Interview with ENGEL SYPKES
at 526 Sandy Bay Road, Sandy Bay (his home) on Friday 23 January 2015 @ 3.30 pm.
Present: Engel & Marie Sypkes, Kees Wierenga.
Background notes regarding the contribution by Engel to the transformation of the Grocery industry in Tasmania from corner shop to self-serve and computer based knowledge systems, 1950’s to 1980’s.
1. Roelf Vos and Engel Sypkes were both in successful drapers in different towns in the Netherlands
Roelf met Engel six weeks before emigrating in 1952 “to start a new life, following the bad effects of World War Two.
Roelf’s wife has the same surname as Engel’s (1st) wife, but they not related.
2. Engel arrived in Ulverstone, then moved to Stanley, then to Smithton, then to Hobart (dates are in NAA records)
He listed his occupation with Dept. of Immigration as “upholsterer” for two reasons:-
- because he could not find the English word for carpet layer (work he had done in Holland)
- because emigrants with trade skills were valued more highly by Australian government.
For good measure he also listed his occupation as draper.
3. When he lived in Smithton, he noted that edible offal from a local abattoir was dumped in a branch of the Duck River
He also noted that eels thrived in this river (harvesting them was an idea that never got legs but he gave it a thought)
Liver for human consumption was rated so poorly, it could be had from the local butcher f.o.c.
Engel was interested in exploiting that offal because it included glands which had high medicinal value in Europe.
4. Engel made preliminary arrangements to send offal to Europe.
He also made arrangements to travel to overseas customers to finalise details, make deals.
5. Arthur Ambrose was a fellow draper. He had several clothing stores on the N West coast. Arthur suggested trip overseas should include USA to investigate reports of new, greenfield, shopping centres, which were later surrounded by suburbia.
Engel and Roelf were warm to the idea because, although the first five years, first as travelling salesmen and then as small shop operators, were rewarding, it did not fulfil their business inclinations. Roelf did not make the first trip with Engel and Arthur. Initially he did not think that he needed training but later changed his mind and went with Engel on Engel's second trip to catch up with further developments in retailing.
6. Engel and Arthur witnessed self service in American shops, and the American way
of retailing food in the self service way came to occupy their minds.
The two men did a course in Dayton, Ohio, with NCR (National Cash Register) where they learned about shopping ratios, such as car parking spaces per square meter of shop floor, shopping trolleys per square meter, etc.
Engel eventually made 3 trips to the USA, including one (the 2nd) with Roelf Vos. Key to each trip was the slogan “3Ms”
- monkey see, monkey do (=learn from others) and
- modern merchandising methods
- aka make more money.
7. On return from his first trip overseas, Engel could not get an export permit for (mostly pig) offal to Europe - he was considered an outsider to the industry, an intruder and possibly a meddler.
8.Failing his export dream, Engel purchased an established grocery store in Sandy Bay. Roelf stayed in Launceston, purchased a store there, and gave the store his own name. The stores were closed and modified to be self-serve stores
Self-serve was a new concept in 1957 - included cash only transactions.
Engel declined phone and account orders from well-heeled customers, which annoyed them. Engel relates, almost with relish, this story:-
“On opening day a telephone call was received and I (Engel) can remember the conversation up till today clearly It went like this -
"This is Mrs So and so (a prominent Sandy Bay resident) and I read your advertisement in the paper. Your prices are so much lower than what I pay my grocer that I would like to place an order with you right now and I would also like to open
a permanent account."
The reply: "Thank you Madam, but we cannot do that. We have started a new way of doing business. The principle is that if you want those products and those low prices, you have to come to the store and get them. You select them from the shelf, take them to the cash register and pay cash.
We will then carry the purchased goods to your car."
The reply was "No thank you." Her phone was slammed down. What a response to and answer from a possible future customer. He worried for a moment. Was the whole plan a complete failure?”
Engel also opened for trade on Friday nights, which annoyed established retailers.
9. The PURITY name is derived from the Dutch word Zuiverheid
Zuiverheid is both an adjective and the name of a business in the Netherlands
The business called Zuiverheid was in the milk processing industry (in Dutch, de zuivel industrie)
Engel had seen the factory, and was impressed by the all white uniforms of the staff. Purity staff were given all white uniforms to promote the idea of freshness and cleanliness, but this proved impractical for the retail industry.
10. Advertising - the key to success
- The best promo involved customers trading in 2/- pieces minted in a nominated year for 1lb of butter.
Engel purchased hundreds of 2/- pieces from the bank to survey mint year distribution with object to find a year with enough mintage to give customers a chance and a year with not too many minted which might cause him financial distress. This promo was self-inspired.
- Engel initiated purchase agreements with suppliers, so that advertising was no longer the whole cost of the retailer.
- Engel boldly advertised prices so that people could compare his offer with competitors, displayed confidence in his offers.
- Newspaper advertising was partly funded by co-contributions from suppliers as part of the radio advertising was.
1/ In response to adverse publicity on This DayTonight- a campaign was launched on radio in which listeners were asked to answer their incoming phone calls with the phrase “and Purity is still the cheapest”. If the caller was the radio station, the listener was rewarded.
2/ Radio advertising included a jingle, inspired by the success of Mark Cook Cars (the 1st jingle on Hobart radio)
Jingle was made in the USA from material submitted by 7HO, the 2nd jingle on Hobart radio.
- Idea for “Daytona 500” campaign was given by a businessman from NZ It was unique, new, exciting, and actively involved the public.
David Ambrose, son of Arthur, was the computer man
Acknowledged as an industy leader by Woolies after purchase of business by them and in that capacity engaged by them
Was 15 years younger than Engel
Origially used the spare capacity at Cadbury’s computer after 10 p.m.
Purity the first in Australia to use PLUs
Computing allowed Purity to increase stock turnover to 14 or more (a key to profitability)
In the years before selling to Woolworths, that company would often send observers to Tasmania to learn from Purity - innovation displayed here was ground breaking.
12. Eventually Purity, with its 13 stores, provided approxinately 24 % of the total grocery consumption in the southern part of Tasmania, whilst Roelf Vos did the same in the north of the state.
It is now 2015 and imagine what we would do without a Supermarket!
Roelf died a few years ago but Engel, at the age of 93, is still full of the satisfaction of having laid the groundwork for "Self Service" in Tasmania..
However he now leaves the cumbersome task of shopping to his wife!