By Patrick Avenell

JB Hi-Fi chief executive Richard Uechtritz has absolutely slammed the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) awards, of which the retail outlet was a beaten finalist, and in the process of doing so he has lifted the lid on the ARA’s dubious awards system.

As reported earlier this week, JB Hi-Fi failed to event the Sydney event, in which Supacheap Auto was named Retailer of the Year. For Uechtritz, the awards process was too complicated, time consuming and irrelevant.

“It’s a wanky award – it’s not sour grapes – why did they chase us up to fill out all these forms?” said Uechtritz. “Anyone who fills out all those forms is not doing the right thing by their shareholders. Everyone knows who the top retailers in the country are.”
Responding to this criticism, ARA executive director Richard Evans defended the awards and the award process.

“There was no national award for retailers prior to this. We thought it reasonable to recognise both large and independent retailers.

“We asked a field to nominate the top eight retailers – brands who had performed over the last 12 months,” said Evans.

After JB Hi-Fi had been nominated for the Retailer of the Year award, the ARA went to Uechtritz and invited him to be involved in the process, which Evans says meant providing data about the previous year. It was at this stage that Uechtritz told the ARA that JB Hi-Fi was not interested in participating and that, as Evans retells the story, it wasn’t in the best interests of JB Hi-Fi’s shareholders.

Although Evans would not say how many of the six other nominees, the original eight less JB Hi-Fi and Supacheap Auto, also declined the nomination, he did use the phrase “some companies” to describe the withdrawals. In the lead-up to the ARA awards, however, the association’s website and public relations promoted JB Hi-Fi as a nominee, essentially a potential winner, when it clearly was not going to win the award.

Evans defends this misinformation by saying, “We didn’t disclose one way or another [which companies had the nominations], it was entirely up to them. We think they deserve the recognition”.

When asked if he was upset by Uechtritz revelation of these details, Evans said, “We live in a democratic society, it’s a free world. It’s up to them to disrespect this recognition”.

The issue of respect, however, is now a problem for the ARA, with the revelation that potential nominees resigned their recognition affecting the credibility of the awards. When Evans was asked if Supacheap Auto’s win was a Steve Bradbury – that is, through lack of competition rather than skill – he said, “No, not at all”.