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Looking back at 100 years of Grace Brothers

There’s a reason very few people make it to 100 years on the planet. It involves a lot of luck, hard work and an ability to overcome challenges. Achieving the tonne in business is a similarly difficult road, fraught with obstacles and a forever changing landscape which demands businesses adjust to stay in the game.

Grace Removals is proud to be celebrating 100 years in the removals industry. The company is a true Australian success story, setting a benchmark in quality service for a century.

A new country – a new start

In 1883, Albert and Joseph Grace left the British Isles in search of new beginnings and a better life. After trying his luck in the USA, Albert joined his brother in Sydney where from modest beginnings at a small George Street merchant shop, a dynasty was born.

By 1910 the brothers’ humble start-up had grown to a large department store on Broadway with 1,667 employees and 173,000 square feet of floor space. Operating under the motto of “We will deserve success”, the brothers had hit the big time.

The Grace Bros’ entry into the removals business came at the suggestion of an employee who recommended establishing a removals and storage department. Listening and acting on the ideas of staff was not unusual for the brothers, in fact the importance placed on involving employees in decision-making remains a core value today.

In 1911 opportunity struck and the brothers bought Vintner and Company, a small furniture removals and storage firm operating from a site in Mallet Street, Camperdown. By 1913 the service was being advertised, and by leveraging the reputation of the parent retail brand the venture quickly prospered and became Sydney’s foremost removals company. No job was too difficult for the men from Grace Bros Removals.

Going global

Post-war emigration saw fulfilment of another ambition for Grace Bros Removals: going global. Removal chief Ronald Reed seized the opportunity to travel to England and forge relationships with removals and packing companies that were assisting families moving to Australia. This move saw Grace Bros assume the title of appointed destination agent in Australia by teaming up with British firms to offer a door-to-door service.

By 1958 Grace Bros Removals operated 13 storage sites and a fleet of 120. The company had become widely identified as ‘the professionals’, a testament to its emphasis on a high quality service which has stood the test of time.

The 1960s saw a period of rapid expansion for the company, acquiring rival removalists throughout the country from Western Australia to Tasmania, Queensland, Victoria and the Northern Territory. Grace Bros Removals bought up competitors in quick succession, a strategy which saw the company become without question the Southern Hemisphere’s largest removals business and the second largest in the world.

The Modern Era

Today Grace Removals sits atop the Australasian removals industry with a proud and successful history behind it. Keeping abreast of technological change and diversifying into new services has been critical to that continued success and ability to provide a high quality service.

In 1995 the Grace Group was bought by a man who knows the industry better than most. Hong Kong-based Jim Thompson had long had his eyes on the company. “When I learned Grace was for sale I saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime. I knew that if I could own the company it would be a true highlight in my career, so my management team and I did everything possible to close the deal.”

Thompson is well known in the logistics industry, owning companies throughout the world in over 250 locations in 55 countries. His approach to the Grace Group has been to continue to build on the company’s history of success, while holding strong to the business’ people-focused culture and adapting to the modern marketplace.

In 2001 the company embarked on a shift into new business areas acquiring a records management company. Since then the division has grown from five offices with a regional presence to 18 full service offices nationwide. Thompson says diversifying the company’s offering has been an important step in achieving the best use of resources and expertise, while countering the cyclical nature of the removals business. “To flatten out the curve that removalists face every year it’s important to have other businesses that allow the company to be active in the slower months of the moving business.”  In light of this Grace also introduced Grace Fine Art and a business relocation division.

Another hallmark of Grace in the modern era is a determination to embrace technology. Thompson believes the company’s success over the last 100 years has resulted from a commitment to keep abreast of new developments in vehicle and technology. “At Grace we have the latest technology that allows us to give our customers a first class service. Technology can be expensive but it is essential.”


The importance of people at Grace is seen nowhere more profoundly than from within the warehouse doors. From the early days at Camperdown, to today at 45 offices across Australia and New Zealand, Thompson says staff have always been considered the company’s greatest assets, “That is the number one core value of my company and my strongest belief. The thing that makes me most proud is not the size of the business, but the fact that I’ve created an environment in which people will join my company and see just how good they are and how much they can achieve. I’ve marvelled at their accomplishments.”

Hiring well, training, motivating and incentivising staff have been core values engrained in the company’s human resources activities. “This is such a simple principle, but it’s often lost among entrepreneurs who think they as founders are the reason the company is successful and the people are just hired hands.” Grace inspires employees to take pride in their work so customers know they’re receiving a quality service they can trust. This focus on caring for staff is demonstrated no better than in the case of Chris Wilson, a Grace manager at the Geraldton branch in Western Australia. 14 members of his immediate family have chosen to work at Grace, all in all accounting for 166 years of service to the company; a commitment Grace is immensely proud of.

Moving forward

One hundred years in business is a milestone on which any company should hang its hat. Grace Removals has endured and succeeded where most others haven’t by building a strong foundation based on its people and providing a high quality service. Moving forward the company plans to continue looking for growth opportunities by finding innovative ways to utilise its considerable expertise and experience.

Throughout its history the company has met challenges and beaten them by staying strong to its principles and adapting to a changing marketplace. Maintaining the Grace Brothers’ philosophy over a century is a key factor in that success. As Thompson puts it when reflecting on his approach and that of the founding brothers: “While we were from a different era we shared a passion for success and a respect for the people who helped us gain that success.”

-BY Chris Lawrence

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