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In April 2014, Coles celebrated its 100th birthday - that's a whole century dedicated to giving Aussie families the products they need for a happy, healthy home life, at prices they can afford.
Founder GJ Coles created a store that would lower the costs of living for Australian families. This philosophy continues 100 years later.
"The customers themselves really decide what goods we shall stock in our stores."
— GJ Coles, 1928
On 9 April 1914 young GJ Coles opened the first Coles store in Smith St, Collingwood, Victoria.
Immediately before the shop opened, he set down his thoughts about the task ahead. “A proprietor has to have a happy home life,” he wrote, “he has to have a contented staff; he has to have a store he would be proud of; he has to earn the respect of his fellow men, and to do all this he must also operate a business that would be successful.”
This initial underpinning has provided the foundations for a company that is proud to still serve Aussie families and team members 100 years later.
The beginning of the 1930's was marred by the savage social impacts of the Great Depression.
Despite tough economic times, Coles did not step down from its commitment, first made in 1922, to donate a large share of profits to charities including hospitals, nursing homes and relief funds for the unemployed.
According to founder GJ Coles, giving to charity was a “business and a social responsibility” and a commitment to social responsibility was made that still remains today.
As Coles evolved in response to the impact of World War II, so too did its customers. Many married women had become part of the work force, which meant they had less time at home to prepare food for the family. As a result, they began buying more ready-made foodstuffs and delicatessen items, leading to an increase in such lines in Coles stores.
In 1946 confidence boomed in post-war Australia and Coles began selling electrical appliances such as toasters and irons. There were even reports of customers joining queues without even knowing what they were queuing for.
In 1948 Coles launched is first cosmetics range and engaged starlets Doris Day, Arlene Dahl and Eleanor Parker as the faces of the campaign.
From the time that GJ Coles founded the company in 1914, the Coles business was marked by fresh thinking and a sense of innovation. Even as a young man working in his father's store in country Victoria, GJ shook things up by introducing sales catalogues and making a display of sale goods on a table in the centre of the shop.
By the mid-50s, Coles stores were converting into the self-service stores which would set the standard for supermarkets into the 21st century. By the end of the decade, the company has shifted course from its origins as a variety store and set its sights on becoming Australia's most significant food retailer, with all new logistics, warehousing and distribution systems required for such a challenge.
From Beatlemania to a fresh wave of feminism, the 60's was a time of change in Australia. Though he had been Managing Director of Coles since before the end of WWII, Edgar Barton Coles was inspired by the sense of progress and embarked on a program of delivering "tomorrow's shops, today" to an increasingly affluent Australia.
In 1960, Coles opened the nation's first freestanding supermarket, equipped with a car park. Edgar's plan was to develop a chain of supermarkets that would stock everything a family might have on their weekly household shopping list, from light bulbs to lemons, making it possible to get it all in a single trip.
After 50 years of growth, Coles entered the ’70s with a network of retail outlets stretching across the country and a fresh focus on value, convenience and innovation for the benefit of Australian shoppers.
Coles showed its innovative streak in the development of the Farmland range of home brand food products helping to reduce the cost of groceries. Coles also launched a discounting program-in 1971, reducing prices permanently on 7000 items.
The 80’s was a decade of economic confidence in Australia with the floating of the Australian dollar heralding unprecedented business expansion, prompting Coles to look for new opportunities. Coles introduced the first electronic scanners into its stores in 1982, giving customers a printed receipt which itemised all their purchases for the first time.
By the mid 80’s Coles established liquor interests under Liquorland and Vintage Cellars. The expansion continued with the acquisition of Bi-Lo, specialty fashion chains and the department store chain, Myer Emporium Ltd Group. On 25 July 1985, Coles Myer Ltd was born.
In 1987 a Coles Myer corporate headquarters was opened in Tooronga, Victoria, by Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
The 90’s was the decade of the dot-com bubble, borne from the rapid increases in technology and the advent of the World Wide Web. For Coles, the 90’s meant adopting new technology that modernised inventory tracking. The cost saved by this technology was reinvested into reducing the price of 6,000 product lines.
As the World Wide Web went live in 1993, Coles launched its flybuys program enabling customers of Shell, National Australia Bank and Coles Myer to earn free air travel simply by shopping. Within a year of its launch, 3.5 million Australians were flybuys members.
Coles continued to embrace the evolution of technology and trialled online shopping within twenty-three Melbourne postcodes in June 1999.
The ‘noughties’ came with an influx of economic uncertainty as interest rates continued to rise while the Australian Dollar declined. In that time, Coles saw its online channel grow to become one of the largest online food retailers in the country in 2003.
By mid-2004, Coles established a nationwide network of Coles Express service stations, providing customers with greater access to food through its new petrol and convenience stores.
Sweeping changes continued as Coles returned to its heritage after selling Myer in June 2006. In the following year, Coles Group was acquired by another Australian company, Wesfarmers.
Under Wesfarmers’ ownership, a new management team led the turnaround of Coles to restore pride in the Coles brand and developed a six-point plan to give the people of Australia a shop they trust, delivering quality, service and value.
Coles invested in significant changes to improve the customer experience, including the roll-out of new-format stores, lowering prices as part of its ‘Down Down’ campaign and investing in its team members to create a culture of selling and serving with personality. From 2010, Coles launched a string of animal welfare and responsible sourcing initiatives including phasing out sow-stalls for pig farming and committing to cage-free Coles brand eggs.
Beyond 2015, there is still much to do to deliver consistent high quality fresh food, successful long term partnerships with suppliers and continue to lower the weekly shop for customers.
Want to know more about our history?
Coles and the State Library of Victoria have worked together to deliver a digitised library of photos, documents and other artefacts that portray Coles’ extensive history. This is now available to the public on the Library’s website at (http://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/colesmyer). We hope you enjoy this new resource.