Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Electronics Store Maplin Closing - The End of an Era


As a teenager in the late 80's, I was really into electronics. Back then you could build useful circuits for a reasonable cost, making things that were otherwise expensive or unavailable. It was a great hobby to get into, I wanted to be an electronics wizard (although that name seems silly these days) and I considered at some stage I would get a job within the electronics industry. I would regularly read 'Everyday Electronics' magazine, not only for the articles and build details, but for the adverts, and it was on one of these pages that I discovered an electronics mail order company who sold a chunky catalogue at W.H.Smith for just a few quid. It had amazing cover art, details about a huge range of electronics components and included suggested circuit diagrams for most of their semiconductor components. I bought one every year, it became my faithful companion for my many projects and hobbies... and so began my thirty year plus relationship with Maplin.

The Rise and Fall of the Catalogue

The first catalogue was just 28 pages back in 1972, the year the company first started. But it soon became an impressive tome with well organised sections, filled with clear diagrams, data charts and product photographs. You knew exactly what you were buying, and you received exactly what you'd seen. It's not surprising that Maplin was so successful.

Some of the Maplin catalogues from the 80's borrowed from This Blog

As the years went by, the rise of computers and microprocessors had a huge impact on the industry and Maplin did a reasonable job in keeping up with changes in the market. Add to this the flood of cheap Chinese goods entering the country and making your own stuff became a non-starter. They started to stock computer hardware, but PC technology changed too quickly. These items often became obsolete or were overpriced as soon as the catalogues came out. The company was able to mitigate this problem when they created their website, but the result of this was that most people didn't need the catalogue anymore. I still bought one from time to time, but when you knew a reasonable percentage of stock would be unavailable, it no longer seemed relevant.

The Rise and Fall of The Store

The company expanded the number of stores to over two hundred, every town seemed to have one, but I still liked the convenience of mail order. They diversified into consumer products like gadgets, phone accessories, lighting, disco equipment, home security, kids toys and hobbies. Clearly they weren't going to be able to support shops like these by selling LEDs and 555 timers, but each store still sold a limited quantity of components from a counter at the back. They hadn't totally sold-out, but they lost a lot of credibility by selling cheap crap at hiked-up prices.

The company has been acquired by a number of owners over the last thirty years and it was with sadness that I started seeing news articles this year that revealed Maplin was in trouble. Shortly afterwards PwC were called to act as administrators and attempts were made to find a new owner. The reasons cited ranged from a drop in the value of the pound caused by Brexit, to the withdrawal of credit insurance which made it impossible for them to raise capital. But I don't think we should ignore the impact of online services who could easily under-cut their prices. It may just be another one of those high-street tragedies,.. another bricks and mortar company floundering in wake of online retailers like Amazon.

Just another store closing in this Derby Retail Estate

I wouldn't like to say how much I've spent at Maplin over the years, it's always been my go-to store for bits and bobs. But more recently I've found the store seemed to be a little out of touch or less useful than it used to be. As they cut the number of SKU's to reduce cost, I've found myself turning to eBay for those more obscure items. Nevertheless let's consider for a moment how convenient this place has been. How many stores are there where you can easily go for a cable to connect your USB keyboard to your iPad, a spool of solder, or a couple of metres of speaker cable and take it home that day?

Maplin - Closing Down Sale

I've visited the Derby store a few times over the last week, there's a huge sale on with typically 30% off most products. There's some great bargains, but I wish it wasn't so. For my whole adult life you have been there for me Maplin and I will miss you greatly.

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