The other day I was scrolling mindlessly through my phone when I came across a Bored Panda article called “40 Young People Share what Boomers might be right about.”
If you don’t know what Bored Panda is, it’s just a website that takes posts of Reddit (a Q & A style online forum) and makes them into content. If you’re a Baby Boomer be warned that Reddit contains a lot of rants about you from every other generation.
But this one was the exception. Not only did it have 35,000 comments, in between posts about how kids really do have terrible social skills because they spend too much time on smartphones and how there really should not be touch screens in cars there was this one:
“Electronic devices should be repairable. All of them. TVs and smartphones should last for at least 10 years. How is [it] that we are all *environmentally friendly* but we switch iPhones every 2 or 3 years?”
Hundreds of people agreed. But, as one commenter pointed out, ‘for a good portion of the population, the only option is to buy new every time something breaks, because they don't have the technology and transportation to find and get to a repair shop, and/or the financial ability to get that item repaired, even if it could be repaired.’
Fortunately, J & T Electrical at 254 High Street provides this increasingly rare service right here in Ashburton.
E & S Trading
254 High Street sits in a block of shops built in the 1950s to accommodate the bustling and expanding shopping district of Ashburton. It started life as a hardware shop but in 1962, Mr Wilson, its owner, leased the property to E & S Trading.
Bob Sinclair opened E & S Trading (“Eastern and Southern”) at 246 High Street (present day Joe Frank) and sold an array of washing machines, televisions, stereos and kitchen equipment. Back then, repair and service were bundled together as part of the entire electronic consumer experience. The shop at 254 High Street became the repair arm of his business.
According to his obituary in Appliance Retailer, Bob Sinclair was ‘a determined business man, passionate family man and a generous person.’ Originally from Queensland, Bob remained heavily committed to the independence of electronic retailers his entire life.
Although he lived in Brighton, Bob’s independent spirit fitted with the thriving and bustling Ashburton High Street shopping precinct of the 1960s. The business quickly outgrew its premises. After four years, E&S moved to larger premises at 234 High Street (present day Snap Fitness 24/7). Over the following decades, E&S Trading expanded across the eastern suburbs but the Ashburton stored remained its headquarters into the 2010s. Today, E&S Trading occupies multiple locations across Melbourne, including Chadstone Home. It remains in the Sinclair family, operated by Bob’s sons Robert and Michael.
Meanwhile, the E & S repair shop at 254 High Street ran a brisk trade until at some point during the 1970s, when Bob Sinclair decided to close it down.
J & T Electrical is born
After Mr Wilson died, he left his daughter Hazel Wilson a pub in North Melbourne, a chauffeuring business and 254 High Street, Ashburton. The shop remained vacant until local man Peter James (“J”) and his friend Wes Thomas (“T”) decided to lease it.
Peter grew up in Ashburton near Alamein Station, so was very familiar with the retail prospects of the area. He had been the service manager at Heckle Electrics in South Yarra. After Heckle – who made electric blankets, toasters, and kettle jugs – closed down, Peter and Wes decided to open their own electrical repair business in 1978.
Wes died in 1992 and Peter remains there today. At the age of 94, Hazel continues to own the shop and still calls in to visit.
The electrical repair business, according to Peter
In the beginning, business was mostly TVs and Hifis. That was back when there were about 30 similar repair shops in the whole of Melbourne.
‘We also used to do lots of kettles and toasters,’ Peter says, ‘and business with Breville and Kenwood. These days it’s Kitchen Aids, Vitamix Blenders and coffee makers.’
Peter points to a toaster on the shelf. ‘That toaster there is $400 and handmade in England. It’s the only toaster in Australia that can be repaired. Everything else is throwaway Chinese crap. And we are one of the only places left in Melbourne that can fix it.’
People come from all over Melbourne to J & T Electrical for exactly this reason.
‘This culture of throwing stuff away, it’s just sad really,’ Peter continues. ‘A lot of people want to fix stuff but there’s just no parts for it. The Government doesn’t require the importation of spare parts for anything valued under $250. So it just gets thrown away and sits in landfill for a million years.’
The throwaway culture
Peter expresses frustration at the Australian Government’s lack of action on legislating more sustainable manufacturing practices and committing to repairing consumer electronic goods.
‘The US makes a lot of good products – always have – and they back their products. They put a seven year guarantee on their Kitchen Aid blenders. Yours breaks down, you ring them, they send a TNT transport out to collect it, they bring it to me, I fix it, and send it back to them. We don’t do that here anymore.’
Electronic waste is estimated to be the fastest-growing waste category in the world. According to European research, 77 per cent of EU citizens would rather fix a product than substitute it. Across the world, governments are implementing legislation to try and curb the waste problem.
For example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency administers E3 (Economy, Energy and Environment), a federal technical assistance framework to help communities, manufacturers and manufacturing supply chains adapt to a greener economy. The European Commission is committed to implementing legislation on ‘right to repair’; intended to give consumers the practical means to self-repair their products or choose a third-party service provider. The Canadians are also supporting efforts to encourage citizens to repair their mobile phone, often the most expensive personal item they own.
But the obstacles that Peter faces in his small business are repeated across the world: high costs, limited access to spare parts, an absence of standardisation and interoperability, and a lack of technical expertise all merge to create significant barriers for the repair of present day products.
‘It costs money and the plastic and metal are melded together so it’s hard to recycle,’ Peter acknowledges. ‘But it’s better than putting it into landfill. We can do it, but we’re just too lazy. The Government needs to step up to these manufacturers and say, ‘take some of those million dollar profits and put them back into the country.’’
Meanwhile, its left to Peter and his workers at J & T Electrical to do their bit.
The Covid impact
When Covid hit, J & T Electrical had to close down. ‘We were trying to pick up stuff and take it home to fix it but we weren’t allowed,’ Peter says. ‘Hazel [the landlady] was excellent. She just rang and said, ‘Peter, if you’ve got trouble don’t worry about it, we’ll sort it out.’’
Now business is booming once again.
The future of J & T Electrical
Just like at Ken Ross Jewellers, Peter would like to retire but there is just far too much work to get through. Every morning he drives up from his home in Frankston to open the shop at 7.30 am. He’d love to find someone to take over and train up but so far no luck.
The problem is, ‘we’re crazy busy but there’s very little money in it,’ Peter says. ‘Profit-wise, it’s shocking because you don’t get money from the companies to do the warranty work and there’s so much of it.’
‘I've been in business 46 years last week. We’re still going. I bring more people into Ashburton than anyone else in this shopping street!’
 Aiton, Doug, "Family Goods Rob Sinclair on How E&S Trading Came to Be," Geelong Advertiser, 7 November 2011.