It was in December 1969, as a young 20 year old, that I first met Jack Goldin at a luncheon and we got talking. He asked me what I was doing and I replied that I was with Woolworths as a trainee manager.
Jack was very impressed with the Woolworths training program and I subsequently found out that he was recruiting/poaching most of his management from this retailer.
During our discussion he suggested that if I ever wanted to leave Woolworths, I should contact him.
After him having planted the seed, I gave it a lot of thought and within 2 weeks I decided to make the phone call. We arranged to meet that same day after work. The interview went well and I joined Clicks on 1 February 1970 as a buyer, but firstly had to go through a managerial orientation program which it was informed would take 12 months. Clicks consisted of 5 stores in Cape Town and Paarl.
I was extremely excited to be joining Clicks as there was already a lot of good press about the new dynamic ‘man on the block’ who started Pick ‘n Pay and sold it to Raymond Ackerman. These were the heady days of discount retail start-ups. Clicks opened the first store in August 1968.
I was very confident that Jack was going to build Clicks into a large chain of discount stores, which was going to emulate the American drugstore concept and was originally planned to include pharmacy.
Unfortunately for Jack, the Pharmacy Board at the time made representations to government to block this strategy, successfully.
Jack wasn’t deterred by this and put together a mix of merchandise and created what we used to call ‘a drugstore without the drugs’.
Shortly after I joined the company Jack went on a trip to the Far East to ascertain the feasibility of importing non-toiletries directly.
He came back very excited. During his frequent visits to the stores, he pulled me aside in our Plein Street store where I was training, and he told me that together we will be going on the first real buying trip to the Far East after Christmas of that year (1970), and I was also to report to Head Office the next day. Clicks was on the move and I was required to get involved with the buying, after only having spent 6 weeks in stores.
Jack was an incredible merchant and this is what he loved doing more than anything else in the business. Everything I learned was from being privileged to work in very close proximity to him.
Before we left on our first buying trip I was instructed to study the import duty tariffs for all the possible commodities that we would possibly buy. I spent weeks learning them and by the time we left I knew them all verbatim.
In the early days our trips were planned to last 6 weeks and we visited Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. We spent 3 of the 6 weeks in Japan alone – China at that time was completely closed. After a few years we included Korea in our trips.
At the time probably 85% of all the homewares/gifting/toys etc. were either purchased from local wholesalers or we imported through agents.
Jack was hell-bent on wanting to cut out the wholesalers wherever he could for 2 reasons.
- the Wholesalers would sell the same merchandise to our competitors and
- if we bought direct we would cut out the wholesalers markup and we could offer the customers extremely deep discount – You Pay Less at Clicks.
Can you imagine that with only 6 stores operating we were going to import directly – Jack really had chutzpah !
In those days we could only order in quantities of between 4dz -12dz per item so in many cases the minimum order quantities were too large for us, but we persevered and managed to build exciting ranges of merchandise, the likes of which had never been seen in South Africa before. Besides the wholesalers the only large retail chain that had the muscle to import directly was OK Bazaars and we used to have a lot of fun competing head-on with them.
Jack and I used to discuss about the future and we at that stage could only but dream of having 20 stores which would give us enough buying power and meet most of the minimum order quantities.
In the business Jack believed in formality. Not only in dress code but even extended to permissible length of hair for the men. He also insisted on being addressed as Mr Goldin. It was a number of years later that whilst on our annual buying trip, he turned around to me and said that I could call him Jack when we were overseas but had to reverted back to Mr Goldin in South Africa.
He was referred to internally as “the old man” even though he was only in his 40’s as the vast majority of management was very young.
Jack was a hard taskmaster and was known at times had a terrible temper.
In the early days the receptionist used to alert us if Jack was wearing his brown suit, as that was a sure indication that he would be in a bad mood and we would stay out of his way for as long as possible.
On the other hand he could be the gentlest, charismatic nicest guy that you could meet.
There were times that he would give someone a public dressing down and afterwards he would feel sorry for his outburst and make amends by offering fully paid long weekends away. This is what earned him a tremendous amount respect.
I mentioned earlier that he was a merchant of note. It was Jacks idea to take certain well known branded merchandise and sell them at near to cost. This included Parker Jotter pens for 99c, Bicycle playing cards for 49c per pack, Dunlop 65 golf balls also for 49c, Cadbury 125g slabs at 14.5c amongst many other so called “loss leaders”.
The customers just flocked to Clicks and the chain was expanding rapidly.
Jack built up an incredible name for honesty and integrity. His handshake was good enough to seal a deal and we were all brought up in the same school.
In the days before computers, there were often mistakes with vendors invoices – the most common mistakes were overcharges and undercharges. Naturally we deducted overcharges but Jack had a very strict policy that the vendors were also notified of the undercharges, which gave them the opportunity to rectify the situation. They were very grateful and this certainly contributed to building excellent business relationships with them.
In negotiations with vendors, Jack was a master. He was a tough, but fair negotiator. The suppliers respected him for the way he dealt with them which resulted in mutual respect being shown on both sides.
Jack had a large poster put up in the reception area with 2 separate blades of a pair of scissors, which symbolized the buyer and the seller with the phrase written below “One blade is useless without the other”.
I could share volumes of more anecdotes as well as personal experiences about and with the man who founded Clicks but they will have to wait for another day.
As a closing remark I would like to add that Jack was a larger than life hands-on operator whilst at the same time was very perceptive.
He knew that by the time the 80th Clicks stores was opened that it was impossible for him to micro-manage the business as was his custom, so when he was made an offer by Carlos dos Santos of Trador to purchase the business, he seized the moment to move on, and leave the show to the next generation of protégés, who had learned everything they knew from this retail maven.
Now long retired from the Company after spending 37 years of my life with Clicks, deep down I still feel indebted, privileged and sometimes even sentimental about having been mentored by such a uniquely entrepreneurial retailer, Jack Goldin.
Clicks was one of the first retailers to import products. Our products and prices attracted people in their droves.
One product that was my brainchild was hanging cutlery. I saw it at a little boutique in South Africa and then again in Japan. I convinced Jack Goldin that it was a good idea. So we bought 300 sets and sold them for R9.99, at first they did not sell but in three weeks they were the favourite of the shop. Orders increased everytime we got them in. I started getting phone calls at home, asking when the next shipment was coming in because all stores had run out.
Clicks buyers started to discover unique things like Matchbox toys, Dunlop golf balls and Bicycle playing cards that you could only get at Clicks. Everyone wanted them.
That is how we build the foundation for today’s store. And it was a really strong foundation. Clicks made its name because we have been different and innovative. Back then there was little restriction, so we could experiment a lot. In my opinion, the business is the merchandise. If there is no merchandise pulling people into the store, then nobody has a job. Merchandise is the heartbeat of the business.
Jack Goldin had an incredible retail brain. He was a tough, demanding man with a great entrepreneurial mind. Inside he was generous with a soft heart.
Raymond Godfrey with Clicks from 1970 2005
Source: 40 years of Clicks 1968 – 2008 Magazine page 82