Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Maplin Electronics

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Maplin Electronic Supplies was established in 1972 as a small mail order business by Roger and Sandra Allen and Doug Simmons. The company originally started in a bedroom at the Allens' home in Rayleigh, Essex, after the two electronics enthusiasts were disappointed by the complexity and poor availability of existing electronic component suppliers.

Prior to Maplin Electronics' arrival; many companies advertised items but most were government or industrial surplus, and although cheap, were often inconsistent in their quality and availability.

The trio placed a small advertisement in an electronics magazine after printing the company's first 28-page catalogue, which would be offered free to callers. Despite a slow start and dwindling profit in the first year; the company began to create a reputation for offering first grade electronic components that are delivered exactly as shown in the catalogue by first class post.

By 1975 the catalogue had grown to 216 pages with technical specifications and complete projects. Shortly afterwards the founders realised that an actual retail outlet would be beneficial. First store

The first store opened in Westcliff-on-Sea; the mail order department business moved into the spare rooms above the shop. Sales received a large boost when Maplin was invited to take prime advertising space in IPC Electronics magazines after receiving a large number of complaints against some of their existing advertisers.

A second store opened in Hammersmith by the end of the year. The mail order side of the business had outgrown the space available above the Westcliff-on-Sea store and a large ex-dairy building a few miles away in Hadleigh was purchased and was soon established as Maplin's first warehouse.

Maplin had already started designing electronic kits for hobbyists and musicians, with several major synthesiser and organ projects being published in the first magazine Electronics & Music Maker, and subsequently made available as kits. Shortly after the second store opened, the technical team and management launched Electronics - the Maplin Magazine, which was initially published every quarter, then later as more projects were designed the publication was issued monthly.

The kits were a perfect vehicle to sell Maplin's components and the articles in Electronics published full circuit diagrams, parts lists and technical articles with full instructions for building and setting up the projects. All this happened in the early 1980s, and the sudden boom in home computer ownership spawned by manufacturers such as Sinclair, Commodore International and Atari created opportunities for Maplin to create home build project kits to plug into these computers such as speech synthesisers, memory expansion cards, extension keyboards, cables, connectors and so on.

At the height of production of the home-build kits Maplin's range was vast, with in-house designed power amplifiers, radio kits, a weather station and a full weather satellite receiving and display system and many others, as well as the Heathkit and Velleman ranges of kits. The Maplin catalogue, with its distinctive futuristic space ship and planet themed cover art by Lionel Jeans was crammed with hundreds of application circuits, with each new release being eagerly awaited by the hobbyist community and selling hundreds of thousands of copies each year.

In 1985 Maplin Professional Supplies (MPS) was created to serve the expanding business market with a catalogue of products selected specifically for professionals and the business market. In 1989 a new National Distribution Centre was opened at Wombwell, South Yorkshire, and four years later a Far Eastern headquarters was established in Taiwan.

By 1994 Maplin had a turnover of more than UK £29 million a year and it was clear[4] more help was needed to organise the business. Later that year Maplin was acquired by Saltire PLC.

In 1999 Maplin launched its own website and the following year sales from the site hit UK£1m. The Southend-on-Sea headquarters also closed in 2000 and all operations were moved to Wombwell. In 2001 the company changed hands again, this time with a management buyout backed by Graphite Capital.

Maplin Far East Operations was first established in 1992[6] due to the increase in the purchasing of items from Taiwan followed by Hong Kong and China. To strengthen buying power, the Maplin Electronics set up its first Far Eastern branch office in Taipei, Taiwan.

The office is in charge of product sourcing, purchasing, inspecting, shipping and payment arrangement from Taiwan and is now the Far East Operations Centre.

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