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No other like Ted’s says Robbo

August 12, 2010: Ted’s Camera Stores commemorated its 40th anniversary in fine style on Tuesday, August 10, with owner, Brian Blythe and Ted’s management hosting over 300 Victorian staff and invited guests at the Crown Palladium ballroom.
It was an evening big on reminiscence and goodwill, with Ted’s founder Ted Todd and Brenda Todd, Ted’s former boss, the legendary Sydney retailer George Weiss and current Ted’s managing director Richard ‘Robbo’ Robertson joining Brian Blythe, John Swainston (Maxwell International), Peter Rose (PMAI) and Nic Peasley (Ted’s) on stage to share experiences – and the the occasional, inevitable joke – and reflect on the 40-year milestone.

John Swainston noted that only four percent of companies survive 10 years.

‘Forty years is something special,’ he said.

‘Ted’s may be 40, and some people say you are over the hill at 40, but when you are over the hill you start picking up speed!’ he added.

Yet there was a considerable focus on the future as well, and the future of the photo industry appeared assured when one looked out onto an audience of over 200 personable, well-presented, and mainly young Ted’s ‘ladies and gentlemen’. Underscoring the quality of people associated with the retailer, and its role in encouraging younger staff, John Swainston also noted that Ted’s ‘had more Young Achievers in the last 10 years than all the other companies combined.’

Brian Blythe also observed that a company doesn’t achieve 40 years trading by accident.

‘…It usually means it has some unique qualities to attract customers to support it, attract good people into its service and attract other companies to provide it with products, finance and people support.

‘Ted’s has these unique qualities.’

He noted that Ted’s not only attracted good people, but kept them, sometimes for a lifetime of contribution, and during the evening a number of employees with over 20 and even 30 years with the company were recognised.

The longest serving employee, other than Richard Robertson himself with 39 years in harness, is Steve Mills, with 35 years service. Robbo ‘guesstimated’ that over that time ‘he must have been responsible for $30 million in sales on his own!’

The final words before the end of the more formal part of the evening were appropriately left to Robbo. (Of whom the late Ron Evans noted, ‘Robbo is to a microphone what a dog is to a lamp-post!’):

‘I am fanatical about getting a result. I love retailing, I hate losing, I hate being on the losing team…Ted had always thrown up a challenge, and I’ll say this to you all: If it hadn’t been for Ron Evans and Brian Blythe, you would not be here tonight.

‘Ted gave us the spirit, Ron and Brian gave us the controls. Ron taught me that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. They taught us how to measure. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, the amount of measuring that we do, but we are all here, 40 years on.’

‘There will never be another company like ours.

‘We are the strongest single retailing unit in our industry, in the world,’ he said, contrasting Ted’s continued success with the fate of Ritz Cameras, a 1300-store US chain which over-extended itself and collapsed with massive debts this year.

He noted that with only 22 stores, Ted’s controls around 15 percent of the Australian DSLR business and 6 – 7 percent of compact cameras, and that was due to strong marketing, great buying, great advertising, great team leadership, a close eye on the numbers and, ‘above all 360 fantastic retail staff.’

‘That is the Ted’s difference. It’s the people that support the name,’ he said.

‘Ted was the man, the ‘S’ stands for service, and any of you who are just starting in this business like I was when I was just 17, one thing you must imprint in your mind: Service is always remembered long after the price is forgotten.’

Robbo thanked the Evans and Blythe families for their continued support (‘thank you for the privilege of working for two of the best families that I have ever ever ever met’) and Ted’s suppliers (‘We thank you from the bottom of our heart’) and made special mention of Malcolm Kennedy, managing director of Pentax distributor, CR Kennedy. Effective, low-cost radio and TV advertising, supported by CR Kennedy and often featuring Robbo, has been a hallmark of Ted’s success, particularly through the ’80s and ’90s.

‘We started about the same age, he had a challenge thrown out to him in his early ’20s when his father passed away. He has taken his company forward and he is one of the “Last of the Mohicans” as an independent importer and distributor of a major product brand.’

While they weren’t among his last words, Robbo’s assertion during the evening that, ‘I will not be here for the 50th, I guarantee it’ may turn out to be both famous and untrue: even if it is as guest of honour rather than managing director.

Staff in other states will celebrate the 40th anniversary in forthcoming event attended by Richard Robertson and Nic Peasley.

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