At age 33 John Mentha was working as the menswear manager for 'Adam's Department' store in Cobram (where the IGA supermarket is today). When the business was bought out by Coles, John had to travel to Melbourne to learn the Coles way of doing business. He returned home rather despondent from his training and after much discussion with his wife Monica decided to commence his own menswear business with not much money but an aspiring business plan. A promising resume of work and a friendly local bank manager John secured a mere 100sqm store beside the old Melba Theatre.
On the 10th of November 1960 "J & M Mentha - Mens & Boys Wear Specialists" was born. The new store looked full of stock but it was an optical illusion as most of the boxes were empty! The business plan was always simple, surround yourself with great staff, deliver excellent service, sell quality products and the plan would look after itself. Monica somehow juggled four children doing the books and alterations by night and teaching at the local kindergarten. John earned a few extra quid by helping load cases of tomatoes for the market with his Italian friends after work in the summer.
The great support John and Monica received from the community saw business blossom enabling them in 1966 to purchase the drapery business of Jack and Audrey Radcliffe in the middle of town where the business is still located today. The same year that pounds, shillings and pence became decimal currency the business became the town's one stop shop selling clothing, manchester, fabrics, furnishings and haberdashery.
Two years later in 1968 the adjacent store (Rigby’s butchery) was offered for sale and subsequently purchased, again with the local bank managers blessing. This premise was gutted, renovated and adjoined to the existing business where Monica opened her own ladies boutique named ‘GEMA Fashions’ after her four children Greg, Ellen, Mark & Anthony. Monica loved the cut and thrust of the fashion industry providing a much needed service to the women of the district.
At age twenty Greg joined the business following a two-year stint in textiles with Myer in Melbourne. So began a new era with a second-generation perspective for the business initiating more capital works, modernisation and renovations. This was a stressful time for John and Monica as they witnessed many of their previous successes being relinquished in the name of progress!
The 1970s were an exciting time in the business, a revolution was happening in the fashion industry - flares, high waisted jeans and platform shoes were the order of the day. The store continued to evolve with the new influences. Travelling salesmen were frequent visitors to the store bringing with them all the exciting trends to the town.The 70s also saw a major facelift to the store front with new modern glass windows installed, automatic doors and fresh signage.
During the mid-eighties, by which time Anthony had also joined the business, some cultural change was happening with several lifestyle clothing labels gaining momentum out of the coastal cottage industries. The likes of Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Billabong and Rusty were in demand and after much research, pleading and negotiation they were added to the business. By this stage Monica decided it was time to close the doors to her dear GEMA Fashions and take leave into retirement. This side of the store was refurbed and quickly became the dedicated space for the emerging surf and streetwear labels.
For Greg & Anthony the 90s were all about the local APEX Club, Peaches & Cream festival and Cobram Football Club. Running the business and community service have always gone hand in hand. The family business continued to evolve, Cobram won two premierships and iconic bands like Midnight Oil, Skyhooks and Hunters & Collectors played at Thompsons beach. John saw many changes to the style of business during this era and in 1993 decommissioned himself for a well deserved retirement.
In 2012 a third generation was activated when Claire came on board following business studies in Melbourne. It was déjà vu again with a new generation initiating more renovations, rebranding to Mentha’s Surf & Street Supply and implementing the stores first computer point-of-sale system. The IT age was now in full swing. Embracing retail systems and the power of social media were fast becoming integral features of the business. The Menswear side of the store (suiting, workwear and school uniforms) was relocated to a standalone store to allow for the expansion of the lifestyle labels.
Today the business prides itself on sourcing the latest lifestyle supplies from the best surf, street and boutique labels. The business features men's, women's and children's clothing in addition to a diverse range of accessories such as footwear, sunglasses, watches, wallets and much more. The hard working team is dedicated to creating a positive experience for their customers. The girls are passionate about staying up to date with the latest trends, instagramming new arrivals and merchandising the store in creative ways to leave a lasting impression.
From humble beginnings to the modern day department store the ‘Mentha Shop’ has become a local shopping institution. November 2020 will mark a milestone 60 years being in business and remarkably the debut year launching the ecommerce store. Since 1960 the business has employed in access of sixty employees and served three generations of local families. The dedication of staff and loyalty of long-standing customers are a testament to the success of the Mentha business to this day.
John Mentha now 92 years of age is proud looking back over his life and the accomplishments of his little start up business. An enterprise sustained by three generations and John's unwavering belief in delivering outstanding customer service. With four generations of family now on the ground in Cobram who knows what the future holds but one thing is certain, there is a lot to be thankful for.
And the show goes on..