Robin’s Kitchens are an iconic brand seen in many shopping centres around the country. The first store was opened in 1976 and was an enterprise by Old Boy Robin Brace (Class of 1959).
Starting in a role at a retail chain called Pennys, Robin began in the office and accounts section. The chain was soon bought out by Coles and Robin became a member of Store Opening Team which rebranded each store and provided him with a wealth of experience of in-store layouts, signage and displays. After various other positions in the company, and his diligence eventually saw him be Floor Manager in one of the biggest stores located in Adelaide Street store in Brisbane.
After six years with Coles, Robin joined Myer as the Department Manager of China, Glass and Cookware. Starting at their Cooparoo store, he eventually was transferred to Myer Chermside as Homewares Group Manager. Myer at the time had also acquired two iconic department stores, McWirters and Allan & Stark where Robin continued to manage Homewares, but also extended into Hardware, Electrical, sporting and travel goods and furniture. During this time, Robin also had the opportunity to work with the original owners of Super Cheap Auto and Pillow talk.
After seeing first-hand how the sales could be affected by employees unfamiliar with such a large variety of products, Robin saw the opportunity to specialise. After 13 years with Myer, Robin, with the help of a friend who was already importing products and advertising on television, opened his first store in 1976. Robins’ was located in what was the City Council Administration Building which was behind the Brisbane City Hall. Over the next three years and with the help of his friend’s television contacts, Robin promoted heavily through the channel and often did interviews and demonstrations on daytime tv.
Two more stores opened in 1979, one of which was in Westfield Indooroopilly which they were lucky to do given those lease opportunities were provided to more well-known stores that had stores in Sydney and Melbourne. The tv advertising continued to be the primary form of promotion and a name change to ‘Robin’s Kitchen’ occurred in 1980. The power of this advertising at the time paid off when Robin took a gamble and purchased a new product launched at the Sydney Gift Show. He bought 12,000 units of the ‘Magician’ can opener and put an Australian voice over on the British made commercial. Ten thousand can openers sold in the first month.
Continued growth saw the group expand to 4 stores and also have a warehouse operation to service these and distribute stock. From 1981 to 1996 the company went on to open many more stores and by 1996 24 outlets were in action across Queensland. The demand for having ‘Robin’s Kitchens’ in a new shopping complex became so high, and the company was often able to dictate their location.
The 90’s witnessed the company and Robin himself impacted by the Recession, and eventually, he sold his interest in the company. The new management struggled in the operation of the business and after financial problems brought Robin back as a consultant. The result was, in a restructure and several stores closing down. The company was, however, positively turned around and continued to expand. In 1998 they won the prestigious Westfield National Award for Retail Excellence Qld Division.
After being resold again in 2003, Robin’s involvement in the company ceased. The new owners looked to expand very quickly and in a different format which resulted in the company going into administration eventually in 2013. Retail billionaire Solomon Lew bought the rights to the name ‘Robins Kitchens’ and has continued to operate the remaining stores.
Robin is now happily retired and recently returned to the school for a reunion with his cohort.
“I’m glad to have made a mark on the Australian retail scene,” he said. “My grandkids now point to the stores and say that was my Grandpa’s shop.”