10.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

          "Sounds like Radio Shack in the US (which I believe is was associated with Tandy."

          IIRC Tandy was a leather company originally (tooled leather? More? Not sure now). They owned Radio Shack, hence the T in TRS-80 computers, Tandy Radio Shack.

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

      "Their sales staff would ask about your project and be able to suggest the part combination to solve your problem"

      I don't know about the Oz stores, but the days of that happening in New Zealand stopped around 1985-6 and it became a vastly overpriced gadget shop.

      In the 1990s I'd walk in occasionally and have to leave quickly as I couldn't stand the assistants trying to sell outdated PCs they couldn't understand to people who knew even less. Invariably my own business would end up rescuing said customers several months later when they needed proper assistance. It was one of our more profitable sidelines.

    5. To Mars in Man Bras!
      IT Angle

      Sounds Familiar

      *"...Their sales staff would ask about your project and be able to suggest the part combination to solve your problem. The latter day "tech-sperts" could tell you which lightening or micro USB cable plugs into your phone..."*

      Sounds like Maplins in the UK.

      [Were their prices also double what you'd pay anywhere else. So you'd only go there if you really, really, really needed the part RIGHT NOW"?]

      If so, the resemblance becomes uncanny.

      [EDIT: Whoops! Sorry! –I usually read the entire comment thread before posting. But I was in a bit of a rush. Seems I've just repeated what everyone else who got in before me said].

    6. FreemonSandlewould

      Re: dropped off a *long* time ago

      Why does anyone who makes some money become a douche bag environmentalist?

      So everyone will think they are great? I admire real people. Not plastic fruit.

  2. OzBob

    I learned my electronic chops at Dick's

    I used to team together with 2 mates (one of whom now works in america for one of the big three, the other is a psychiatric out-patient, I am somewhere in the middle) for parts and postage on various Dick Smith Kits. If only a) electronics had not lost out to computers, and b) other retailers weren't doing it better and cheaper, and c) their brand name kit wasn't crap, things could have been different.

    RIP Dick

  3. jake Silver badge

    Never knew Dick Smith existed, back in the day ...

    ... but I certainly used Radio Shack parts in the 1960s and '70s.

    Kids these days have absolutely zero idea how electronics work ... and that is a crying shame. Probably part of the reason why so-called "social media"is so popular. Kids have nothing better to do in their spare time, because they don't know anything different.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Never knew Dick Smith existed, back in the day ...

      Kids these days have absolutely zero idea how electronics work

      That isn't entirely true, and I am not sure it's that much worse than 40 years ago.

      When I got into electronics as a kid in the 70s that was because I found I had an interest in it. There were electronic component shops and mags around but I suspect mostly serving an older generation. I don't think electronics as a hobby was quite as widespread amongst the younger generation at the time as we tend to recall now.

      Electronics has become more digital than analogue but there are plenty of schools interfacing analogue sensors, LEDs, motors and servos to microcontrollers in Design and Technology and other STEM courses, building micro-mouse robots and the like. And that's been going on for many years, long before the Raspberry Pi arrived.

      It's true; most people aren't into electronics, but I recall it was the same when I was a kid.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Never knew Dick Smith existed, back in the day ...

        In my UK 1960s Secondary Technical School peer group there were four out of sixty boys who were passionate enough about radio to form a school club. The scope gradually widened to include general electronics - including fashionable electric guitars.

        At the time more of our peer group were passionate about football than anything else.

        Components came mostly from the large number of valve radios and TVs being scrapped. The local "Ham Radio" shop had a large amount of war surplus material - but also sold transistors. Mail order was the very modern Henry's Radio - alongside Z&I, Proops.etc.

        Throughout my career in IT I have built electronic things. Microcomputers were a natural component in that - some projects being just software. Most of my technical colleagues had no interest in how our IT systems worked beyond their narrow interface.

        Nowadays the online suppliers provide components - especially quite sophisticated modules - and they are inexpensive.

        In some ways it is easier to do electronics now - but at the same time there is little incentive to build something for yourself. I collect interesting project kits from charity shops - usually still unopened or unused. Someone obviously tried to encourage a youngster into science or electronics to no avail. When offered the fruits of my charity shop trawls - the neighbours' children only want the footballs, radio controlled cars, water guns, and various implementations of "light sabres".

        They and their parents have no inclination to repair them when they break. The parents can't even follow instructions about the care and maintenance of rechargeable batteries.

        It almost appears that a fundamental curiosity and thirst to learn how things work has been bred out of the last couple off generations.

      2. TWB

        Re: Never knew Dick Smith existed, back in the day ...

        @Jason, interesting point(s) - I wonder if you are right (seriously)

        I grew up wanting to be an electronic engineer designing things like radios and 'hifi', and although I scraped a degree in electronics, I was never that good at component level - I've met many technicians who are much better than me at fixing things but don't have the academic qualifications. I still have a box load of components languishing in the the workshop - mostly old 7400 series chips and Z80s. Every now and again I think of putting them on ebay or giving them away but then think I should keep them for some obscure reason e.g. I might need them one day...

      3. Efros

        Re: Never knew Dick Smith existed, back in the day ...

        I teach a short introduction to electronics in my school. Uptake is not high but is pretty constant at 8-10 students per semester (total school roll of about 450). When pitching the course I stress the practical aspect especially to aspiring musicians, telling them that if they're going to play guitar they better know how to solder, not entirely true but it works. Generally we get even the most kack handed individuals up to the level of being able to solder a simple project.

  4. David Roberts

    Venture capitalists

    Borrow on the business, take the money out, job done.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Venture capitalists

      I read that as vulture capitalists and thought you were giving us some commentary on The Register and their exploitation of troubled businesses to make terrible puns.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Venture capitalists

        "I read that as vulture ..."

        Me too, that was a dreadful waste of an opportunity and now spoiled for the rest of us 8)

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Venture capitalists

        I read that as vulture capitalists

        If you'd ever run your own business and needed funding you'd know that VC is generally pronounced as "vulture capitalist", and that interpretation long pre-dates El Reg's existence. The bastards are notorious for having no qualms about ripping chunks of flesh off you while you're still alive, and I gather the birds can be fairly unpleasant in their feeding habits as well.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Venture capitalists

        "Vulture Capitalists" is what a former boss used to call them. They pick over the carcasses of fallen businesses.

  5. frank ly

    If only

    "Dick Smith, the man, is now 72. He used his loot to fund aviation adventures, a made-in-Australia food venture and is a prominent philanthropist, environmental and political activist."

    If I had just £1 million, I'd settle down into a very comfortable and obscure retirement. I've come to realise that this is why I'll never have anything near £1 million to retire with.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If only

      " [...] I'll never have anything near £1 million to retire with."

      You probably will - except that it won't buy you very much.

      I bought my house in 1977 for GBP15K on a mortgage. I saved hard towards buying a retirement bungalow. Now that moment has arrived the house is free of its mortgage and apparently has a selling price circa GBP300K. Unfortunately my apparently large nest egg doesn't fill the gap for a bungalow now costing near enough £600K.

      What was once a 2.5 x salary gearing for a mortgage is now nearer 5 x salary.

      1. Gordon 10

        Re: If only

        to be fair though - you're obviously moving area too. I bet the bungalows locally are a lot cheaper.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If only

          " I bet the bungalows locally are a lot cheaper."

          No - that's in the same area - and many are not as well located as my house. To get a cheaper bungalow would mean moving to one of the economically deprived seaside resorts.

  6. WonkoTheSane Silver badge

    Next on the list

    Maplin, a very similar company in the UK, seems to be going the same way.

    A catalog that just a couple of years ago, was one over 700 pages of components, is now a mere 200 pages of naff gadgets & phone chargers.

    1. DrXym

      Re: Next on the list

      I'm amazed Maplin is still trading. Literally nothing they sell can be described as value for money and in some cases sells for a 5-10x markup over the internet. I assume most of their customers are reasonably tech savvy so I don't understand how they get away with it.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Next on the list

        "I assume most of their customers are reasonably tech savvy"

        Maybe not. And for those who are - you need something NOW, a spare drive or whatever, so your local Maplin can provide it a lot quicker than any remote supplier.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Next on the list

          "... you need something NOW ..."

          Absolutely. I have often needed something right now and Maplin has often had it available. The staff in my local one are pretty clued up and I am very grateful for the suggestion of a better soldering iron to replace the shit el cheapo jobbie I picked without asking advice on a previous trip. They didn't simply point me at the most expensive one in stock but "this one is a bargain at the moment" and then explained exactly why.

          1. Martin-73 Silver badge

            Re: Next on the list

            With Maplin, a lot depends on the store. Our local store has a very clued up staff and many of them have been there for years. The newer store 'in town' is much brighter and more modern. And has staff who apparently don't care. :(

          2. dvd

            Re: Next on the list

            I agree about Maplin - the guys in there are OK. The stuff is overpriced but if you want something in a hurry or want advice or just want to see it in the 'flesh' it's fine.

            I never see many people in there though. And the last thing that I bought was an obscure sized battery for £2.99. I don't know how they pay the rates.

            1. Adrian 4

              Re: Next on the list

              Amazingly, I thnk maplin is improving. They're unlikely to find better staff now but prices aren't quite so insane and they've really jumped onto the arduino/pi bandwagon after losing out for a year or so. I've gone from 'never with a bargepole' to finding them quite useful.

          3. Roq D. Kasba

            Re: Next on the list

            Yeah, in fairness to Maplin, they do still carry a range of components in store at huge markup - but still faster and cheaper than getting an odd resistor posted

            You can also take stuff back easily if needed.

            1. Vic

              Re: Next on the list

              You can also take stuff back easily if needed.

              You can take stuff back easily - but getting your money back is harder...

              Last time I had any dealing with Maplin, I ordered an item on the web for collection in store. I turned up at the store, paid my money there, and went home with it.

              On unpacking it, the thing was clearly faulty.

              So I took it back. They agreed that yes, it was faulty, and I was due a refund. Except that, because I'd originally ordered it over the Internet, I had to wait a fortnight for a refund from head office - even though I'd parted with money in that store just a few hours earlier.

              I don't go to Maplin any more...


        2. AlbertH

          Re: Next on the list

          Certainly not. Maplin seldom have actual stock of anything you might need in a hurry! I can get overnight delivery of components from (for example) Rapid Electronics in Colchester or even Tayda in Singapore far more cheaply than I can get anything from Maplin.

          A couple of years ago, I needed to build - in a hurry - a couple of quite precise audio filters for a project. I decided to build the board on a Saturday, so hurried down to the Hammersmith branch of Maplin with a list of the parts I wanted, (mostly 2% polystyrene capacitors) complete with their part codes from their catalogue. I handed the list to to PFY behind the counter, and a few minutes later he handed me a paper bag and an invoice. I went to the till, settled the invoice and hurried home to build my circuit.

          When I opened the paper bag, I found that instead of 2% polystyrene capacitors of 1n5, 1n8, 2n2 and so on, I'd received the same number of cheap polyester 4n7 capacitors - all the same value! I'd been charged the inflated prices for the 2% parts as well!

          I phoned the branch up to complain, and was told that they no longer stocked the parts I'd ordered, so they'd substituted parts "that'll do the job"! That was the last time I bothered with Craplin!

          1. 080

            Re: Next on the list

            I had a look at Tayda and on the front page on they had a "SUPER HARD ON DIY PCB GUITAR EFFECT" for only $6, almost as good as Banggood.

            1. Woodnag

              Re: Next on the list

              That is an impressive name for a single stage FET amplifier.

          2. TWB

            Re: Next on the list

            The thing is with real shops like Maplin is that you can get the item in your hand and see if it seems OK, so I will stuff form them I need now (like others have said), but also stuff I can have a damn good look a t from all angles, checking stuff you cannot see in an online catalogue.

            But I do wonder how long they might last as well.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Next on the list

      I used to use tandy/radio shack, then Maplin for whatever I needed but these days I don't even bother. I once travelled quite a distance to get some glass slow blow fuses to find they didn't have them in stock even though I phoned ahead to confirm they had them, it seemed they didn't know the difference between fast and slow.

      Maybe the time is right for a new company to take up the mantel?

      They are never going to be as cheap as on-line but the time difference between getting parts could be the winner and lets face it you don't need much store space for components, add to that the Pi community and you may have a winner.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Next on the list

        > I once travelled quite a distance

        I don't even go the block down to Best Buy for anything, as I already know they won't have it, so I just go ahead and pop on Amazon or Newegg.

        Whatever I pay for shipping is certainly worth not having to deal with their crap.

        Other than groceries, I haven't done physical shopping in 6 months. And from the looks of the local stores & malls, neither does anyone else.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Those were the days

    We moved into our new building at the same time that that they moved into their main Sydney warehouse across the road. We always knew when Disk Smith was there because he would fly in in his helicopter to the pad they had.

    I also remember the time he created a bit of fun after he got his ticket to fly jumbo jets, by announcing that he was going to take a jumbo under Sydney harbour bridge. He did, it was a 'jumbo' borrowed from a zoo standing on a barge that was towed under the bridge.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Those were the days

      "He did, it was a 'jumbo' borrowed from a zoo standing on a barge that was towed under the bridge."

      Don't forget the "Iceberg"...

      Dick's April Fools were the stuff of legend

  8. e^iπ+1=0

    Last trading day?

    An acquaintance of mine informs me that the store he works in (Melbourne metropolitan area) is closing 26th April.

    Still chance to buy some shelving etc.

  9. a_yank_lurker

    Failure like Radio Shack

    It seems that Radio Shack et. al. diversified in the wrong direction. They became a me to shop selling decent, assembled gear not components or kits to build the gear. Part of the problem was the market for components shrank and RS was to big for the market and they did not move into computer components/kits in a meaningful way. Having built both electronics and computers it is a learning experience about how the devices actually work.

    The days of HeathKit assemble your own radio; another one that bit the dust.

  10. inmypjs Silver badge

    "private equiteers did alright"

    The interesting story in the Dick Smith saga is how Anchorage Capital managed to buy a $115 million business spending only $10 million and then reduce it's future value to almost nothing and sell it for $520 at the same time. Hard to believe what they did was not illegal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "private equiteers did alright"

      Absolutely. And just as amazing is that people bought the shares from Anchorage. There are really that many people out there with that much money between them who don't look at why a failing company has magically turned around in 24 months under a private equity company's custodianship. I looked at it and couldn't see a viable business. Their web presence was second rate, every store looked poorly kept, their prices couldn't compete and their product lines were entirely mainstream. They were being eaten alive from every direction by companies that were reading the market better. Online or offline, there was never a compelling case to buy from DSE.

      1. BebopWeBop

        Re: "private equiteers did alright"

        In a different business, but with similar business 'ethics', it is going to be very interesting to see what happens to Boots (a chemist/pharmacist in the UK). A combination of debt and the loading of sharp practices onto the stores, reported over the weekend, may herald the beginning of the end for what, once was a company with a social ethos (albeit spearheaded by a sharp understanding of how to make money).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "private equiteers did alright"

          I stopped shopping at Boots a couple of years ago after they ripped me off once too often. They kept reducing the benefits from having one of their Over-60s Advantage cards - but in devious ways.

          On one occasion I pointed out to their Helpline that the recently trumpeted "even better" change was actually a reduction in the benefit you received - definitely NewSpeak. The Helpline agreed and said many people were complaining.

          A disturbing change on the horizon is the government's reduction of financial support for small independent pharmacies. Apparently they want to reduce pharmacy facilities to one or two "hubs" in any town. That means Boots or Tesco.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where's the bad puns?

    I come here for the excrutiatingly bad puns, so an article with a headline about a Dick falling off is pretty much guaranteed to be spewing them everywhere.

    I mean, there's going to be some pretty stiff competition to post the most atrocious pun possible, right?

    So where are the puns? This thread needs more cocky puns!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where's the bad puns?

      This is going to be a bit limp for you, but let's face it, we do need to keep things clean around here. Children may be reading this!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where's the bad puns?

      Sometimes it's just too hard.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where's the bad puns?

      I guess when a company gets the cut, and can't get up afterwards, things are going to come to a head.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where's the bad puns?

      Well, we always referred to the man as "The Electronic Dick" and his legend for me was piloting his chopper around the world, with the definite prospect of a SAM7 in his adventure.

      I admire the man, and despise the VCs.

  12. Doogs


    My first computer was the Dick Smith VZ-200, brought home by my Dad when I was a little'un. Kickstarted the shift in my interests from electronics to computing, and so shaped my whole career and therefore life.

    Funny how things happen.

    1. TSM

      Re: Shame

      "My first computer was the Dick Smith VZ-200, brought home by my Dad when I was a little'un."

      Hey, me too! I would've been about 7 or 8 at the time. Gotta love that glorious 128x64 four-colour "high-resolution graphics" mode. Did you get that bulky 16kB RAM expansion pack?

      I can still remember a bunch of the memory layout and tech specs for that machine. Doubt it'll ever do me any good ever again, but it seems to be in permanent storage.

  13. Deltics

    I think I know where they went wrong...

    Happened upon one of their stores in the final stages of the closing down, "Everything must go, including the shop fittings" sale.

    Amongst the phone cases (massively reduced) and memory cards (not so massively reduced) and Apple computers (just 10% off) there were bins full of (and I had to check these carefully to make sure I wasn't hallucinating)....

    ... USB 56K modems ... 10m 15-pin VGA cables

    And it wasn't like they had just a couple of these, in case some dinosaur came wandering in needing a particularly long monitor cable for a very old monitor so they could fire up that old PC that connected them to CompuServe. They had SCORES of the blasted things and all brand spankin' new - none of your dusty old warehouse clearout of long-since forgotten stock.

    No wonder they went out of business.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I think I know where they went wrong...

      To be fair, I last used my 56Kbps modem on Friday. Dialling into a site in Rockhampton to use a Ubuntu 12.04 Linux command line over 1200 baud.

      Yes, that stuff still gets used.

    2. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: I think I know where they went wrong...

      I walk past a Dick Smith with the "Everything must go" signs every day.

      Nothing is particularly cheap, I can still buy most things they sell for less somewhere else.

      1. Shred

        Re: I think I know where they went wrong...

        That's the problem, isn't it. DSE didn't have anything worth buying before the big closing down sale. Junk that's not worth buying is still junk that's not worth buying when discounted by 80%.

        I ventured in to the local DSE last week and found that I was the only customer. There were three staff standing around looking bored, lots of signs saying "SALE!" and big bins full of rubbish quality HDMI cables, mobile phone cases (for ancient phones) and stuff that even with an 80% discount was still over-priced for what it was.

  14. razorfishsl

    you want components now.....

    go one Ebay and buy scrap PCB's

  15. Shred

    My first computer was a Dick Smith kit called a "Super 80" (not to be confused with the "System 80"). In high school, I used to regularly visit the local Dick Smith reseller to check out the latest electronic kits and computers.

    I remember the zany marketing - towing a fake iceberg in to Sydney Harbour for April Fools Day in the late 70s. The truck with sign writing: "The Electronic Dick". Some of his enterprises seemed a bit dodgy to me though - like selling 27MHz CBs by the truckload at a time when it was illegal to use them in Australia.

    I agree with the earlier poster that Jaycar is going down the well trodden path that Tandy and DSE have both gone down. Every time I visit the local Jaycar store, there seems to be more space taken up by electronic gadgets and toys, while the electronic components are gradually getting pushed further to the back of the shop.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back when "being a Dick" was a good thing

    Dick taught a huge number of kids to think, explore, solder and innovate.

    I'll always be a Dick, a small Dick, but still a Dick.

  17. Ne body

    Watford Eelectronics, DSE et al

    When I was a teenager in NZ I bought my first soldering iron (an Antex 25W job) from Watford Electronics in the UK. It still working today, but the bits now cost more than buying a new iron locally after adding the outrageous postage charge from Antex.

    Anyway, in my 20s I moved to Australia and in the 1980s bought a VIC-20 computer. Again, I found Watford Electronics was useful in being the only place I could find to buy a bunch of 2116 Static RAM chips to build a 3K RAM expander for my VIC-20.

    X couple of years ago I went looking for Watford Electronics again (when I was after some bits for the Antex iron) and discovered that, yes, they had "diversified" into computers at some point and were now no more.

    On the upside, eBay, AliExpress, BuyInCoins et al, and occasionally Microchip, Element 14 and JayCar, now fulfill the needs I have.

    1. Alan 19

      Re: Watford Eelectronics, DSE et al

      If you look on Google Street view you'll find Watford Electronics was just a small retail shop and mail order business in a residential area. 33/35 Cardiff Road WD1 8ED . I loved them too. I have their Sept 1978 catalogue for OTS (old time's sake). I'm looking at an original photo of their shop.

  18. Alan 19

    Not surprising really

    It's only reflecting what’s happened in the UK. Tandy/ Radio Shack went out of business (Tandy UK is now an online independent, selling parts), Maplin nearly got bought by Farnell but they bought CPC instead. There is no profit in flogging penny resistors at retail. Almost every hobby electronics magazines in Australia, the UK and USA has gone out of business. In the 50’s and 60’s the main electronic hobby was wireless and TV then audio and digital TTL then CMOS. There was lots to explore and develop in the 60s through to the 90’s. Electronics was also taught in schools as a subject in its own right.

    Fast forward to today, it makes no sense to build boards full of logic when a single microcontroller will do the job. So you have to get into software and coding. Worse, there is far more competition for a kid’s money: music, MP3s, downloads, mobiles, tablets, VR games. So why struggle trying to learn something difficult when so much fun is instantly accessible. It’s dads (as much as anything) trying to involve their kids with Arduino, Pi that keeps the interest in electronics alive. Now you buy an Arduino or IoT box and then have to figure out an interface to the real world, that’s where the interest in discrete electronics is today. You don’t repair anything, you chuck it out. It’s the whole story of our society – instant, effortless, painless gratification. It’s also dirt cheap compared to yesteryear. Where tomorrow’s engineers will come from, I don’t know. (China and India probably.)

    Only my opinion...

  19. mijami

    Sad Decline

    For years I used to eagerly look forward to a trip to Perth to visit the Dick Smith store. I envied country towns, many of them smaller than the one I lived in, that had their own Dick Smith store. Eventually, Tandy had the foresight to open a store in town and while they had many useful products it wasn't a store for ground roots experimenters. Then Woolworths took over Dick Smith and announced that they were going to open a store in my own town. Imagine the excitement, followed by disappointment when I arrived at the store on opening day and asked "where are all the electronics components?" Even worse, there was some licencing condition that meant Tandy couldn't trade within 50km of a Dick Smith store so Tandy had to close down. What a shambles!

  20. rtb61

    A Big Ole Scam

    Basically is seems more like the efforts of vulture capitalists. Buy up a company doing relatively well and then pump the fiscals to make it way better before selling it off publicly (expand stores, pump up increasing revenues and ignore falling profits, shuffle debt to make the short term look better even though it makes the long term much worse, cut costly experienced staff for cheaper high turn over staff etc.). That pumping feeds short term profits but kills the company long, real dead end stuff, they don't care, they are going to sell it long before it goes bankrupt.

    They do not give a crap about anyone but themselves, scam the investors, put staff out of work and let down customers, they don't care, they stroll of with tens of millions of dollars in profit in this case hundreds of millions. There is a lot more corruption in Australian business than most would believe.

  21. Pompous Git Silver badge

    The DSE of yore...

    ... is sadly missed. The Gits' first DVD player came from the Electronic Dick. It died only a few short weeks after purchase. The replacement offered was a newer, better and cheaper model. The shop assistant refunded the price difference.

    Our first flat panel TV also came from DSE. It was listed at $AU699 so The Git offered $AU650 and the offer was accepted. At the till, the assistant asked if it was OK to only charge $AU600!

    That TV died a few weeks ago, so The Git decided to purchase a refurb Soniq. Soniq suggested he purchase it from JB HiFi rather than wait for delivery from interstate. JB HiFi quoted $AU 60 more than Soniq and it was to take 10 days to be available for pick-up from JB HiFi's store. Soniq delivered to The Gits' door four business days from purchase.

    DSE nearly always accepted a lower than asking price offer. When they weren't allowed to discount an item, they could usually offer an accessory at a heavily discounted price. Unlike Hardly Normal, they were a pleasure to do business with.

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