Retail expert Rob Lake writes:

Gowings looks like vanishing
from the Australian retail scene. Well not really the Australian scene,
just the Sydney scene. And that is one of their problems.

were once surrounded by department stores. Every metropolitan and
regional centre had one or two. Foy & Gibson, Ball & Welch,
Balls, Moores, Farmers, Lindsays, Waltons, Fitzgeralds, Aherns, John
Martin, McDonnell & East, Anthony Hordern. If I keep going some
readers will get misty eyed. These businesses tended to have two things
in common: they were local chains and they largely failed to move their
offer with the market.

Some survived in other forms by being
taken over by one of the retail giants. Myer bought Lindsays and turned
it into Target. Coles swallowed Myer and Target, but wants to spit Myer
out. David Jones took over John Martin and might yet take a bite of the
tastier bits of Myer.

Most just vanished. Gowings was a blokey
store that stayed locked in the fifties or sixties and in limited
geography. Merchants like Target steadily stole their customers by
offering depth and breadth of range and quality. And furthermore, they
were all over the ‘burbs, not just the Sydney CBD.

inability to buy with any scale makes retail life harder, unless it is
compensated by another value proposition. All brand and retail offers
are about having an identifiable point of difference.

Gowings struggled. They made some changes, but not much seemed to work.

Gowings survived a little longer than many of their fellow dinosaurs,
they moved into a new phase during which their quaintness became their
point of difference. Shoppers, who by then were increasingly looking
like tourists, visited Gowings largely because it was a quaint relic.
Unfortunately these visitors are more likely to act like they are
visiting a museum and hence they tend not to leave many dollars behind.

ramped up the quaintness with some quirky catalogues and visual
merchandising. They seemed to go mardi gras for a while. Their
catalogues displayed men’s jumpers in pairs, arm in arm.

But novelty by definition requires newness, and Gowings stopped delivering anything really novel.