In the weeks before Christmas, a senior executive from one of Dick Smith's competitors was in Sydney when he noticed something strange at a Dick Smith store.
Behind the desperate 70 per cent off clearance signs, workers were busy installing a new display for Samsung's telco range.
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Electronics retailer Dick Smith announces that advisory firm McGrath Nicol had been called in as administrator to try to claw back debt owed to the company's creditors. (Vision courtesy ABC News 24)
The executive fired off a message to Samsung questioning the wisdom of this when the iconic retailer appeared to be teetering on the edge of the abyss.
As Dick Smith's bankers pulled the pin on the chain this week, putting receivers in control of an operation owing more than $140 million to NAB and HSBC and $200 million to creditors, Samsung's new sales unit looks like a minor worry.
And the global consumer electronics brand isn't the only loser from Dick Smith's demise. Hundreds of shoppers have been left with worthless gift cards and charity Epilepsy Action Australia is scrambling to find a new sponsor to fill a $200,000 funding black hole.
All want answers. But exactly what went on inside Dick Smith and how it went from being off-loaded by Woolworths to a $520 million stockmarket sensation and back to the bargain bin depends on who you listen to.
Doomed to fail
Sources close to Dick Smith say the troubles go back to when it was owned by Anchorage Capital Partners and the enormous pressure the management team shouldered to hit sales targets and ultimately beat the float prospectus guidance.
When Nick Abboud was installed as chief executive by owner Anchorage Capital Partners in 2012, Dick Smith insiders report there was an intense focus on improving margins in what was and still is the lowest margin electronics retailer among the top four – JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and The Good Guys.
One of the solutions was to reduce the floor space dedicated to low-margin, big brand products like Apple and Samsung and increase the shelf space dedicated to higher-margin private label products.
And up until the end of last financial year, this strategy appeared to be working. But then in October same store sales fell by up to 5 per cent, sparking a warning from Dick Smith that profits could plunge by as much as 15 per cent this year.
There are a lot of theories about who or what is to blame for this sales slump, when competing retailers were mainly enjoying a strong run up to Christmas.
Supporters of Mr Abboud claim he has been put in an untenable position and the business was never going to live up to its electric listing.
There is no shortage of detractors for Mr Abboud, installed as CEO as part of the private equity marketing campaign to sell the business to investors.
Banks to blame
And then there are the bankers and their decision to install receivers this week.
Sources close to Dick Smith claim NAB and HSBC moved on it over a four- to six-week "cash flow pinch" that was forecast to push it between $15 million and $20 million over its $135 million facility negotiated with NAB and HSBC.
"I believe the banks were too hasty, I believe the business is still a viable going concern and I believe it could have kept employing all those people," one source says.
Ferrier Hodgson claimed more than 30 businesses had already expressed interest in the business on Friday and that number may swell once the receiver calls for expressions of interest.
Critics also point to Dick Smith's private label strategy.
"Dick Smith had the wrong product on the shelf and that was compounded by competitive pressures," one Dick Smith insider says.
But the private label strategy still has some high profile supporters inside the business, with sources saying it was a good way for the business to reduce its reliance on the big brands, which demand cash-on-delivery terms for their products.
In the October-November period Dick Smith hit what sources inside the company call a "really significant sales slow down".
With Christmas drawing nearer and retailers gearing up for what analysts were calling the best Christmas in a decade, Dick Smith was desperately trying to prop up sales.
It's understood Dick Smith's pre-Christmas 70 per cent off sale bolstered store visitors and sales but the total value of these purchases fell short of expectations and it just wasn't enough to convince its banks to call off the dogs.
The creditors meeting is scheduled for January 14 and in addition to the major shopping centre landlords such as Westfield owner Scentre Group and Vicinity Centres a number of suppliers are among the top creditors – but don't expect to see any of the big name brands.
It's local distribution companies for the second tier brands and private label goods including Synnex Australia and Ingram Micro that will be hoping the receiver sale process quickly turns up a white knight.