/HOW MAPLIN LOST ITS SPARK

 
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A couple of weeks ago I dropped into Maplin near Oxford Circus. We needed an HDMI extension cable for a work presentation later that day. I can count on one hand the other visits I’d made over the previous year, but they all had one thing in common; I knew exactly what I needed, and I needed it straight away. I paid more for the convenience of immediacy, but only because there wasn’t quite enough time to order from Amazon Prime for next day delivery. I won’t be alone in those buying habits and therein lies a problem, that despite very different product ranges, sums up the collapse of both Maplin and Toy ‘R’ Us, announced last week.

In both cases, their predominantly out of town stores had ceased to become destination shopping experiences. They had become convenience stores.

When Maplin launched from a bedroom in 1972, it had a clear purpose. The founders were electronics enthusiasts, continually disappointed by the unavailability of components, so they set out to do it better themselves. They had their ‘why’.

In its early years, delivering on that ‘why’ saw the company expand from a bedroom to a warehouse. Throughout, they stuck to their reason for being and delivered quality electronic components to fellow enthusiasts building their own kit.

Things changed from the mid-90s with a series of buy-outs that pushed and pulled the brand in the name of growth and by the turn of the century, in a dramatically different electronics market and without the original founders’ vision, it was hard to see what Maplin stood for anymore. They’d lost their ‘why’.

Just over a year ago Maplin revealed a full brand refresh, with a new identity and strategy, ‘connecting brilliant ideas’. It was designed to make them friendlier and less daunting to an audience that, apparently, often felt the electronics shop was too specialist. The design work was clean and crisp and gave them a more contemporary image, but in truth, it was already too late. For many, they ceased to be ‘too specialist’ years ago when they stopped selling individual components - what their core customers originally wanted from them. That left them selling the same pre-packaged consumer electronics, available at the likes of John Lewis, Tesco, or of course, from online retailers.

In confirming that the business had slipped into administration, CEO Graham Harris said he still had faith that Maplin has a “place on the high street” and that its “trust, credibility and expertise meets a customer need that is not supported elsewhere”, but the store experience simply didn’t bear that out, and swift convenience purchases were clearly not enough to sustain the brand.

To be successful, every business needs its ‘why’. Over time, as the market place changes, that ‘why’ may need to change too, but ultimately if it’s become a lesser version of something available elsewhere, the market place will be unforgiving.

- Jason Panudy