How JB Hi-Fi became an electronics powerhouse

 

When John Barbuto first started selling homemade audio speakers from the porch of his East Keilor home in 1974, it's a fair bet he never envisaged the behemoth his business idea would become.

Yet from its humble Melbourne beginnings, JB Hi-Fi Australia is now a $5.3 billion business and the JB Hi-Fi group, which includes The Good Guys, is a $7.92 billion company with more than 200 stores across Australia and New Zealand.

JB Hi-Fi chief executive Richard Murray applauded Mr Barbuto's vision and drive more than 46 years ago to create a small business that "grew wings".

"It really is one of those small business success stories," Mr Murray said.

The early days inside JB Hi-Fi’s first store at East Keilor in Melbourne.
The early days inside JB Hi-Fi’s first store at East Keilor in Melbourne.

"Every year, JB Hi-Fi continues to grow and it is now Australia's largest consumer electronics retailer, yet it still has links back to its East Keilor origins."

Mr Barbuto opened the first store in East Keilor after constant complaints from his neighbours about traffic build-up around his home on weekends.

When he did, he used a fruit shop mentality (his parents were greengrocers) to fill the shop with stock and label the products with handwritten tickets, which has become synonymous with JB Hi-Fi stores.

"John started with one simple philosophy - to deliver a specialist range of hi-fi and recorded music at Australia's lowest prices," Mr Murray said.

"That is still at the heart of everything JB Hi-Fi does - delivering the best range of products at the cheapest prices."

JB Hi-Fi’s first proper shop in East Keilor was opened after founder John Barbuto’s neighbours complained about traffic around the store run from his home.
JB Hi-Fi’s first proper shop in East Keilor was opened after founder John Barbuto’s neighbours complained about traffic around the store run from his home.

Mr Barbuto eventually sold the business in 1983, and by 1999 another nine stores had been opened.

In July 2000, JB Hi-Fi was purchased by private equity bankers and senior management with the aim of taking the successful model nationally.

Three years later the business was publicly listed on the stock exchange to help speed up the rollout of stores across Australia.

The evolution of its product range has seen the business move into new areas with its product range now covering computers, mobile phones and plans, tablets, televisions, cameras, drones, headphones, speakers, smart home products, games, recorded music, movies and TV shows, whitegoods and small appliances.

In 2016, JB Hi-Fi added to its portfolio when it acquired The Good Guys chain of home appliances stores, but the two brands continue to trade in their own names.

JB Hi-Fi at Fountain Gate prepares to welcome back customers following the COVID-19 lockdown.
JB Hi-Fi at Fountain Gate prepares to welcome back customers following the COVID-19 lockdown.

In 2020, not even COVID-19 has halted the business - despite recent temporary store closures in Melbourne due to the extended lockdown period, the business recently reported a 27 per cent jump in same store sales growth.

"Considering the challenges we have faced, we are really pleased with the results," Mr Murray said.

"It has been so rewarding being able to keep 2771 of our Victorian teams at both our stores and support office employed and busy looking after our customers, even with a majority of our servicing customers through online sales only.

"We are excited that our customers are finally getting back into our stores in Melbourne - and across Victoria it's just great to see happy faces on our customers again.

"I think John would be quite amazed at just where his business has landed after all these years."

 

Originally published as How JB Hi-Fi became an electronics powerhouse


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