Harvey Norman to be 'last man standing'
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Gerry Harvey believes his Harvey Norman chain will be "the last man standing" as other retailers go bust due to tough trading conditions.
The chairman of the electrical, bedding and furniture retailer has predicted a wave of retailers will close in the early months of 2013 as businesses go under.
"You've seen more retailers go out of business in the last two years than you have seen in the history of Australia and there are more retailers currently under pressure," he told reporters after the company's annual general meeting in Sydney on Tuesday.
"There are a lot of businesses hanging on for Christmas and expecting Christmas sales to be good but they have this gut feeling that the first half of next year is going to be extremely difficult.
"After Christmas you will see a lot more (retailers) go."
Mr Harvey said he expected December sales would be better than last year, despite disappointing October and November sales.
But he said the weather would still play a part in the success of Harvey Norman's Christmas sales.
"I think December, I'm hopeful, will beat last year," he told reporters.
"That might have a bit to do with the weather. If we have a really hot period across Australia and we sell a lot of air conditioners, then we'll definitely beat last year.
"If it's cold every day then we'll battle because air conditioners are a big part of our business in December."
Mr Harvey had earlier told shareholders at the company's annual general meeting that they should stick with Harvey Norman despite its falling share price and profits, as it would pick up market share as other retailers close.
"We're in a very difficult environment and we're playing 'last man standing'," he said.
"We're doing all things possible to be there when another 20 per cent of the stores close in the area that we're in, then we're going to get the advantage of those stores going out of business.
"It is going to happen. I can guarantee you. It's only getting worse."
Mr Harvey later told reporters he believed that Harvey Norman would withstand the current conditions because his suppliers had told him he was in better shape than his competitors.
He also admitted that Harvey Norman had the assets to bail out franchisees when they were in trouble.
A number of shareholders raised their concerns during the meeting about poor customer service at Harvey Norman stores, with some saying they had shopped elsewhere because of it.
But Mr Harvey joked that they were disloyal shareholders for shopping with competitors and that it was difficult to control all of the retailer's staff at its many stores.
He later told reporters that many customers now took an "entitled" view of how they should be treated in stores.
"The expectations of customers today are greater than they've ever been," he said.
Harvey Norman shares close 1.5 cents lower at $1.83.