Time To Fly: Encel Stereo closes after 56 years in retail

After 56 years in electrical retailing, Alex Encel has closed his eponymous Melbourne outlet to focus on his International Dynamics importing and wholesaling business.

Opportunism plays a key role in the Alex Encel story, from his beginnings in 1957 to his withdrawal from the retail space last month.

It all began when a brash, confident law student wanted to impress his girlfriend, a budding opera singer, by building a speaker system for her to listen to her favourite records.

“It started by accident,” Encel says. “My girlfriend at the time — later my wife — she wanted a hi-fi unit and me being a confident young man, I said ‘I will build one’, which I did!”

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News of Encel’s hi-fi skills spread quickly and it wasn’t long before he was building units for his friends and becoming tired with studies. He started taking out classified ads in The Age that carried the simple text:

“Student – Wants to sell hi-fi equipment cheap!”

It didn’t long for Encel to realise this was his passion, and he dropped out of university and moved into electrical retail as a fulltime profession.

“I was very naïve!” he says about those first few years. “I didn’t know why the banks loved me and then eventually I figured it out: I had over one million pounds in my account, I didn’t know anything about interest!”

“Back then, young people who started businesses were considered fools, it was for older and more mature people. Now, some people think you are over the hill when you are 40.”

Perceptions of age are not the only thing that has shifted during Encel’s time. When asked about how service in retail has changed, he tells an amusing story of how he and his staff used to sell hi-fi systems.

Back in the 1960s, customers would often want to know how the audio would sound in their homes, so a salesperson would load up their car with equipment and visit the potential audiophile after work.

“We’d set up the equipment, so customers could hear how it would sound in the home. We’d talk, listen to music and have a drink. The man would be in the living room and the wife would be in the kitchen talking about food or babies or clothes — those were the times!”

Encel freely admits that throughout his long innings, he benefited from having few competitors: he describes himself as being a “fairly big fish in a small pond”. Now the pond is much bigger, he says, with more rivals both physically and online, meaning retail has suffered as an industry.

That’s why, when a determined buy approached him with an offer for the Encel Stereo property, he was happy to sell up.

“I sold the building at a very-much above market price because a particular user wanted it. I’m unlikely to find anyone like that again, so I sold it.”

In the short term future, the 79-year-old Encel has no plans to retire. International Dynamics will continue to wholesale brands such as Rotel (Encel’s first foray into importing), Oppo, Tivoli and Cabasse.

Aside from this, Encel is looking forward to having more time to fly his Beechwood Bonanza A36.

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An original ad for Encel’s bespoke hi-fi range.

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A look inside the original Encel Stereo.

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Stereo purchasing was a very male pursuit back in the day.

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The very first Encel Stereo on Bridge Road, Richmond, in Melbourne.

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A colour shot of a later Encel store, still on Bridge Road.

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The most recent Encel incarnation, before the closure.

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Original spec sheets for Encel’s own stereo brand – Jason was named after Alex’s son.

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More of that spec sheet.

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