Harris Scarfe Department Stores was founded in South Australia in 1850 in Adelaide, South Australia. At its peak, Adelaide was home to several major South Australian department stores (including Harris Scarfe, John Martins, Peoplestores, Miller Anderson, Cravens, Cox Foys (which Harris Scarfe acquired and closed in 1977), Birks and Moores), of which Harris Scarfe is the sole survivor. Adelaide is now the only Australian capital city with three major department stores in the main shopping strip (the other two stores being David Jones and Myer). In New South Wales and the ACT, the stores operate under the Allens brand
Today Harris Scarfe has two formats, one for its flagship multi-storey Rundle Mall store, and another for its smaller stores found elsewhere. These smaller stores sell a range of items, similar to discount department stores such as K-Mart and Big W and to a more so extent Target, though the range is limited by the relatively small amount of floorspace.
Harris Scarfe traces its history to 1850, when the founding partners in the business arrived in Adelaide South Australia to establish a hardware and ironmongery business. An additional partner, Richard Smith, joined the business in 1861. Harris Scarfe grew to become a major supplier of a broad range of household, agricultural and industrial items.
Besides conducting its retailing business from its Adelaide premises, Harris Scarfe manufactured leather goods, including saddlery and luggage. It also had a wholesaling operation, with a team of commercial travellers who visited country regions throughout South Australia. This business was supported with a promotional product catalogue, which became well known in country areas. During World War II, when the Australian Government enforced price controls, it used the Harris Scarfe catalogue as the price guide.
After World War II, Harris Scarfe's prosperity grew with South Australia, as it supplied building materials during the postwar building boom.
In 1971, Baradeen Quest Pty Limited, a subsidiary of Investment and Merchant Finance Corporation Limited ("IMFC") made a successful takeover bid for Harris Scarfe Limited, which at the time was a company listed on the Adelaide Stock Exchange. The Rundle Street (now Rundle Mall) store continued trading, with expansion of its frontage to establish a new womenswear department.
Charles Davis Limited, a listed Tasmanian company controlled by Sir Donald Trescowthick, acquired control of Harris Scarfe in 1976, when Charles Davis took over IMFC. Sir Donald wished to acquire Harris Scarfe, and his research indicated that the cheapest way of doing so was to take over its parent company. The Trescowthick era started with growth and ended with collapse in 2001.
Sir Donald focussed Harris Scarfe's activities on its retailing business, and disposed of all of its other activities. The Rundle Mall store continued to develop as a full line department store, while the industrial products outlet at Mile End evolved to become Harry's, a large hardware retailing business. The success of Harry's led Harris Scarfe's parent company, Charles Davis Limited, to acquire other hardware retailers, including Lloyd's in South Australia, Campbell's in Queensland, and McEwans in Victoria and New South Wales.
In 1989, these hardware businesses were sold in a management buyout. The Rundle Mall department store continued to prosper, offering a broad range of items at "value for money" pricing, with aggressive advertising. Sales were facilitated by a range of purchase options, including an inhouse credit card and lay-by. Harris Scarfe's business was heavily promoted, with press and television advertising, and colourful advertising catalogues. These catalogues were broadly distributed in the Sunday Mail newspaper. As a result, Harris Scarfe built a large phone and mail order business, supported by the advertising catalogues.
In 1994, Harris Scarfe opened its first store in suburban Adelaide, at Parabanks in Salisbury. Following this successful store opening (in a former Venture store), Harris Scarfe acquired more sites in South Australia, as well as expanding its activities to other States.
During 1995, Harris Scarfe assumed control of the FitzGerald's Department Stores department store chain, which previously was operated as a separate subsidiary of Charles Davis Limited (since it was acquired in 1986). Also in 1995, Charles Davis Limited changed its name to Harris Scarfe Holdings Limited, and it then focussed on its department store activities- disposing of all of its other businesses and investments. Harris Scarfe continued to grow, becoming Australia's third largest department store retailer, with 38 stores, and trading in all States of Australia.
In 2000, Harris Scarfe established an online retailing subsidiary, leveraging on the existing successful mail and phone order business. As part of this expansion strategy, it acquired dStore, an online retailer which had experienced financial problems. The year 2000 was difficult for all retailers, as the Australian Government introduced a new retail turnover tax (GST). Many retailers suffered a reduction in sales and profits, after prices increased due to this new tax. Like many other retailers, Harris Scarfe felt the pressure of this trading challenge.
The company continued its aggressive expansion interstate, opening stores in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria (Australia) and Western Australia. The company acquired a large amount of its retail space (and its largest stores) as a result of Australia’s two largest department store chains Myer and David Jones rationalising their chains. The company’s expansion into Tasmania was accelerated by the merger with the Tasmanian department store chain FitzGeralds (better known to locals as "Fitzys") in 1995. Hence, Harris Scarfe played a key role in the rationalisation of Australian retailing in the 1990s.
The company soon entered voluntary receivership, and its shares were withdrawn from the Australian Stock Exchange. Examination of the company’s books revealed that assets had been re-valued well above market value in an effort to conceal its spiralling losses. This practice had left the company with multimillion-dollar debts.
The consortium began a store rationalisation program as a measure to help restore profits. In the days after the purchase all stores in Queensland and New South Wales, where Harris Scarfe was under represented, were closed. In its home state of South Australia two suburban stores were closed, Munno Para in the north, and Woodcroft in the south. The same occurred in Victoria and Tasmania, with a limited number of unprofitable store closures. In the final stage of rationalisation it was decided the business would also withdraw from the Western Australian market.
The company then started a revitalisation program. The remaining stores were remodelled with new stock, new layouts and a new company logo. This was then followed by an extensive advertising campaign. As a result Harris Scarfe soon began to enjoy record sales.
In 2004, the Allens department store chain in New South Wales and the ACT was taken over by Harris Scarfe from the Allen family.
In 2006, Harris Scarfe reopened their completely refurbished store at Colonnades SA, as part of the centres refurbishment. The store reopened with a reduction in floor-space, occupying only the ground floor of its original 3-floor store. The upper levels are planned to house a new Best and Less, JB Hi-Fi, and Cheap as Chips discount store. Then sold to myer in 2007, with the Elizabeth store
In 2007, Harris Scarfe will open a new store in Sunbury, Victoria and opened a new store in Warrnambool Victoria's homemaker centre. With the closure of the Forest Hill store, Harris Scarfe Opened up two new stores at Eastland Shopping Centre and one at Box Hill
On the 17 of September 2008 Harris Scarfe opened its brand new store at Tea Tree Plaza. This store is aimed to start a new era and new attitude to Harris Scarfe. The aim of this store for Harris Scarfe is to have two specialised stores under one roof, both homewares and fashion. Unfortunately this approach has still not changed the level of acceptance of Harris Scarfe, as they are still considered as a Target and Kmart and not a Myer or David Jones of the retail world.
On the 2nd of October 2008, Harris Scarfe will rebrand it's Allens stores across NSW and ACT as Harris Scarfe going forward.
The larger stores, particularly the flagship city stores in Adelaide and Hobart which have a wider range of items, also carry the following departments:
Like other department stores, Harris Scarfe also has its own concession departments.
Four Harris Scarfe stores also would be re-branded as Myer outlets: two in Adelaide (Colonnades and Elizabeth) and two in Victoria (Werribee and Forest Hill). That would leave Harris Scarfe with 35 outlets in South Australia, NSW, Victoria, the ACT and Tasmania. The stores in NSW and ACT currently operate under the Allens brand. Mr Atkins said Momentum's investment would allow Harris Scarfe to retire about $30 million of debt, fuel profit growth and expand its network of stores. It planned to open 15 new stores over the next 3 years including its first three outlets in Sydney. The deal also would allow Harris Scarfe to move towards a share market listing in about three years, Mr Atkins said.
"Together with an active store roll-out plan, we envisage strong top-line sales growth and even faster profit growth in the years ahead," he said. "These are exciting times for Harris Scarfe. "This transaction better positions Harris Scarfe to further develop the business for the benefit of our customers, employees and shareholders."
Long term Harris Scarfe employee Lionel Penley wrote the history of Harris Scarfe, which the company published in 1991. This book tells the story of the growth of the business, and its close links to the development of South Australia's economy.