By Ian Neubauer

RENMARK, SA: South Australia’s Jack Webb Electrical, a former member of the now-insolvent Betta Stores Limited (BSL) retail group, is shutting its doors for good after 63 years of trading after drought conditions in the local area begin to take their toll. 

“The draught has severely affected this area. The town has gone really quitet with more and more stores closing,” said store proprietor Graeme Webb.

The small, family-run electrical retailer servicing Renmark, SA, has been forced to close shop because of ongoing financial difficulties, Webb said Friday.

“We have provided service in this town that no else does since the War. We supplied spare parts for washing machines, we had technicians working here to advise customers – the kind of service that you just can’t find these days.”

Webb stressed that the closure was not a result of BSL’s October 2006 crash, which was later bought out by a consortium of its own franchisees, Betta Stores Retail (BSR). Rather, he blamed the drought that continues to reap havoc across rural Australia.

"We can’t afford to hang around for another three or four years to wait and see if things get any better," he said.

However, Webb admitted his financial difficulties were compounded by the BSL collapse after he lost an unsecured $8,000 deposit he was required to deposit into BSL’s coffers when they joined the group.

Webb said the BSR model did not suit small businesses like his own as the monthly membership fee was too high and did not take into account the low-volume turnaround typical of retailers in rural areas.

“They were charging us $1,030 a month in membership fees,” Webb said.

“It was a special rate because we never used their name on the store, we just joined them [to take advantage] of their buying power.”

Webb stated in retrospect he should have joined the Buy-Rite group, which only charges $200 a month in membership dues.

In a March statement, BSR chairman Everard Johnson claimed the new group had retailers’ interests at heart and boasted a highly competitive fee structure.

“Not only are our fees some of the most competitive in the industry, they include a structured, monthly advertising program to support our retailers,” Johnson said.

“Our program is not an extra charge to our stores despite what some of our competitors are trying to perpetuate.”

BSR could not be reached for comment. 

As for Webb, he said he has no regrets and is looking forward to retirement.

]“It’s been a good feeling to be able to help people and give them the right advice over the years. I’ve enjoyed coming in.”