Iconic Godfreys sold for $350m

By Adam Coleman and agencies

SYDNEY: An era of the nation’s retailing history has come to an end with the sale of iconic Australian vacuum company, Godfreys to two of the largest private equity funds in the Asia Pacific region for $350 million.

Operating 151 stores in Australia and New Zealand, with the slogan "Cleanliness is next to Godfreyness", the company was sold to a 50:50 joint venture of Pacific Equity Partners and CCMP Capital Asia.

Founded more than 70 years ago during the Great Depression by Melbourne-born Godfrey Cohen, Godfreys has grown to become one of the world’s largest vacuum cleaner specialists.

Godfrey Cohen passed away two years ago, but one of his two son’s, Trevor Cohen told The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday that the sale was what his father would have wanted.

“He’d be over the moon. I cannot tell you. That’s why we’re all so happy. Really it’s just a wonderful thing for his memory.”

With Godfreys tight lipped over the details of any changes that will occur to the business, fellow floorcare analysts offered some speculation as to the potential effect of the sale on the category.

“I think the sale will have an impact, because the companies that bought it aren’t retail companies,” Nilfisk national sales and marketing manager, Kim Hiland told current.com.au.

“It will be interesting to see what they do with the organisation. It will have an impact because previously they have done significant volume in the industry through their unique ability of sourcing and producing product.”

“It’s a company with a very strong history,” she said.

Former Electrolux sales and marketing manager for floorcare products, Darrel Jones and current Retravision NSW CEO, Darrel Jones, said it is unlikely the new owners will change the successful business model.

“If it is going to continue in the same vein it is today then it will have no impact per se and I would think anybody who would invest those kinds of dollars, is not going to change its proven recipe,” he said.

“It’s a successful and profitable business. I mean there is John Johnston, you’ve got Tom [Krulis] there in Melbourne and you’ve got John Hardy here in Sydney. The only way it changes is if those guys move out, then there would be some changes,” said Jones.

“But I think you would stitch those blokes up with contracts wouldn’t you?
“If I was buying into it, I would want to be assured that I’d retain management for so long until I could get other people with them to find out what their modus operandi is,” he said.

“If management stays the same, the impact on the market will be negligible,” Jones said.

Godfrey Cohen’s ingeniously simple idea was to offer reconditioned vacuums for sale in a retail outlet at a time when vacuums were only being sold door-to-door.

The young Cohen persuaded his father Joseph to let him put a vacuum cleaner in the family’s Chapel Street furniture shop in Melbourne and the unit sold virtually straight away.

With the family’s business soaring, Godfrey went it alone and opened his own shop down the street in Prahan.

The business really took off when Godfrey met a young sales clerk by the name of John Johnston and with a handshake agreement formed a partnership that would last more than half a century.

In speaking with The Sydney Morning Herald, Cohen described Johnston, now in his late 80s, as the "driving force" of the business in recent years.

He also revealed that the loss of his father’s companionship was one of the reasons behind Johnston’s decision to sell.

"We’d talked about selling this for a number of years but John Johnston didn’t want to sell," he told the SMH.

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