Dick Smith called advisors before Christmas

dicmsithCash-strapped Dick Smith called in the advisors overseeing its administration two days before Christmas, but didn’t tell customers buying what are now unredeemable gift cards.

The first meeting of the ailing electrical retailer’s creditors was told on Thursday that Dick Smith management brought in McGrathNicol while shoppers were still picking up last-minute gifts on December 23.

The move came after a pre-Christmas fire sale failed to raise enough cash, but the full scale of Dick Smith’s problems only became public on January 5, when it informed the Australian Securities Exchange that it had gone into voluntary administration under McGrathNicol.

Customers who had bought gift cards or placed deposits on goods are now on a lengthy list of unsecured creditors owed $250 million out of total debts of about $390 million.

Some are eligible for refunds from their credit card companies, while retailers including Coles and Kogan have offered exchanges, but whether others see their money again depends on how much receiver Ferrier Hodgson gets by selling Dick Smith as a whole or in pieces.

“Strong offers will be needed for the business in order to compensate all creditors and we know the receivers are working as hard as they can to procure the best offers they can,” McGrathNicol’s Joe Hayes told reporters.

“It’s obviously encouraging that there are so many offers.”

Hayes said there was nothing unusual in a struggling company appointing an advisor and would not comment on whether there should be any special consideration for customers.

He will make a court application next week to ask for more time to investigate Dick Smith’s downfall and expects the receiver to ask for as long as six months past the current February 9 deadline.

“There’s a lot of work we have to do before we can speculate on the reasons for failure,” he said.

Figures released by Roy Morgan Research showed Dick Smith’s customer satisfaction in the 12 months to September 2015 – even before the twin profit warnings that preceded receivership – was 82 per cent.

That’s lower than direct rivals Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi at 84 and 91 per cent respectively.

“While our data cannot shed any light on the company’s business practices, their consequences can certainly be seen in Dick Smith’s below-average customer satisfaction rating and shrinking customer base,” Roy Morgan Research chief executive Michele Levine said.

Dick Smith also owes secured creditors about $140 million and the administrator estimates employee liabilities of about $15 million.

Mr Hayes said Dick Smith’s 3,300 or so employees were also covered by the government’s Fair Entitlements Guarantee Scheme if they were left short.


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