Tom Edwards saw a lot of products rise and fall in his time heading up one of Queensland’s most iconic retailers, RT Edwards, but none captured the community’s attention quite like television.
“It just exploded, people were so excited about what it brought to them,” he said.
“We used to have televisions in the showroom of our store on East Street and people would come, sometimes 25 to 30 people, and stand outside the store at night to watch.
“And because I was so well-known and they knew I lived just up the road in Roderick Street, they would ring me and ask me to come down and change the channel, and I would.”
Mr Edwards is now 81 and while his days of changing the channel for customers are long gone, what is not is his deep love and appreciation of the Ipswich community.
It is fitting then that the Ipswich icon is among those chosen to carry the Queen’s Baton Relay when it comes to Ipswich on 29 March on its way to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Mr Edwards will carry the baton across David Trumpy Bridge and into the city’s CBD in a vintage car in what is sure to be one of the most picturesque moments of the relay.
“Ipswich has been very good to us and I’m very pleased to be involved with anything that promotes Ipswich; it’s a tremendous honour,” he said.
Mr Edwards’ deep association with Ipswich began with his father, Roy, who started an electrical business – RT Edwards – in 1931 after being retrenched by the railways.
“He used to go around town on his bicycle doing electrical service work for people and set up the shop in East Street,” he said.
“Power was just coming to Ipswich and there weren’t a lot of electricians and dad was able to build a good reputation in the community.”
Mr Edwards joined the family business when he turned 15 and completed a five-year electrical trade apprenticeship.
At that time, his father and brother Llew also worked in the business. However, both eventually decided to follow new paths – Roy into the ministry and Llew into politics and medicine – leaving Mr Edwards to ultimately head up the entire business.
By the time the Edwards family sold their labour of love in 2008, the company had grown from 12 employees and one store to an iconic Queensland brand with 20 outlets, 360 staff and an annual turnover of about $120 million.
Mr Edwards attributed the company’s success to two things: customer loyalty built through quality service and its staff.
“We were always very strong on the fact that any product we sold to our customers we must also be able to repair. That was the key,” he said.
“Many businesses don’t have a big service division these days, but for us it was always important, and because of it we had very loyal customers.
“The other thing (that drove our success) was our staff. People make your business work, you can have great ideas, and you have to have those, but you must have great people to make them work.
“My main goal was to always have a happy team, because, if you have a happy team, you will have a successful team and that will lead to a successful business.”
Tom Edwards helps a customer with a television in the early 80s. Photo: Picture Ipswich.
The section of the relay Tom Edwards will carry the baton.
Tom Edwards with Simpsons washing machines sales representative Mr Brown. Photo: Picture Ipswich.
The East Street RT Edwards store in 1959. Photo: Picture Ipswich.
Washing machines on display outside the East Street store in 1959. Photo: Picture Ipswich.
Mr Edwards was not only instrumental in the success of RT Edwards but also helped many other small retailers compete with bigger national and multinational brands through the Retravision buying collective.
He led the collective for many years, sharing his deep understanding of the retail environment.
“The group allowed smaller retailers to have better buying power and that meant they could get market share they wouldn’t otherwise have seen,” he said.
“I think it’s important to always be trying to lead and share knowledge.”
Although life has slowed since his RT Edwards retail days, Mr Edwards is far from retired.
These days, he divides his time between helping manage the family’s property interests and spending time on 8,500 acres of rural land on which the family runs 1,500 head of cattle and 300 breeders.
He and wife Ivy’s four children – Sue, Anne-Maree, Paul and Gary – all work in the business.
“I’m still very active. You get to the stage where you body gives you indications that you need to slow down a bit, but I like to remain active,” he said.
You can tell a lot about a city by looking at the people who have helped shape it through the years.
Ipswich is renowned as a hard working, innovative and caring community – all qualities of which Tom Edwards has in spades.
The positive contribution the Edwards family has made to Ipswich, and in fact Queensland, extends far beyond the business arena.
Mr Edwards is a true Ipswich icon and a fitting choice to carry the Queen’s Baton Relay when it visits our city on 29 March on its way to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.Cr Cheryl Bromage
The RT Edwards fleet outside the East Street Store in Ipswich.