back to article Credit insurance tightens for geek shack Maplin Electronics

Credit insurers are cutting their exposure to geek emporium Maplin Electronics amid some reports of declining profit and wider concerns about old-school retailing. Trade indemnifier QBE slashed available cover on Maplin by more than 80 per cent in September and has just removed the limit completely, meaning distributors will …

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  1. SniperPenguin

    You cant have it both ways

    You cant lament the passing of a store selling legacy gear, whilst at the same time arguing you can get the regular stuff "cheaper online".

    If you dont support them, a business will fold.

    1. djstardust

      Re: You cant have it both ways

      I agree, but Maplin just take the piss with their pricing.

      Although I agree there's a "premium" to be added for having retail units, staff etc. Maplin pricing is ridiculous for just about everything. Most of the stuff they sell isn't even current lines (perhaps a couple of years old and superseded) and they still try to sell it for more than the current version.

      Add to that the fact they charge £15 plus for a cable I can order from eBay for £1 with free postage and next day delivery then it's no surprise they are going down the shitter.

      I go in to our local store maybe once a month, laugh out loud at the prices then order anything I fancy online when I get home.

      If they added a small extra then it wouldn't matter, but the fact they charge so much for utter junk will ultimately seal their fate.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You cant have it both ways

        I came here to say just that. The interesting stuff is generally cheap ( eg: I bought car fuses from them for like 20p each ), but a HDMI or ethernet cable? £15.

        1. Stuart Halliday

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          They do have the odd practice of having their 'basic' brand HDMI 1M cable at £5.99 in corners of the gondoliers well away from the HDMI cable section.

          They'd do this with lots of cables. Bizarre immoral practice in my opinion.

          Their most profitable item is a litre of ISO alcohol for £12. They pay a quid for it.

          If you have any questions, just ask. I was a frontline sales assistant for 10 years.

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: You cant have it both ways

      You cant lament the passing of a store selling legacy gear, whilst at the same time arguing you can get the regular stuff "cheaper online".

      It's a different model I suppose, but Screwfix seems to be doing ok in having real shops that match their online prices, and Richer Sounds has been doing it for years. The difference between these two and the likes of Maplin may simply be in the style and locations of their shops - Maplin went for high-profile town-centre and out-of-town locations, big shops with everything on display. Richer Sounds and Screwfix have small shops in cheap locations.

      At one point Richer Sounds made a big thing of the fact that their London Bridge store held the world record for volume of sales per square foot of shop, I wonder if that's still the case?

      I do lament the passing of the "old days", of companies like Maplin, Watford Electronics, Cricklewood Electronics (still going I believe), but things change. I think it started going downhill when Maplin stopped putting creative paintings and accompanying descriptions on their catalogue covers though!

      M.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: You cant have it both ways

        "At one point Richer Sounds made a big thing of the fact that their London Bridge store held the world record for volume of sales per square foot of shop, I wonder if that's still the case?"

        I believe Apple Regent Street now holds that record.

        1. Roj Blake
          Coat

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          Hardly surprising that Richer Sounds would hold the record for "volume" sales.

      2. Ol'Peculier

        Re: You cant have it both ways

        Actually, Richer Sounds in York is right in the centre of town, and Maplin is on the Clifton Moor retail estate.

      3. SniperPenguin

        Re: You cant have it both ways

        RIcher Sounds and Screwfix Essentially operate on the "Argos" model.

        - Small shop front

        - Low-pay staff with no / little product knowledge

        - Nice cheap warehouse racking in the back.

        1. Callam McMillan

          Re: Screwfix

          I've always found the product knowledge of the staff at Richer Sounds to be excellent. Can't talk about Screwfix - I work on the basis of "If I don't know what I need before I walk in, Screwfix isn't the place for me!"

        2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          "little product knowledge"

          This is not something I recognise in terms of the Richer Sounds staff at their Southampton branch. They have always been most informative and helpful.

        3. Stuart Halliday

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          Maplin made a point of setting up near Halfords. Similar customer profile.

          Customers would everyday moan about PC World prices and lack of Sales staff with a working Brain.

          It became a sort of joke with us.

          But Maplin moved very slowly, almost glacier like. Their Web site was bloody awful and despite staff complaining about it for over 6 years, it never got any better despite various looks changed.

          There are obviously no technical people at the top.

      4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Screwfix

        Backed by Kingfisher (aka B&Q) I find their prices higher than B&Q. I was in the market for a sack-barrow earlier in the year. B&Q was £3.99 cheaper.

        Near me is a B&Q Warehouse and less than 100yds away is a Screwfix. Yes much smaller but also far less stock choice than in B&Q and you have to go right past B&Q to get to screwfix.

        1. wolfetone Silver badge

          Re: Screwfix

          "Backed by Kingfisher (aka B&Q) I find their prices higher than B&Q. I was in the market for a sack-barrow earlier in the year. B&Q was £3.99 cheaper."

          The tools I find are cheaper at Screwfix than B&Q.

          But either side of where I live we have a B&Q, a Screwfix and a Tradestation all next to each other. So I end up looking across the three of them for something and pick the cheapest. More often than not for what I've needed recently (sandpaper, screws, a hammer and some glue - it was a glorious weekend) Tradestation were cheaper.

          1. ukgnome

            Re: Screwfix

            I think the change in attitudes haven't helped.

            The Maplins are now toy shops.

            Ten tears ago instead of buying their overpriced network cables you just went to the back and had the cable monkey make one from scratch. These days the cable monkey can't terminate ends.

            If push comes to shove it's a great place for emergency buys. But it lost its way, it should be the champion of home kits and DIY not ready assembled drones.

            1. PNGuinn
              FAIL

              Re: Maplins

              Personally, I'd rather go to Aldi ot Lidl when I get my veg.

              If they haven't got the bling, I'll go to CPC online.

            2. JimboSmith Silver badge

              Re: Screwfix

              I've written about this before but I went to Maplin (pre DSO) for some CTF100 to make a cable for the TV of my aging aunt. The Chelsea Flower Show would be on the red button in a few days and the aerial cable they had going into the TV was produced I think pre-war (Vietnam but might have been earlier). Sadly when they'd replaced the tv circa 1980s vintage they hadn't changed the cables and were mostly watching analogue. The signal at the house was very marginal for digital signals and I selected a nice long length of cable that I could make up into several smaller cables of the correct length. The girl at the till took the nicely coiled length of cable and despite my explaining it was a 4m length insisted she had to measure it. I said she could ask her colleague how much he'd cut but no it was stretched out to check. It was then not coiled again but she bent it at various points way past 90° to get it into the plastic carrier bag.

              I explained that I no longer wanted the now bagged cable because it was no longer as effective as a cable. She remonstrated with me that the cable was perfectly fine and I had to buy it now it was cut. I said I wasn't having that cable and she could call a manager if needed to resolve this. The manager (who was apparently on a smoke break came to the till and I explained why I was unhappy. He listened patiently and offered to straighten the cable out again which I said wouldn't work and explained why. He said I knew more about this than him and whilst he was happy to exchange it he would need to explain it to head office. We visited the web and I found a site backing up my claims which he noted down and added to the computer. He then personally cut 4.5m as a gesture of goodwill, told her it was 4m. I ordered a reel off CPC for future use after that. So roll on the Flower Show and we do indeed get a decent digital signal, red button (or whatever it was called back then) and all. Sadly they had Allan Titchmarsh presenting who is not popular with my aunt. He just spoke to celebrities about their gardening ability rather than looking at the gardens in the show which just made her angry. Don't know why I bothered really.

              At one point they did have people in my local one who were knowledgeable but they all got better paying jobs. About the only thing that was really good about Maplin was if you needed something that day and a new store had just opened near you. They stocked the new ones with at least one of nearly everything in the catalogue so you could just turn up for a week afterwards and they'd normally have it in stock.

              1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

                Re: Screwfix

                "It was then not coiled again but she bent it at various points way past 90° to get it into the plastic carrier bag."

                Arrrgh!!!!

                When rewiring my flat I needed 25m of 16mm cable. *NOT* 25 one-metre lengths, but a 25-metre length. I had to snatch the cable out of the sales assistant's hands before he folded it into one-metre lengths for me.

              2. Stuart Halliday

                Re: Screwfix

                Yes, I 100% agree. You see Maplin doesn't really train their staff. They have a few silly sheets of what an item is.

                But they certainly never mention anything about bend radius.

                Had a customer who laid out 50M of 75 Ohm video cable to his CB aerial in his garden.

                He'd came in wanting a little more. Of course I asked what it was for and was a little shocked that he thought the video cable being cheaper that the 50 Ohm would do him.

                He admitted he thought the range of his rig wasn't very good.

                Turns out he didn't know what a

                SWR meter was either.

                I found most CB enthusiasts, mainly Taxi operators, didn't know about them or think they were necessary.

                Myself being a qualified Electronics Craftsman, I'd often give technical advice in my shop. I'd sometimes be asked to give advice.

                But the kids that Maplin would hire were mostly males. Mainly due to them applying for the job. The few Women I came across were intelligent and very capable of learning new stuff. But the guys, sadly not so much.

                Despite me being a trained IT Professional as well, the Manager would direct a customer to a 19 year old to explain Computers which annoyed the hell out of me.

            3. flyingDoc

              Re: Screwfix

              What Maplin should have done is gone into the maker market - along the lines of Adafruit or protopic. They would need to do a deal with a big supplier like Digikey, but small shop front could display items bought on line.

            4. Stuart Halliday

              Re: Screwfix

              Maplin never, ever made up cables for customers.

              We weren't insured for it and certainly never trained to do it.

              Sure a few shops thought they would offer this service unofficially. But I wouldn't trust a cable made on the spot by staff who don't understand the technical idiosyncrasies of terminating cables depending on type.

              <shudder>

          2. Siberian Hamster

            Re: Screwfix

            I've found exactly the same and can go one further, Screwfix is generally cheaper than Toolstation for tools yet Toolstation has Screwfix beat on fixings and fastenings!

          3. PNGuinn
            Facepalm

            Re: Screwfix

            And the b&q mob nearly killed Screwfix. They’re still working on it. When it was owned and run by Goddard -Watts (IIRR the name) it was superb. After the sellout I phoned up about a missing item to be proudly told something like "not surprised - we sent out an empty box the other day"

            Tradestation? do you mean Toolstation? 'Twas started I believe by G-W's son. Has now, I think got some significant investment from whoever is behind Wickes. At least Toolstation's bloody website works properly. Fugly, but fast and does the job, and does it well. Screwedup, on the other hand ...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Screwfix

              "Has now, I think got some significant investment from whoever is behind Wickes"

              Travis Perkins.

              And apparently part of the deal of selling them was they stocked Silverline products.

              And guess who owns Silverline?

              James Goddard Watts

              Clever people.

            2. Martin-73 Silver badge

              Re: Screwfix

              Screwfix can bugger up anything to do with a computer. They have tablets out front for fast ordering.... the search function can't handle the product codes. So if you go in actually knowing what you want, you're SOL

          4. Stuart Halliday

            Re: Screwfix

            Maplin relied almost exclusively on Rolson for it's tools.

            Basically cheap and sometimes nasty.

            They're idea of going to higher quality tools was bringing in German tools that no one had heard of. Most were only available from their Web site.

            What baffled me was that the way Maplin packaged and presented them. No reason given why a customer would buy this model over another.

            I suggested, from talking to Tradesmen who'd come in for a decent tool, that you put the hardness rating of the screwdriver metal on display therefore allowing the customer to make an informed decision.

            This went unheeded apparently.

            If you want to build up a reputation for selling something, you don't just offer it

      5. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: You cant have it both ways

        One of my retro possessions is a Maplin catalog from something like 1979 (this was while they were still only mail-order).

        It's really funny, but if you get a recent one (do they still publish one on paper? - my last copy was from about 2012), many, many of the item listings, pictures etc. are exactly the same in both catalogs.

        The one thing you do notice, however, is how much smaller the newer catalog is, even with the new products that did not exist in the older catalog. Whole sections have pretty much disappeared. I used to use the older catalog as a pinout reference for 7400TTL and 4000 CMOS chips, as it had full schematics for almost the complete series. It also used to have a pretty good transistor equivalence section, and pictures of all of the semiconductor packaging types.

        I used Maplin because they were more friendly to hobbyists than RS Components or Farnell (although I did use Watford Electronics as well), but also because I read the magazine Electronics Today International (ETI), and Maplin used to make up packs of all of the components, and some printed case inserts for many of the ETI projects. The full modular polyphonic digital synthesizer, which ran over about 2 years, one module per month was a really major project that resulted in a very usable device, but they did multi-channel mixers, guitar pedals, high quality audio and PA equipment, and even a computer develop kit as projects as well, and Maplin sold all of the kits of parts.

        IIRC, for several years, the catalog was pretty much the same year-on-year, with the price list published separately, and new products published in addenda with the price list. If you bought regularly, you would get sent the price list when it changed, and I think it was also sometimes attached to ETI.

        1. MarkICC

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          I agree wholeheartedly, as a kid at school, the maplin catalogue was a treasure trove of odd chips and the data in there normally enough to get you going, SN74677 sound generators for example. Adding ideas from ETI, filters and keyboard circuits, gave me my first working synth. I think they lost their way when the money men moved in and slashed the component count held in store and replaced them with plastic tractors and kids toys, just as Tandy did before them.

          1. Stuart Halliday

            Re: You cant have it both ways

            No, Maplin virtually disappeared in the Nineties because you can't have a shop selling 50p items which have to be collected and bagged by a nontechnical assistant. Maplin'said attitude to the component section was it was a necessary evil.

            You simply don't make a long lasting profit from this stuff.

            If it hadn't branched out into toys. It would have evaporated decades ago.

        2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: Electronics Today International (ETI)

          Takes me back. Who remembers all the G.W. Smith shops in Lisle Street (at least three IRC), plus Odeon Radio in Harrow? Weirdest shop (good prices though) was Chromasonic Electronics which was operated from a sweet shop in Fortis Green Road. You have the vision of them scooping up resistors and sticking them on the scales, along with the fruit salads and black jacks. Talking of kits... who remembers Heathkit in Tottenham Court Road.

          EDIT I seem to remember GW Smith and Henrys having quite large catalogs in those days too.

          1. Steve 114

            Re: Electronics Today International (ETI)

            Bought my first Mullard 'OC', and Ediswan 'top-hat', transistors from Henry's Radio (still have them).. Lisle Street only had 'surplus' kit (but beautiful at that, and so heavy to take home) and finally only Proops in TCR could deliver. Now nobody knows what any given 'chip' can do, and they couldn't solder it if they did. EndEx.

          2. Flicker

            Re: Electronics Today International (ETI)

            Yes, Lisle Stree was magic - and the top end of Tottenham Court Road. Still have various odds and ends from GWS, including the teak sleeve case for my Leak valve pre-amp, retrieved from the back of their stockroom, I think in their closing-down sale when Lasky's took over. Before that they'd bought a load of old Vortexion valve PA amps from me and my mates, acquired in a highly dodgy auction from the old ILEA. The past is another country....

            1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

              Re: Electronics Today International (ETI)

              " Tottenham Court Road"

              Lol! £20 to drive there and back. £10 to park, if even possible. £20 for congestion charges, if lucky.

              LOL!!!!

          3. Tromos

            Re: Electronics Today International (ETI)

            The Henrys catalogue was a gem. Costing 7shillings and six pence and containing five 2 shilling vouchers each redeemable when spending a pound. I remember going into the Edgware road shop and asking for an Akai 4000DS tape deck and 18 catalogues, which would have got me just over two pounds discount (and a lot of couponless catalogues to give away outside the shop). In the end I was given a fiver off and just the one catalogue. To put that in perspective, that fiver would then have (and probably did!) purchased more than 25 pints of beer.

            1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

              Re: Electronics Today International (ETI)

              I bow down to the master of cheapskating!

          4. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

            Re: Electronics Today International (ETI)

            Proops are still around....

        3. Neil 44

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          I'm pretty sure Maplin always had one retail store - in Westcliffe-on-sea in Essex.. (Just around the corner from where my Mother-in-law lived - so an excuse to visit ...)

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: You cant have it both ways @Neil 44

            That could well have been the case, they had to operate from somewhere, but that was rather a moot point for those of us outside of Essex.

            1. Mark 110

              Re: You cant have it both ways @Neil 44

              Came here to moan about their cable prices. You all beat me to it.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: You cant have it both ways

            Yes, they had a small shop in Westcliff when it first started. Run by the husband and wife team who started the whole thing. Was a great shop for electronic hobbyists like me, with knowledgeable staff and a huge stock of bits and pieces. Stayed like that for years then started expanding and opening new stores. At some point it lost its 'hobbyist' focus and became a toy-shop.

            They still have a store in Westcliff, almost opposite the original first shop, but it's much bigger and rarely seems to have any of the components I want in stock when I visit.

            1. seanb-uk

              Re: You cant have it both ways

              They've also got a bigger store near the Waitrose in Thorpe Bay.

              I like to be able to browse for things and see them in the flesh, and that one is generally a little better for stock - not great though. I'll pay extra for that versus buying online, in order to support bricks and mortar shops. I'll also pay for the instant gratification of walking out of the shop with what I want.

              The trouble that Maplins and other retailers, such as as Currys, have is that they don't often stuff in stock. If you're lucky there's a display unit and they offer to order it in. At that point I might as well order online - the whole point of an actual shop is being able to buy things...

        4. Chronos

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          Remember Cirkit? Buy the catalogue in Smiths and order away to your heart's content.

          I'm afraid I won't lament the passing of Maplin. They've been extracting the urine on prices for years and their products really aren't much cop, either. Take that "temperature controlled" soldering station with a triac chopper circuit and no tip feedback. It's temperature controlled only in that you can vary how fast the tip loses heat to a joint. Worse, it wipes out anything below 30MHz any time it is switched on. Awful bloody thing, and that's just one example.

          1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You cant have it both ways

        I used to work for Watford Electronics, albeit when they were computer component box shifters rather than electrical component suppliers.

        Suffice to say, I don't fucking miss them. I was very glad when they went under.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Watford Electronics

          The building is still there. It's been in a state for years with various shady operators going through it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Watford Electronics

            "The building is still there. It's been in a state for years with various shady operators going through it."

            Some would say that's been happening since it was built. ;)

        2. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          I used to work for Watford Electronics, albeit when they were computer component box shifters rather than electrical component suppliers.

          It was the bit in between where they excelled - turning those components into genuinely useful stuff, such as their 8271 and 1770 disc interfaces for the BBC Micro, "sideways" ROM expansion boards with battery-backed RAM etc. I even had (probably still have in a box somewhere) a WE handheld 4" wide scanner for my Archimedes - ok, so they didn't make the scanner head, but they did design and build the interface card.

          Box shifting is a mug's game...

          M.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You cant have it both ways

          Were you there when I was there in the early 1990s? House-share on Rosslyn Road?

      7. FensMan

        Re: You cant have it both ways

        I'd say Maplin started going downhill when Tandy shut up shop, removing some competition for electronic components (at least).

      8. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: You cant have it both ways

        So, Maplin has changed ownership at least 3 times since I started with them in the 80's...

        That makes me feel less guilty about the fact I feel they are now like Tandys was at the time... Handy for quickly sourcing some obscure valued resistor, but otherwise hosting overpriced stuff you'd never want... And back then, Tandys didn't have the internet to compete with.

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