Vale: John Johnston, Godfreys 100yo owner

Business will continue to operate under private ownership.

Godfreys co-founder, John Johnston, who recently completed a takeover of the company, passed away on Thursday 29 November. He turned 100 in July this year.

In October, he officially opened a new store in the Adelaide Arcade, just metres from where he opened the first Godfreys outlet in Adelaide in 1939. Johnston also made the first sale at the new store.

Godfreys CEO, John Hardy said it was a very sad day for the company, which currently has more than 220 stores across Australia and New Zealand and around 460 employees.

“Mr Johnston has been actively involved in Godfreys since he joined Godfrey Cohen, as a partner in 1936 when they had one store in Melbourne,” he said.

“He moved to Adelaide shortly afterwards and was the driving force behind the company’s growth into a national retail chain. He retained a close relationship with the company and this year led the action to buy back the company to ensure its long-term survival.”

Hardy has confirmed that ownership of Godfreys would remain with the family and the company would continue to operate as normal. Johnston is survived by his daughter Jane.

“Mr Johnston was an outstanding businessman with an incredible vision, unrelenting drive and with an eye for the future. One of the reasons he bought back Godfreys this year was because he could see a great long-term future for the business under private ownership,” he said.

Johnston was also a world-renowned fisherman. In 2002, he was inducted into the Florida-based International Game Fishing Association Hall of Fame. He remains the only man to have caught four different species of fish each weighing over 1,000 pounds.

Godfreys owner, John Johnston with CEO John Hardy at the opening of the Adelaide Arcade store

A tribute from industry veteran, Bill Starr:

“It was the height of the Great Depression in 1931 when Godfrey Cohen founded vacuum cleaner specialist, Godfreys. Five years later, in 1936, Cohen met 18 year old sales clerk, John Johnston and the pair went on to open the first store in Prahran, Melbourne. In 2004, Cohen passed away, but Johnston remained part-owner of the business and this year, celebrated his 100th birthday.

“From one small store in Melbourne, Johnston built a network of 75 stores. In 1995, he opened the largest retail showroom in Australia, measuring 450,000 square feet, entirely dedicated to vacuum cleaners and vacuum cleaner parts. In December 2014, Godfreys was publicly listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

“At the time of inception, there were only three floorcare brands in the Australian market. Godfreys sold Hoover and its house brand, Wertheim, while Electrolux sold via door-to-door selling. Part of the Godfreys strategy was to encourage consumers to trade in their old vacuum cleaner, which would later become reconditioned to sell in factory sealed cartons from the service and repair shop.

“Today, Godfreys is the Australian distributor of Plastiflex, Hayden, Modern Day, Ametek, as well as some European manufacturers. Johnston also established a wholesaling company, Vacspare, the largest distributor of spare parts and consumables in Australia.

“In 1996 and 1997, Johnston was named National Retailer of the Year, presented by John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia at the time. In 1998, he was inducted into the Vacuum & Sewing Hall of Fame.

“I was transferred to Melbourne in 1967 with General Electric (GE). At the time, Godfreys had just one store located right next to Myer in Little Bourke Street. After moving to GE head office in Sydney in 1970, a three-week dealer trip was organised to the US in 1972. John was one of 15 in the group. He was a popular member of the group and was full of fun.

“Later on, John became the chairman of electrical buying group UBA. Speaking for the UBA suppliers at the time, John ran the group extremely well and conducted meetings very professionally.

“In my role with GE, I visited South Australia regularly and on each visit I would meet with the Godfreys buyer at the Kilkenny head office. John would always invite both of us in to his office and his walls were always covered in press advertisements from competitors.

“Other than how to sell vacuum cleaners, John had two passions that I know of – fishing, in particular off Queensland and Hawaii, and footy, following the North Adelaide team.

“Sometimes in life you meet good people. I was lucky in my time, in our great industry, to meet such a fine, honest and trustworthy man as John. I have no doubt that the respect he has from his many employees over the years, plus a long list of suppliers has contributed to him earning the right to become one of Australia’s successful retailers.”

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