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Australia's Dick finally drops off

Vulture South ventures visits troubled tech retailer Dick Smith on its last trading day

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 Dick Smith created a chain of stores bearing his name and selling electronics kits to hobbyists.

The chain thrived, eventually becoming a kind of Australian analog for Radio Shack and selling all manner of electronics, even Dick Smith brand computers.

In the early 1980s, Dick Smith was acquired by supermarket giant Woolworths which ran it happily for years, but as time wore on and profits became elusive. By 2012, Woolworths had had enough and sold it to a private equity firm for just AU$20m. That was less than the value of the chain's stock, a reflection of Woolworths' belief that electronics retailing had become a very, very tough gig.

For a while, Woolworths looked to have made a mistake because the private equiteers did well. The firm relaunched the brand, floated it and raised about $500m.

Then in late 2015 Dick Smith hit trouble. It couldn't convince vendors it had the cash to pay for the stuff punters would want to buy for Christmas, tried to discount its way out of that problem and imploded within weeks.

All the stores will close and thousands of jobs have been lost.

So on the chain's last day, I ventured in to have a look around at what was left of the brand.

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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. ®

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