For­mer SSW work­ers catch up

Benalla Ensign - - Real Estate - By Si­mon Rup­pert

For­mer em­ploy­ees of Be­nalla’s SSW Su­per­mar­ket were de­lighted to meet last week for a re­u­nion at St Joseph’s Hall, 19 years after the store was sold.

In 1971 the busi­ness was es­tab­lished in Car­rier St and at the time was con­sid­ered a mod­ern su­per­mar­ket, sell­ing soft drink cans for 9¢, baked beans for 11¢ and ice-cream for 47¢, all bargains by to­day’s prices.

The store had many ups and downs, in­clud­ing be­ing hit hard by the floods of 1993, mov­ing to au­to­mated bar-code scan­ning, and un­der­go­ing sev­eral name changes.

Be­ing one of the first shops in Be­nalla to of­fer gro­ceries, fruit and veg, and liquor, the store was a major em­ployer in the town and pop­u­lar among res­i­dents, with its one-stop-shop set up.

Lex and Ber­nadette Robertson were the own­ers of SSW, they were shocked at how many peo­ple were in­ter­ested in the re­u­nion.

‘‘I went down to the shed where we keep the old files and found 550 names, of those 95 at­tended,’’ Mrs Robertson said.

‘‘We had peo­ple come from Gipp­s­land, Ade­laide, Queens­land . . . they came from across the coun­try.

‘‘There was one man, the fruit and veg man­ager, his wife had booked him on a cruise, he got the in­vi­ta­tion and he de­clined the cruise and came to the re­u­nion, his wife had to go on her own.’’

SSW had been a fam­ily busi­ness and Mr Robertson was man­ager from the time he moved to Be­nalla in 1984.

‘‘We en­joyed run­ning the su­per­mar­ket, but as the years moved on it was just get­ting harder to run a su­per­mar­ket as an in­de­pen­dent, the growth had gone be­cause the chains got stronger,’’ Mr Robertson said.

‘‘Wool­worths weren’t here at the time, it was only Coles, but they were get­ting on top of their game pretty well.

‘‘They had bet­ter buy­ing power than us, so we were start­ing be­hind the eight-ball straight up.

‘‘And we be­lieved that cus­tomer ser­vice was a high pri­or­ity, so we em­ployed more staff than them.

‘‘So with a higher cost of goods and a higher cost of staff the mar­gins were fairly small. Even­tu­ally we made the de­ci­sion to sell.’’

From the day the doors opened the store faced an ever-chang­ing busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, which saw the rise of the big two su­per­mar­kets in Aus­tralia, Coles and Wool­worths.

De­spite re­sist­ing buy-out of­fers through­out the ’90s the de­ci­sion was only made to sell the store on the premise that em­ploy­ees would be of­fered con­tin­ued em­ploy­ment with the new buyer.

That buyer was Bi-Lo, which was owned by Coles, and Coles still op­er­ate a su­per­mar­ket on the site to­day.

Blast from past: The old SSW su­per­mar­ket in Car­rier St.

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