Chain Stores and self-service supermarkets

Chain Stores and Self-Service Supermarkets

During the 1930s Burns Philp & Company developed a chain of some forty retail stores known as 'Penneys', and later acquired holdings in 'old established country retail businesses' including Mates Ltd and Charles Rogers & Sons Pty Ltd. These stores, with their Inviting displays of goods on long counters served by one sales attendant with a cash register, or in gondolas in the aisles, introduced the idea of ‘self-service’. With the self-service supermarket and availability of branded, pre-packaged goods the grocer was gradually deprived of his role as the expert.

There were no home deliveries or special orders, no repairs or unusual items in chain stores. Nor was there any no pressure to buy. Temptation seemed enough. It was generally acknowledged that the environment of the chain store was less intimidating to the working-class or lower middle-class shopper who liked to inspect and handle the goods, their prices clearly marked, without feeling pressured into paying more than he/she could afford, or revealing how little he/she actually had to spend.


Penneys Limited (1931-1956)

Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd determined that the only way to expand its wholesaling business was by means of a chain of tied stores in which they, the wholesaler, had a controlling interest.  Penneys Ltd was formed in 1931 to operate a chain of retail stores on behalf of the company (‘Penneys save you pounds’). By 1935 there were twenty-five Penney’s stores throughout Queensland and northern New South Wales. The chain was sold to E B Coles in 1956.

T H Mate & Company Limited (1850-1975)

Thomas Hodges Mate (1810-1894) and Maria Bardwell sailed to Sydney together as free settlers, from England, in 1833. Married in 1836, Thomas and Maria Mate prospered and, in 1837, established a squatting run on the Tarcutta Creek, just east of where the township of Wagga was to be formed. As his primitive homestead was half-way on the track between Sydney and Melbourne, Mate added an inn and store for travellers. Though the Aboriginals were then very numerous, Thomas Mate managed to avoid conflict by his kindness and faithful promises. In 1850, when the Beechworth goldfield began to attract an influx of people to the district, Thomas Mate decided to open a store in Albury. In 1860 he was a general storekeeper in that town. Albury grew rapidly after river transport commenced and Mate’s emporium prospered to become a large concern controlled by T H Mate & Company Limited of Albury, Sydney, and Melbourne. Mate did not rely on local patronage alone, but sent his salesmen and huge delivery vans far and wide into the surrounding farmlands. Soon Mate’s Ltd was a household name throughout the district.

In 1973 Charles E McDonald records his memories of Mates Ltd for the Manly Daily:

'… having been reared in Albury I have recollections, as a small boy, of seeing Mates’ delivery vans - huge black horse-drawn vehicles - setting out on their runs.

Locally the order men would call on horseback to take the weekly or monthly order. And what salesmen they were! One, I remember, would call at our home and recite a list of items likely to be needed – like a well-oiled gramophone. There was no need of 'memory ticklers’ to hang on the wall then. Mr Jack would make sure you forgot nothing – from a needle to an anchor, and always with a quotation of prices that was astounding. So well-schooled in the art of salesmanship were the Mates’ staff.

'No-one stood unrecognised at one of Mates’ counters, even if the sales staff were busy with another customer. You would be recognised with a 'good morning, madam’ or 'sir’.

A senior member of staff once told me that this was standard procedure within the business.’