By Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY: Panasonic managing director Steve Rust has said that supply shortages over the first quarter of 2009 has been a big challenge to the Australian arm of the Japanese manufacturer.

In an interview with, Rust singled out Panasonic’s inability to completely service stock orders as the most prominent retail issue so far in 2009. Rust said that televisions were the number one Panasonic product on backorder, with a March and April surge in LCDs and plasmas meaning Panasonic still had a lot of backorders coming into this month.

Rust admitted that he had not foreseen the boon to such an extent.

“I must admit that, along with the industry, we were caught, surprised by the demand at Christmas, and because of that huge demand at Christmas, it sucked out all inventory from the marketplace, and we were ordering for the January to March quarter, back in September/October, when the global financial crisis hit,” said Rust.

“So talking to the retailers, we really underestimated the demand in February/March: we thought the demand would be softer than what it was, but it wasn’t, it’s been very strong.”

Strength in the market is obviously a good thing for Panasonic, and Rust isn’t complaining. Conversely, in order to keep the momentum going, he’s planning an ambitious marketing campaign

“Our view is, the market will remain strong for the coming months and we’re planning our activities around that, in terms of product we’re bringing into the country and marketing activities. In fact, this year we are going to spend more in marketing than last year when the Olympics were on.”

Considering Panasonic’s investment during and around the 2008 Olympics, of which it was an official broadcast and Games partner, Rust’s determination to eclipse this figure implies a confidence in contrast to his more hesitant rivals.

“We’ve got a broad product range and there’re a lot of areas we can tackle in the marketplace.

“We’re committed to more expenditure this year because we think there’s more opportunity this year even than last year, based on what we’re seeing.”