Past/Lives Flashback #7: Rick Damelian – Leichhardt, NSW
Original article: Rick Damelian/For Sale – Leichhardt, NSW
Over the last year, you’re likely (I would hope) to have enjoyed a healthy bank balance, a good credit rating, a roof over your head. Simple stuff that the people of Sydney take for granted. Rick Damelian on the other hand…
When we last left the epic tragedy that is the Rick Damelian saga, things weren’t looking too good for both Rick and his former dealerships. Despite their desirable location along Parramatta Road at Leichhardt, the caryards, weren’t attracting any offers, and Rick himself was staring down the barrel of a pretty severe bankruptcy.
But hold on. Look there, in the window…is that what I think it is? Let’s take a closer look.
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. In November 2012, these showrooms finally sold, and since then have returned to doing what they did so well at the peak of Rick’s success – selling cars.
Even on the roof, Rick’s private helipad has been obscured by a legion of cars. The staff might want to check to make sure Rick isn’t living in one of them.
Remember Ric’s Cafe, the on-site licenced restaurant that was the jewel in the crown of Rick’s decadence? It’s since been replaced by even more cars! It’s funny, Rick might not be in the situation he’s in today if he’d just thought to sell a few more cars instead of food and helicopter rides. Live and learn, I guess.
Further down the road, a modestly priced used car dealership has set up shop on Rick’s old turf. So toxic was the land, so tarnished was the site’s reputation as a car seller that the signs feel the need to be as explicit as possible: “WE BUY CARS! WE SELL CARS!”. It’s a trick Rick didn’t seem to be able to employ in his last years: speaking the language of the customer. Having cars onsite helps too, I’d imagine.
Rick’s old bedfellow, Honda, has returned as well. Formerly the core of Rick’s sales strategy, Honda left Rick holding the bag when the Japanese tsunami decimated their inventory, and some speculate that this marked the beginning of the end of the Damelian empire.
Yet here they are.
Fancy that: it’s easier to come back from the ravages of a tsunami than it is to survive Rick’s management.
One thing Honda has held onto are Rick’s ‘Dealer of the Year’ awards. I can see what Honda’s trying to do…but Honda – you issued these awards. It’d be like me giving myself the ‘Blog called Past/Lives of the Year’ award.
Over the road, Morris has set up shop at the old Rick Damelian Prestige lot. A few examples of Rick’s flamboyance remain: the floodlights, the pointless sign on the far left, the Hollywood-style palm trees. But the cold, impersonal MG style sits heavily at odds with these elements, further highlighting their uselessness.But fortune hasn’t been so kind to the man himself. As Rick Damelian and his wife sit together in their $3.3m McMahons Point townhouses, arguing over whose turn it is to heat up the beans tonight, the banks and other creditors hover over him like a hawk. Should he decide to sell his two townhouses – thereby leaving himself, his wife and his mother homeless – he’s so in debt that he’s likely to receive nothing. It’s reported that Rick has just $73 left in his bank account, and can’t even afford to buy a car. You really have to feel for his wife at a time like this…with no car, she may never get off her Ls.
After nearly 40 years in car sales, Rick’s biggest accomplishment was establishing his own name. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – take Dick Smith for instance – but it meant that Rick’s triumphs and tragedies didn’t stick to Honda, or Fiat or whatever brand of car he was flogging at the time, they stuck to him.
$200m-a-year sales? “Damelian’s business savvy creates sales juggernaut.”
Your new car sucks? “I wouldn’t buy from Rick Damelian again.”
While it’s true that the financial crisis hit everyone hard, Rick’s lavish showrooms didn’t help him weather the storm. And since he put himself forward so often, it was his name that thousands daily saw stagnating as they passed his high-visibility caryards at the top of Taverner’s Hill.
No matter what should happen in the future, the name Rick Damelian will forever be tied to car sales, and there are plenty of dealers who would kill for that kind of association. At least in his downfall, Rick has provided a cautionary tale for the next generation hungry to make an impact as the world’s financial situation improves.Fitting then, that it appears it’s harder to expunge Rick’s name from his old dealerships than it is from bankruptcy court.
Liberty Service Station/Sold – Riverwood, NSW
In its heyday, the Liberty budget-priced service station chain offered freedom from the high prices gouged by the big boys of the industry. Today, this Liberty offers freedom from any prices.
Liberty came from the old-school of servos, where workshops were par for the course. They were service stations after all, and not just because they used to fill your car up for you.
Liberty service stations are actually the modern day incarnation of the Solo service stations of the 1970s and 80s. Liberty began life as Solo in 1974, and became the largest independent servo brand in Australia. The Solo chain was part of the ACTU’s efforts in the 70s to bring about a discount retail revolution. In 1975, Solo teamed up with the ACTU to bring prices down in Victoria, leading to a 17c per litre difference in fuel prices between Victoria and NSW (imagine the fury in Albury-Wodonga). Solo’s discount revolution didn’t hit NSW until 1977, due to staunch opposition from a terrified Transport Workers Union, which feared that discount petrol would lead to mass sackings of fuel tanker drivers. Servo owners also rallied against the introduction of the discount chain, but to no avail. The first NSW Solo opened in 1977 in the then-still recovering Bold Street, Granville. Just think, all that effort and struggle to regulate and cut fuel prices, only to end up in the situation we’re in today. It’s pretty sad.
Solo was bought out by Ampol in 1989 (and didn’t that end well), and in 1995, Solo’s creators started Liberty ‘in the spirit of’ Solo. It’s alleged that they’re still going today, although from this mess you wouldn’t know it. You’d hope that Liberty head office had more confidence in the other locations than they had in this one.
Rick Damelian/For Sale – Leichhardt, NSW
If you owe $80m to creditors, lost eight car yards in the last year and failed to get any bids at all when you tried to sell your three Parramatta Road dealerships, chances are you’re Rick Damelian. Born in Uruguay to Armenian parents, Ricardo Damelian came to Australia in the 70s, and in 1978 started the Damelian Group. Establishing his dealerships along the high-visibility Parramatta Road at Leichhardt, Damelian changed the face of car sales by doing everything bigger and classier than his I’ll-appear-in-my-own-TV-ad competitors. Rick’s strip of dealerships contained a business centre which included a gym and a library, while rumours suggest a secret tunnel existed between the caryards and his volcanic island stronghold, which boasted a rocket launchpad, submarine base and a highly trained force of ninjas. Hey, they didn’t call Rick the ‘King of Taverners Hill’ for nothing.
Rick was known as ‘dealer to the stars’, but not for the reasons you may have heard. What it means is he sold cars to celebrities, if you count Lara Bingle as a celebrity. There’s one of Rick’s problems right there – if you sell an expensive car to someone with the surname Bingle, nothing will stop you when Larry Smash or Howard T-Bone walk onto the lot.
The motto of Rick’s dealerships was “The Best Place in the World to Shop for your Prestige Vehicle”. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? This motto meant little towards the end, when to stop the cash haemorrhage Rick had lowered himself to *vomit* making cars affordable for families and lower income earners. The things you do for money, right?
As good as he was at selling cars, with $300m-a-year profits and more than 100 cars sold per week at his peak, Rick made some bad choices in his time. In 2003, he invested in struggling radio and phone company Strathfield Group, of Strathfield Car Radios fame. Both Rick and Strathfield went into receivership in 2011, with Strathfield holding on for a whole month longer than Rick did before the bean counters came knocking. Shoulda kept the money, Rick.
One of Rick’s major problems was that Honda, his bread and butter, had been hit hard by the Japanese tsunami. No supply meant no sales, and the big bosses in Japan were too busy placing saucepans under their dripping ceilings to return Rick’s calls. When Rick went under, his remaining cars were returned to their suppliers, which I’m sure was just what Honda wanted. How many of these cars were destined for low income families we can’t know, but we do know that they’re getting their deposits back from the Office of Fair Trading’s motor vehicle compensation fund, and NOT from Rick himself. That may seem unfair, but think about it from Rick’s point of view. As a low income family himself now, he’ll need those deposits to buy a 1994 Mazda hatchback to drive to Centrelink.
Another was that Rick’s brother Robert, thought to have been the mastermind behind the whole operation, left the Damelian Group in 2008 after a falling out with Rick, leaving only Rick’s flamboyance at the helm. Unfortunately, this was no longer the 80s – it just doesn’t fly anymore. Just ask Mad Barry. Of course, there was a lot of blame placed on the global economic crisis, and I’m sure that had *yawn* a lot to do with it, too. Robert’s apparent business savvy does not seem to have been shared by Rick; when the banks were encouraging him to start selling off his assets when his fortunes started to dip, Rick would ask for more than was offered every time, and would subsequently lose the sale. Maybe he wasn’t throwing in air conditioning and a three year warranty, those always help to sweeten the deal. Now that expressions of interest are being called again after the collapse, no one’s interested. I don’t see how the apartment building craze doesn’t catch on here, a few more ugly towers wouldn’t be out of place in the area.
Car franchises held by Rick included Honda, Suzuki, Saab (pfft), Renault, Citroen, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Skoda. All the high quality showrooms in the world won’t help you when no one is buying what you’re selling, and given the number of SUVs and 4WDs on the road these days (oh, and bicycles of course, City of Sydney), it’s no surprise first time buyers or those on a budget weren’t spending cash at Rick’s, despite his library and gym.
When the saga ended in October 2011, Rick’s business was 33 years old, five years older than his third wife.
While the money men behind the scenes struggle to sell off what are turning out not to be assets at all, Rick’s showrooms sit quiet and empty on Parramatta Road, waiting in limbo, like so many other places in Sydney, for their next life. Let’s take a look around.
This was Rick’s prestige car lot, and I believe it was his first car dealership on Parramatta Road. These days, the Peak Hour Parramatta Road Car Yard (™) has more cars than this.
WE’VE MOVED, says the big red lettering, and at first you assume that’s the reason the dealership is empty. But then you look over the road next to Honda, and see that that’s empty too. No big red letters there, though.
What’s wrong with this picture? Notice anything missing? So synonymous was Rick’s name with cars that he didn’t even need to put the word ‘cars’ on his sign to let people know what he was selling. It probably helped too that the yard was once full of prestige cars. Didn’t he ever think it’d be empty?
Rick’s office chair is the only thing on either lot with wheels. It’s got arms too, so of course it’s on the prestige lot.
In a fit of rage, someone’s hurled Rick’s filing cabinet onto the empty lot. It couldn’t have weighed that much, I suppose. There wouldn’t have been much paperwork for Rick to file in the last few years.
Rick’s prestige lot has become one of Parramatta Road’s many ‘dealership dealerships’. They should have some fun with it: “GOOD NICK, ONLY 300,000 SALES ON THE DASH, ONE PREVIOUS OWNER ONLY TOOK IT OUT ON WEEKENDS OR SPECIAL OCCASIONS”.
Here’s that picture again, seen through a ‘Rick Damelian Simulator’.
Fully sick! There’s a fully licensed restaurant here! Rick should have had a Red-P licensed restaurant for the kiddies too, but since they weren’t customers, no dice. I set off the building’s alarm taking this photo, but I wasn’t exactly worried that Rick’s patrolians were coming to sort me out. Those guys don’t work for free.
It’s Ric’s Cafe! I’m guessing that by not calling it ‘Rick’s Cafe’, Rick was a. avoiding any copyright issues with Casablanca and b. liability free if anyone got sick, died or otherwise had an unpleasant dining experience. I like that the ‘N’ in ‘restaurant’ has come loose, giving it that dilapidated, derelict feel. I bet that happened when they shut the door on the last day. This was actually the first restaurant to be incorporated into an Australian car dealership’s premise. Guessing not too many caryards will be following the trend given how it worked out.
The weekly special at Rick’s Ric’s Cafe was a glass of white wine. Well, that IS special.
Rick (nor Ric) hasn’t got many customers today, but just in case business picks up, there’s more seating upstairs.
When the repo men came, they took the Ns first.
Here’s Rick’s Parts & Accessories office, complete with Rick’s trophy cabinet; much like the showrooms, it’s looking a little bare. Those flowers look very ‘with sympathies at this difficult time’, don’t they?
If your Rick Damelian needs service, you’d come here to get him fixed. Ricks generally run for about 40 years before they start to conk out, and when they do watch out: you don’t want to be around.
Dedicated to excellence is a mantra I can believe, because there sure isn’t anything else on this lot. Nice lounges in the waiting area; they’re presumably there for creditors, who’ll be waiting awhile.
Hey, congratulations Rick! Honda Dealer of the Year…no years running. Oh. Still, it’s no biggie – even Honda isn’t Honda Dealer of the Year these days.
When these showrooms eventually go, there’ll be little to remind Sydneysiders of the legitimate impact Rick made on the world of car sales. I propose that in recognition for all he’s done for motorists, the nearby footbridge over Parramatta Road should be renamed the Rick Damelian Overdraw – uh, I mean, Overpass.
Update: One year later, the fortune of Rick’s caryards has improved. Rick’s, on the other hand…
Curtain Fabric Factory Outlet/For Sale – Homebush, NSW
Curtain shops are faced with a tough promotional challenge: on one hand, you need the windows clear so that people can see inside, but on the other, you’re a curtain shop without curtains. It’s a high stakes gamble, and these guys lost everything. Let’s hope the new owner is a spray paint factory outlet, eh?
KFC/For Sale – Mosman, NSW
Mosman KFC – it’s been closed since 2004, presumably because it was on Military Road and wasn’t a boutique fashion outlet. I think Mosman Council must have some kind of cull every now and then of shops that aren’t conforming to the Mosman style; prior to the 1950s, this site was a grand old house belonging to Mosman G.P. Dr. Geoffrey Mutton, complete with tennis court out the back. The tennis court is now the block of units at the top right of the picture, and here on Military Road we have the Colonel, now awaiting oblivion/development.
You can tell this outlet is old because it doesn’t feature or allow for a drive-thru system, and apparently it also acted as a car dealership at some point. It’s notable in the illustrious history of KFC as being the recipient of a visit from Colonel Sanders himself in 1976:
Put some gloves on, Colonel.