The retail giant, Myer is a Melbourne Icon well known for its reputation for service. The man founded it in almost a century ago gave the company a personality like his own, trustworthy and accountable. The band of loyal customers Myer created and maintained over the years is no accident. The old fashioned ideals that Sidney Myer nurtured as the company’s culture brought his name into the heart of every Melbourne family.
Sidney Myer – The immigrant
The life story of Sidney Myer is an inspiration to every migrant to this wonderful nation. It is the story of the youngest of eleven children born to a Hebrew scholar in Russia who immigrated to Melbourne in 1899 with no money in hand and little knowledge of English. That was a fearful combination to claim success in this vast country of mainly British settlers. His name then was Simcha Myer Baevski. The rags to riches story is one of determination and embedded love and sympathy towards fellow human beings. He changed his name to Sidney Myer and went on to establish Australia’s leading department store.
Sidney’s brother Elcon Myer left Russia two years earlier and was eager to receive his brother in this new country. After arriving at Port Melbourne, the 21 year old Myer followed his brother Elcon to a new life, working at Slutzkin’s underclothing business in Flinders Lane. Myers mother had a drapery business in Russia and Myer had some experience helping her out in daily chores. Soon he took to the streets as a door to door hawker of drapery and miscellaneous wares.
Sidney Myer – The salesman
His fabulous eyes, marvelous manners and practical intelligence were an ultimate combination for sales success. The door to door hawker upgraded himself soon and bought a cart and traveled through country towns. The business was later moved to Pall Mall, Bendigo, where it prospered, other shops were added, and later the Bendigo business of Craig Williamson and Thomas was bought. Elcon’s strict orthodox Jewish approach to business begin clashing with Sidney,s radical entrepreneurial spirit. Elcon eventually returned to Flinders Lane and began his own business.
Sidney remained in Bendigo and concentrated on building his business. With the money he saved from his booming business he purchased the business of Wright and Neil, Drapers, in Bourke Street, near the General Post Office. Later he moved it into a new building, he constructed there. This has become the Myer Bourke Street store. The Doveton woollen mills at Ballarat were purchased in 1918, and in 1921 a new building fronting on Post Office Place, was added at Melbourne. These became the Myer chain of department stores.
Sidney Myer – The innovator
Sidney Myer introduced a new retail culture in Australia. Myer changed the face of retailing, removing the dividing obstacle of the counter, and replacing it with table strewn with goods to be touched and tested freely by customers. This was a totally new concept in Australia. The customers loved the freedom to test and choose their products. Myer was an expert in smart marketing with and his shops had enticing merchandise displays that promoted impulse buying. Myer created his advertisements himself with carefully chosen words that can make an impact on customers. Myer was the first one in Australia who seriously thought about creating a retail brand. Myer realised that creating a loyal band of customers will help the company wither any downturn in the market. He focused on creating a sense of belonging to a special class for his customers.
Myer also introduced stock take sales which were a massive success. His brother Elcon joined with Myer again during this period. They sold the Bendigo business and concentrated on Melbourne.
Sidney Myer – The merchant
Myer Limited was listed on Melbourne Stock exchange in 1925. A separate building in Queensberry Street, Melbourne, was put up in 1928, and the Collins Street businesses of T. Webb and Sons, china importers, and W. H. Rocke and Company, house furnishers, were bought and transferred to the Bourke-street building. A public company had in the meantime been formed which by 1934 had a paid-up capital of nearly £2,500,000. A controlling interest in Marshall’s Limited of Adelaide was also acquired.
During the great depression of 1930’s Myer felt a responsibility to give something back to the community. He financed a Christmas dinner for 10000 of city’s unemployed and homeless to share in his good fortune at a banquet he organised at Royal Exhibition building. He organised free tram travel and gave a present to each child. During the depression he did not sack any of his employees but enforced wage cuts including on him. He deliberately spent 250000 pounds on renovation of stores to create employment.
Myer died suddenly of heart attack at the age of 56 on 5 September 1934, near his home in Toorak, and was buried in Box Hill cemetery. . He left a fortune of around one million pounds, ten percentages of which was directed to a charitable trust.
Sidney Myer was a man of the people. The Christmas windows, a tradition of creating delightful tableaux in Burke Street Stall windows is continued even today attracting thousands of visitors every Christmas. Myer was a merchant, visionary, philanthropist and a lover of arts. The most famous philanthropic funding was for the construction of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the Kings Domain, Melbourne in 1958, which is named in his honour.
Sidney Myer Music Bowl
This outdoor performance venue located in the lawns and gardens of Kings Domain Linlithgow Avenue, in Melbourne was officially opened in 1959 by then Prime Minister Robert Menzies. Sidney Myer is credited with inspiring the construction of the building. Myer established many free open air concerts with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1929 during the great depression. Upon Sidney Myers death, the Sidney Myer Fund was established to continue with his philanthropist ventures. The design and construction of Sidney Myer Music Bowl decided upon and constructed by the Sidney Myer Fund. In 1980 the administration of the bowl was handed over to the Victorian Arts Centre from the Sidney Myer Fund by Kenneth Myer, the son of Sidney Myer