HIS surname might be on the sign of his many IGA supermarkets, but Mel Luke is not a fan of the limelight.
So he was understandably floored when he was inducted into the IGA hall of fame at the national conference at Jupiter's on the Gold Coast last week.
Dr Tom Haggai, US-based chairman of the IGA Inc board, did the honours in front of 2000 retailers from around the country and dignitaries from the US. He received a standing ovation after his speech and had queues of well-wishers line up to congratulate him.
"I had no idea that the possibility of being a recipient was coming," he said.
"It wasn't until my son was asked to come to the stage and present my background that the penny dropped.
"It was quite emotional. Not a large number of recipients have been awarded over the years.
"It was an emotion I really can't explain - but it was good to have my family around me at the time to experience that as well.
"Over the years, my wife Gill has been a major part of our business as well. So even though the award names me, it should really name my wife and son as well."
Metcash (the Grocery Wholesaler) was prepared to fly in Mr Luke's daughter from Scotland and his son from Japan for the awards ceremony, but the date was not convenient, so they instead prepared a video which was projected onto the four walls of the Jupiter's ballroom.
Mel's brother and nephew were flown up as the surprise guests for the evening and his son, Matthew, who has worked for the family business for 10 years, spoke of Mel's life and history in the retail grocery industry.
An IGA retailer for 28 years on the Sunshine Coast, Mel Luke and his family have owned and operated nine IGA stores in Coolum, Noosa Junction, Cooroy, Caloundra, Bellvista, Glasshouse Mountains, Buderim, Kilcoy and Woodford. Currently he has three (Buderim, Glasshouse Mountains and Bellvista).
"There have been some battles along the way, but we're still here and we still enjoy what we're doing," he said. He is referring to the stoushes with Woolworths in the early 90s when it wanted to set up in opposition to his Coolum store; and later when Coles became his landlord and chose not to renew his lease for obvious commercial reasons.
He beat Woolies initially, but 12 years later, accepted that Coolum's population was large enough to justify two supermarkets within two kilometres of each other.
Despite a fight involving the ACCC, Coles won the right to move IGA out of Coolum in 2009.
"Sometimes when you think you've been hit by the opposition, the thing that really stays with you is the support we've had from the community.
"The support in Coolum was more than we ever expected. It's a good relationship, and that is what spurs us on."
Mr Luke said he would like to see more support from governments for the independent grocery retailers.
John McLaren, General Manager, Metcash Food & Grocery, Qld/Northern NSW wrote - "From an accidental grocery retailer in the mid 80s to an honoured IGA Hall of Fame award recipient, Mel, you have been a true believer and battler for Independents and you received a well-deserved standing ovation."
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