Home' Australian Giftguide : Jul Sep 2014 Contents Blue Italian
Victoria & Tasmania (03) 9381 2777
New South Wales (03) 9381 2777
Queensland 0438 019 920
South Australia 0413 837 703
Western Australia 0417 094 357 0419 964 458
Continuously popular since 1816.
Never out of style, never out of
production and with new additions
to a vast collection
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Hello! Great to see you again.
You look a little puzzled. Well, that’s
understandable—it has been a long time.
I’m Graeme Eggins, the founding editor
of Australian Giftguide and the man you—
actually your predecessors—named ‘the guru
of the trade’.
Of course, that was back in the 1970s and
80s. Those years were pre-historic—pre-
internet, pre-mobile phone, pre-discount
department stores, even pre-giant suburban
My business partner Robin Brampton and
I launched Giftguide because a new form of
independent retailer was emerging in the
Australian market. Then, for example, if you
lived in a regional city, you normally could only
buy a wedding gift from a jeweller, a gift shop
that stocked mostly UK tableware or a locally
owned department store.
The new retailers wanted to run their own
business selling homewares and gifts that
challenged the often clichéd offerings then
available (ceramic beer stein anyone?).
Like many young Australians of the time,
they had lived and explored Europe for a
couple of years, coming home with a taste
for weird stuff like olive oil dispensers, wine
glasses, fondue dishes and novelty tableware
with little feet (anyone remember Carlton
They sought suppliers of Scandinavian
glassware, funky American style gifts (novelty
mugs were big), European dinnerware,
Japanese ceramics and kitchen items from Asian
manufacturers previously unknown in Australia.
The rise of adventurous retailers was
matched by an increase in the number of
entrepreneurial suppliers. Some mortgaged
their homes to finance the import of a
container or two of products, which could be
anything from the ideal pet (a pet rock) to a
Giftguide’s role in all this was to be a kind of
dating agency—we found out what products
importers and wholesalers stocked and who
represented them in each state or territory
and then published the details in a form that
newby retailers could easily access.
The three main sections of Giftguide’s
directory edition are the same today as they
were in 1975—listings of suppliers, brand
name and products.
Pre-Giftguide, a newcomer to retailing had
to rely on ads in the Yellow Pages or trade fair
visits to find out who sold what.
Within three years of Giftguide’s launch,
retailers around Australia called it ‘the bible
of the trade’. It answered their most common
question: “Where can I buy that wholesale?”
As editor I travelled extensively, visiting
retailers so as to share their hard-won advice
For example, one very successful Brisbane
independent retailer arranged her stock so
that you were funnelled in towards the centre
of the shop along a narrowing path.
Naturally, you looked down to make sure
you weren’t going to knock over any of
the items on either side of you. When you
reached the middle you found a larger open
area so naturally straightened up only to
feel something lightly touch your head. You
glanced up to see even more enticing products
hung on pink-painted reinforcing mesh
suspended below the ceiling.
“My rent is very high,” the retailer explained.
“I have to make every surface sell and that
includes the floor, the walls and the ceiling.”
And what made you look up? She’d
suspended a macramé plant potholder so that
its long tail touched your head.
A Sydney giftware retailer with an inner city
shop travelled regularly to the US West Coast
to see what was selling well there.
“My theory is that what Americans like,
Sydneysiders will as well,” he said. “So I go
to the US trade shows and then see how the
retailers display the new fad products. Then,
when I see the products here at our trade fairs,
I know what to buy and, more importantly, how
to market it for maximum sales.”
I met wonderful retailers, saw great business
born and sometimes lost—it’s amazing how a
new no-stopping zone can kill a small business
on a shopping strip.
A combination of subscriptions and
advertising made Giftguide viable.
Advertising manager Gerry Grover (father of
Giftguide’s current MD Simon Grover) worked
very closely with suppliers large and small,
including the two UK giants of dinnerware,
Doulton and Wedgwood.
Mind you, some of the suppliers were
characters. Like the importer who often asked
showroom visitors if they would like morning
tea. If you said ‘yes’ you’d get a tumbler—a
large tumbler—of Scotch. You see, he imported
whisky as well.
Or another importer who overcame
bureaucratic opposition to pioneer hospital
TV in Australia because a wartime friend was
dying in a repatriation hospital and couldn’t
watch his favourite TV show Sgt Bilko. My
friend made it happen by arranging to have
a small TV set suspended from the ward
ceiling—and accidentally made a fortune.
I was very touched when, after I announced
I was selling my interest in Giftguide in
1986, scores of retailers and suppliers hosted
farewell dinners for my wife and myself in
both Melbourne and Sydney. They even paid
our airfares. Mind you, I don’t remember
much about those dinners except that I was
Suppliers loved telling me stories about
retailers. For example, the doctor’s wife
who insisted that the bus stop outside her
gift shop be moved down the street. Why?
Because early morning commuters were
pressing their noses to the glass, leaving
nasty marks on her window.
Or the pharmacist who, when offered an
award-winning novelty at virtually no cost and
no freight, turned it down saying ‘there’s no
call for that in Gulargambone’!
Of course I have many more stories, like
the young salesmen who fell asleep after
many drinks to mark the end of a very
profitable trade fair. He woke, naked, in
the middle of a traffic island in central
Melbourne at 7.30am. Who put him there?
He never found out.
Or the young Australian rep for a UK pottery
brand that met the English company’s export
manager at Sydney Airport at 7.30am and
insisted on taking him home.
“Look, thank you but I’d be just as happy
to stay in a hotel,” said the Englishman. “I’m
really jetlagged from 30 hours in the plane.
big meeting with Myer in the morning.”
“No way,” said the Australian. “I’ll look after
you.” He dragged the reluctant manager into
his car and drove home only to find his front
drive blocked by a removalist’s van.
“The bitch is leaving me,” the Aussie
explained to his guest. “Don’t worry, we can
get lunch in the pub.”
Many, many hours later, half crazy with lack
of sleep, the Englishman drove his by then
comatose host home from Kings Cross, despite
never having visited Sydney before. (I never
discovered how their appointment with Myer
buyers turned out.)
Or the Tasmanian retailer who took over
a shop full of small, breakable items, tore
down the ‘All breakages must be paid for’
sign and encouraged mothers to bring
their small children with them when they
“Because the previous owner made mothers
paranoid about their toddlers accidentally
breaking things,” he told me.
“A mother might be looking to buy, then
turn to see her child picking up an item. She’d
shout ‘put that down!’ and the child, startled,
would drop it. Smash. I found that if a toddler
is allowed to pick something up, they’d look
at it and then put it down again safely. I soon
had a lot more female customers.”
The stories go on ... and on. But better go.
You know what editors are like.
Graeme (ex-guru, retired)
Graeme Eggins holding
the Bohemia Crystal
Award for outstanding
contributions to the
trade in 1984. With
him is the then Czech
and the director of
Bohemia in Australia.
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