Rick Hart.
Rick Hart.

Rick Hart was in a good mood when he spoke to Appliance Retailer this afternoon. In addition to his beloved Fremantle Dockers vanquishing archrivals West Coast on the weekend, the Australian retail veteran is looking forward to embarking on the next phase of his near-40-year career: as a brand ambassador introducing the Winning Appliances name to Western Australia.

Winning Group purchases Rick Hart’s Kitchen HQ, enters lucrative West Australian market

Although Hart and his business partner Nick Kirby have been very successful building strong brand equity for Kitchen HQ over the past 4 years, Hart said he is “pretty certain” that incoming owners and employers, The Winning Group, will change the name to match their East Coast showrooms.

Hart said he and Kirby were not actively courting offers but the proposition John Winning put to the pair was the right deal at the right time.

“They came along with an interest — we were not considering that type of transaction — but when we engaged them in conversation and spoke about it and structured the deal, it was a satisfactory outcome for us,” he said. “I thought it was a good opportunity for the future of the business going forward.”

Hart has a 3-year contract to stay with The Winning Group and said his new job was “more of an ambassadorial role — being the face of the business — introducing the new branding to the state and having more of a mentoring role than anything else”. Hart has enormous personal popularity in the West since first opening a Hi-Fi retailer in 1975. For a long time, Hart owned and operated the Rick Hart retail brand, which was sold to Clive Peeters in the early 2000s. When Clive Peeters collapsed in 2010, Harvey Norman purchased the Rick Hart brand and has owned it since.

With a note of gallows humour in his voice, Hart said he wasn’t too fussed about the potential retiring of the Kitchen HQ brand.

“I’ve been battered a bit with my brands over recent years so I am bit impervious to that. Kitchen Headquarters has been an exciting experience and to be able to develop a brand such as we have in such a short time – fewer than four years – is quite amazing and I am proud of that.

“I look forward now to taking the business through the next phase of the development.”

The View from Kitchen HQ: Take a look inside The Winning Group’s latest acquisition

When asked if Hart would trust anyone with Kitchen HQ, he replied, “No, not at all”. So what is it about John Winning and The Winning Group that is so trustworthy?

“I have had a long association with the Winning Group and a bit of an association with John (Junior) and I have mixed with their executive,” he said, referring to people like John Winning’s father, also named John, who was instrumental in growing the coming to such a force during his time in charge.

“I think the culture of the two organisations is very similar. I think what they are trying to do is very similar to what we have done. We have had the advantage of being able to start off from scratch and select the brands and select a business model, whereas they are over 100 years old so they have parts that continue on traditionally — whilst they have moved towards premium appliances they also have a commodity range.”

Looking back over the rapid rise of the Kitchen HQ brand, from an idea in 2009 to a destination retailer that is the envy of local rivals in 2014, Hart said it was a source of immense pride that the reality had so accurately resembled the dream, even if there were a few bumps along the way.

“It’s been an exciting ride for me and my team here: just what we’ve been able to create,” he said, specifically mentioning Nick Kirby. “We had a vision for a business back in 2009. We opened up in 2010 and we had a bit of a battle on our hands with all the political stuff that was going on — when we first started — when Clive Peeters was still around, we had a bit of difficulty getting our suppliers to sign up.

“Eventually, we overcame that — with the help of Clive Peeters going into receivership — and what we’ve been able to build is almost a replica of the vision I had for the business back in 2009. We’ve got a lot of pride from what we’ve achieved and we just want to now help take it to another level.

In three years’ time, when you’re a free agent, do you plan on starting another retailer?

“I think I will be looking for a nice paddock somewhere.”