After more than 20 years in appliance retailing and 17 with Elite Appliances, Paul Savona is looking forward to enjoying retirement, having sold the 3-showroom chain he co-owns with Tony Weiss to E&S Trading.
Before the days of Elite Appliances, Savona owned Centreway Appliances in Carlton, in inner-city Melbourne, while Weiss was the proprietor of Surry Hills Appliances, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. In 1997, a third appliance showroom called Melbourne Appliances, based in Armadale in the city’s southeast, had fallen on hard times. Savona and Weiss partnered up to take over the lease of this showroom and rebranded it to ‘Elite Appliances’.
“Tony Weiss still owned the Surrey Hills store, I owned the Carlton store and we jointly owned the Armadale store,” Savona explained. “Since then, I have moved the Carlton store to Abbotsford, we’ve moved the Armadale store to Prahran and Tony’s moved the Surrey Hills store to Hawthorn.”
And it is these three Elite Appliances showrooms — in Abbotsford, Prahran and Hawthorn — that E&S Trading’s joint managing directors, brothers Rob and Mike Sinclair, have acquired.
There is also an Elite Appliances showroom in Hobart, Tasmania, which was originally founded with investment by Savona and Weiss. Ned Banovich approached Weiss in the late 1990s to enquire about a joint venture. Weiss liked the idea and had visions of an interstate multi-sotre buying group, so he and Savona bought into the Island State store. Although Banovich bought out Savona’s share in around 2008 and then Banovich’s son acquired Weiss’s shares in 2011, the store has continued to trade as Elite Appliances.
A popular name, there is also Rawsons Elite Appliances with two showrooms in Adelaide, South Australia: this outlet has no connection save for a similar branding.
Savona said he had been exploring exit strategies so he could transition into retirement when the Sinclairs approached him.
“Elite Appliances has been quite successful over the years,” he said. “We were in the process of discussions as to how we go to the next step and then Mike and Rob turned up and made us an offer.
“I have passed retiring age and the opportunity came along. The synergies are very, very similar; there were considerations for staff but all those grounds have been covered so we took the opportunity to do it.
“When you get to my age, you start wondering, ‘How do I get out of this caper?’, because you’re at an age. That was the motivating factor: we could have kept going.”
Savona said his biggest achievement has a longstanding appliance retailer was moving with the times and maintaining a focus on Elite’s core principles.
“We realised the fact that we were specialist retailers and we have maintained that — we didn’t try to be everything to everyone.”
There were plans afoot for Elite Appliances to belatedly launch an online selling portal, Savona said, and he hinted that less than favourable economies of scale had resulted in this giant leap into ecommerce being trapped in development hell. Savona also said that approaches to join Narta — the buying group favoured by the smaller, independent and premium appliance dealers, including E&S Trading — had been unsuccessful.
Where Elite Appliances had enjoyed enormous success was as a launch partner in the pro forma revolution, kick-started by the then Miele Australia managing director Peter Murphy and consequently adopted by other high-end brands like AEG, ASKO, Gaggenau and Liebherr.
“We were there for the start of the pro forma/agency system — probably one of the initial participants of that — with Peter Murphy at Miele, ‘in the old days’ — we watched all that go through.”
Savona said one his proudest achievements was in providing employment for and working with a large group of dedicated and loyal staff, some of whom had been with him or Weiss for over 20 years, dating back to their pre-partnership days. Others have been with Elite Appliances for 10 and 15 years-plus.
Finally, I asked Savona if there had been a recent approach by the Winning Group. He said that although he was aware of the industry scuttlebutt, there had been no enquiries.