In April 2014, Coles celebrated its 100th birthday - that's a whole century dedicated to giving Aussie families the products they need for a happy, healthy home life, at prices they can afford.
Founder GJ Coles created a store that would lower the costs of living for Australian families. This philosophy continues more than 100 years later.
"The customers themselves really decide what goods we shall stock in our stores."
— GJ Coles, 1928
On 9 April 1914 young GJ Coles opened the first Coles store in Smith St, Collingwood, Victoria.
Immediately before the shop opened, he set down his thoughts about the task ahead. “A proprietor has to have a happy home life,” he wrote, “he has to have a contented staff; he has to have a store he would be proud of; he has to earn the respect of his fellow men, and to do all this he must also operate a business that would be successful.”
The beginning of the 1930s was marred by the savage social impacts of the Great Depression.
Despite tough economic times, Coles did not step down from its commitment, first made in 1922, to donate a large share of profits to charities including hospitals, nursing homes and relief funds for the unemployed.
According to founder GJ Coles, giving to charity was a “business and a social responsibility” and a commitment to social responsibility was made that still remains today.
The impacts of World War II changed Coles and our customers. Many married women had become part of the workforce, which meant they had less time at home to prepare food for the family. As a result, they began buying more ready-made foodstuffs and delicatessen items, leading to an increase in these lines in Coles stores.
In 1946, confidence boomed in post-war Australia and Coles began selling electrical appliances such as toasters and irons.
In 1948, Coles launched its first cosmetics range and engaged starlets Doris Day, Arlene Dahl and Eleanor Parker as the faces of the campaign.
From the time that GJ Coles founded the company in 1914, the Coles business was marked by fresh thinking and a sense of innovation. Even as a young man working in his father's store in country Victoria, GJ shook things up by introducing sales catalogues and making a display of sale goods on a table in the centre of the shop.
By the mid-'50s, Coles stores were converting into the self-service stores which would set the standard for supermarkets into the 21st century. By the end of the decade, the company had shifted course from its origins as a variety store and set its sights on becoming Australia's most significant food retailer, with all new logistics, warehousing and distribution systems required for such a challenge.
The '60s were a time of change in Australia. Though he had been Managing Director of Coles since before the end of WWII, Edgar Barton Coles was inspired by the sense of progress and embarked on a program of delivering "tomorrow's shops, today" to an increasingly affluent Australia.
In 1960, Coles opened the nation's first freestanding supermarket, equipped with a car park. Edgar's plan was to develop a chain of supermarkets that would stock everything a family might have on their weekly household shopping list, from light bulbs to lemons, making it possible to get it all in a single trip.
After 50 years of growth, Coles entered the ’70s with a network of retail outlets stretching across the country and a fresh focus on value, convenience and innovation for the benefit of Australian shoppers.
Coles showed its innovative streak in the development of the Farmland range of home brand food products helping to reduce the cost of groceries. Coles also launched a discounting program in 1971, reducing prices permanently on 7,000 items.
The '80s was a decade of economic confidence in Australia with the floating of the Australian dollar heralding unprecedented business expansion, prompting Coles to look for new opportunities. Coles introduced the first electronic scanners into its stores in 1982, giving customers a printed receipt which itemised all their purchases for the first time.
By the mid '80s Coles established liquor interests under Liquorland and Vintage Cellars. The expansion continued with the acquisition of Bi-Lo, specialty fashion chains and the department store chain, Myer Emporium Ltd Group. On 25 July 1985, Coles Myer Ltd was born.
In 1987 a Coles Myer corporate headquarters was opened in Tooronga, Victoria, by Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
The '90s was the decade of the dot-com bubble, borne from the rapid increases in technology and the advent of the World Wide Web. For Coles, the '90s meant adopting new technology that modernised inventory tracking. The cost saved by this technology was reinvested into reducing the price of 6,000 product lines.
As the World Wide Web went live in 1993, Coles launched its Flybuys program enabling customers of Shell, National Australia Bank and Coles Myer to earn free air travel simply by shopping. Within a year of its launch, 3.5 million Australians were Flybuys members. Coles continued to embrace the evolution of technology and trialled online shopping within 23 Melbourne postcodes in June 1999.
The ‘noughties’ came with an influx of economic uncertainty as interest rates continued to rise while the Australian Dollar declined. In that time, Coles saw its online channel grow to become one of the largest online food retailers in the country in 2003.
By mid-2004, Coles established a nationwide network of Coles Express service stations, providing customers with greater access to food through its new petrol and convenience stores.
Sweeping changes continued as Coles returned to its heritage after selling Myer in June 2006. In the following year, Coles Group was acquired by another Australian company, Wesfarmers.
Under Wesfarmers’ ownership, Coles invested in significant changes to improve the customer experience, including -format stores, lowering prices as part of our ‘Down Down’ campaign and investing in our team members.
From 2010, Coles launched a series of animal welfare and responsible sourcing initiatives including hormone-free beef and cage-free eggs, which you can read more about here. In 2012, Coles launched the Australian First Sourcing Policy, you can read about that here.
Wesfarmers demerged from Coles in November 2018, an exciting opportunity for Coles to become a standalone publicly listed company on the ASX. Into the future, Coles remains committed to delivering consistently high quality fresh food, product innovation, long-term partnerships with suppliers and great value for our customers.