back to article Why can’t I walk past Maplin without buying stuff I don’t need?

Good news – after weeks of slaving over a seemingly interminable office refurb, occupying seven days a week and painstakingly documented in this column ad nauseam, I finally found some time to get some chores done. Time for me! Time that doesn’t involve paying bills or having to apologise for missing deadlines! Time not covered …

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Great headline!

Haha that makes me laugh... I have two weather stations, electronic micro-scales, battery operated fly swatter (that is very good actually!), waterproof thermometer with a probe and god knows how many other things/spray cans/cables that will come in handy... haha, good old Maplins - shame they are so dear.

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Re: Great headline!

It scares me how much their prices seem to have hiked in recent years. When I worked there back in the early noughties it was £1.49 for an ADSL microfilter, and £1.69 for a 30cm SATA cable. Now when I need one urgently I cry, as they are both over £5. (of course, if they are not urgent I get them online).

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Re: Great headline!

Yup - I know that addiction well. It even gets worse if you're into electronics as well :)

My best buy ever there was a remote control which elegantly solved the problem of losing it under the cushions on the sofa by being laughably large. I don't think I've bought anything of true *practical* value since :)

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Re: Great headline!

I think I'm at about a 50/50 useless to useful ratio from Maplin.

I got a big mat of that sticky rubber stuff at least 10 years ago. I still have 90% left, and it's made mats for the oddments tray in 3 cars and a piece is stuck to the bottom of one of the remotes to stop it falling off the arm of an armchair.

Their label remover spray is seriously good stuff too. It shifted the remains of one of those security labels once.

However, I also have a box of 'ends' for a power supply that is still in the packet. They were bought for an enormous multi-voltage adapter (probably the only thing left on the planet that can charge a Nokia 2110) and never needed an 'end' that didn't come with it.

I did get a pair of £9 Sennheiser headphones from there once (they were much better than they had any right to be), and bought a box of CD-R discs from them and walked back to the car and wrote the disc I wanted on the laptop.

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Re: Great headline!

Maplins have to keep stock, pay staff and rent prime (ish) retail locations, which is why it does cost more. On the other hand, you can walk in to a shop on your high street and buy a lot of useful kit that you cannot get other than online.

I miss the old fashioned kind of ironmongers/everything shop that you went in with a sheared bolt, gave it to the old timer who would wheeze, then scurry off to an impressive wall of cabinets, rummaging around and then pulling out the exact thing you were looking for. B&Q does not compare.

This may be rose tinted, as when I was a kid almost every saturday involved Dad popping off to Martin & Newby's to get the one thing he was missing. I was talking to him about this the other day, it was brilliant when it worked, less so when it didn't...

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Re: Great headline!

Makes me think of the time I had a local hardware shop in a quiet Cheshire town. My door handles in the house were hanging down so I went there to ask about replacement springs.

"Don't make 'em any more, sir!"

My face fell.

"So I keep a box of second hand ones, perfectly serviceable, in this drawer, that'll be 50p each!".

Now that's what I call ironmongery.

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Re: Great headline!

I spent an hour wandering around Maplins last week - again, I didn't actually need anything. After inspecting spray cleaners and lubricants (IPA yes, acetone no, alas), flashlights, something called Sugru, and some self-adhesive magnetic tape, I came away with a USB-OTG cable, three little keyring screw cannisters for storing small things, and a microSD card which was, amazingly, very reasonably priced.

I did notice that they were selling microHDMI > HDMI cables for £45, whereas an independent computer shop near me sells them for £6.00.

Still, being able to get parts for a project the same day is often invaluable.

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Re: Great headline! re: prices

It scares me how much their prices seem to have hiked in recent years.

It's surprising how many retailers have responded to the threat posed by cheap online prices by increasing prices in-store.

You can never find an economist when you need one.

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Re: Great headline!

Pffft the noughties? I've been buying from Maplin since the 80s when they had no shops, just the catalogue, and their prices have always been expensive. Try comparing with the RS or Farnell websites and weep at how much Maplin have ripped you off over the years.

This is nothing to do with having to pay staff, etc as another commentard mentions. They were expensive when they had no shops, and RS and Farnell have some shops too.

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You're not the first naked engineer to use that story.

Obligatory Dilbert classic:

http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1990-08-27/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Great headline!

Now that's what I call ironmongery.

Sounds like our local locksmiths. Called them out to repair our modern back door, and while they were here I asked if they could fix the almost ninety year old locks and latches on our interior doors. They did so by making new springs and fashioning replacement keys despite not having an original. They worked out the required shape by taking one of the locks apart. It's a family business, with the grandson minding the shop, dad doing the manual work and grandad (who's a sprightly 85 by my reckoning) providing the expertise.

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Re: Great headline!

Last year I went in for a resistor.

"That will be 30p"

"I only want one"

"That is for one"

WTF!

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Re: Great headline!

Some of us used to work at Martin & Newby's on Saturday mornings to finance vinyl purchases at lunchtime. And yes, we would sell sell nails in quantities of one.

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Re: Great headline!

Some of us who worked in Martin & Newby's on Saturdays were sixth formers with a vinyl habit to support, not old blokes. The cellars under the shop floor were reputedly left over from the monastery that had previously occupied the site.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Great headline!

There is a shop called Cordens in Warminster which is like that. Sadly, as fewer and fewer people are actually able to fix things, the demand goes down.

Like my grandfather, I now have a vast collection of emergency spares for things, plus odd bits of metal that can easily be fabricated into other things. But I sometimes wonder if I wouldn't have been better off being sufficiently clumsy that the time I've spent over the years fixing stuff could have been spent on becoming sufficiently rich that I could just call in a tradesman at any hour of the day or night.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Great headline! re: prices

"You can never find an economist when you need one."

You can and this has already been studied.

So long as a large number of people do not have access to prices, price transparency doesn't operate efficiently. The high street shop that manages to charge the highest prices makes the most money from the fewest transactions, so stays in business. The one that tries to compete with transparent on line prices goes bust.

This was studied with doctors in the US in the days before widespread medical insurance by very large companies. Small town doctors were much more expensive than busy city ones. Why? Because they had an idea of how much they expected to earn and priced accordingly, and people in small towns did not check prices in the city (or want to travel there for a surgery visit).

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Re: Great headline!

Not so sure, Maplins have always been.... tres expensive.

Even when they just had a few shops i think about 10 or so in the 80's

That said they were much easier to trade with than RS or Farnell that wanted trade only and all manner of proof that you had enough money to pay them.

Still, the catalogues were always a damn good read :-)

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Re: Great headline!

"sufficiently rich that I could just call in a tradesman at any hour of the day or night"

Assuming there are any to call. Or if you manage to find somebody, living in the place you've never heard of, you'll have to fly him in at great expense. So much for the riches then.

Hyperbole? Yes. But craftmanship is slowly fading away. There is already a shortage of people able to maintain critical infrastructure (ahem, mostly referred as the legacy stuff, which is still standing, despite desperate attempts to offload it to someone else), and the future may well go by the Asimov's Foundation series. Unless the lessons are learned early enough to reverse the underlying processes.

Cherish the skill you have. Even if it won't make you rich today.

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Re: Great headline! re: prices

Okay, I can sort of see your point, but that doesn't translate to behemoths like Tesco over here (and Wal-Mart in the US).

We got a Tesco Extra here a few years ago (no fucker wanted it, but Tezza bunged Prezza a few squillion and we got it anyway - you may recall a news item regarding a railway bridge collapse in a small town in the Home Counties about 9 years ago - THAT was because the fucktards building the tunnel over the line decides to make the fecking thing SQUARE; now, I'm no civil engineer (I'm neither civil, nor an engineer ;oD) but even *I* know that a 'squared-off' arch is inherently weaker than an arced arch. Obviously the firm doing the engineering - whose name escapes me now - had failed Civil Engineering 101; they built the tunnel, dumped several megatonnes of asphalt on top - and then looked shocked when the whole thing collapsed faster than Berings Bank! It was mere minutes after the 18:05 from Brum to London had shot through - the vibration from the train was probably the straw that broke the concrete camel's back).

So, unless I'm being extremely dense (and the old grey matter ain't functioning at the mo - think I've got 'blancmange brain' again, dammit!) we got Tesco and the family-run supermarket, bakery, and deli effectively went out of business (they've only really been salvaged by a link-up with Sainsbury's). Sharks will always swallow up minnows, because they've got the buying power (and they also rip their producers off; Tesco's just slashed the price of their milk from 35p a pint to 25p (in a 4pt canister) They claim this won't affect how much their farmers are paid - I call BS). In these straitened economic times, NOBODY is going to pay the 'Mum & Dad' store 45p a pint, when they can nip over the road and save 20p. The only times small concerns win out are if it's an obscure item (though Tesco are beginning to cater for the 'Tory-class' palette, stocking as they do quail, woodpigeon, grouse and pheasant, as well as venison, buffalo, boar and ostrich (I shit you not!). They DID backpedal rather rapidly on the foie gras, thankfully) or the big store's shut. Likewise, people will only pay higher high-street prices if they absolutely MUST have whatever it is *NOW*.

Captive audience is another reason. If it'll cost more I'm petrol to go to the big Tesco out of town, which would, obviously, negate any savings made, then small local stores will survive.

And, of course, this is all made all the more true by the fact we've a Tory govt.

Apologies if I've missed the point, but I don't see how charging MORE makes good business acumen especially in the current economic climate. People don't have the money, so they'll find whatever they require at the cheapest price possible, therefore bricks and mortar are going to lose out to the 'net. Our kids will be showing their grandkids nostalgic photos of high-streets. Kids these days don't know the pleasure of popping to the corner shop for a Double-Dip, quarter of penny chews, an Aztec bar (showing my age now, ain't I…?) and the latest Smash Hits - and still having pocket-money left. It was flying saucers for me; where I used to live, we had posh ones - 2-tone saucers with FLAVOURED sherbet. Don't make 'em like THAT anymore. They were probably full of 'prohibited substances', but they never did US any harm… and if you were still young enough to be losing teeth, well a Wham! Bar would get it under yer piller that night, no worries…

Okay, I'll shrrup now, I'm taking this WAY off-topic (again!). Apologies, once again, if it makes feck-all sense…

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Great headline!

Sometimes when you're after a less common value and you're 1 resistor away from completing a project it can be handy.

The more annoying thing is they tend to only keep about 2 capacitors of any particular type in stock. I was in a hurry to finish something and needed 4 capacitors, bought two in my own town and then went to the next town to get the other two, but even though they were listed at being in stock someone must have swiped them.

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Bronze badge

Re: Great headline! re: prices

"You can never find an economist when you need one."

Convenience cost. You can buy cheaper online - but you're not - which must mean that your need is urgent and thus there's additional value to you in getting the thing now. Never be a panicked buyer.

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Re: Great headline!

Maplin always had a shop - the original one was in Wescliffe-on-Sea in Essex. As a teenager in the 70s I travelled down from Manchester to buy the case of the 4600 synthesiser I was building.

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Re: Great headline!

That sounds about right 50/50 split sadly though they have lost the plot in the same way Tandy did pricing themselves out of the market for those without urgent need. These days I check the 'specials' flyers when stuff actually gets marked down to the true street value. Why pay a couple of quid for a pretty blister pack with two plugs when you can buy 10 delivered for less money?

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Anonymous Coward

The 80's Maplins.

The Maplin shop on Oxford Road in Manchester used to be a Holy Grail stop as a teenager. Kits for mono amplifiers and 'robots' I had only a vague idea how to build (and so never bought). And lots and lots of REAL electronic components, not the rebadged Far Eastern tat gadgets they're full of now.

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Re: Great headline! re: prices

@ Sarah:

We have a small supermarket in a local town. It is about the size of a Spar in the UK and is part of a national chain. The prices are about 20% higher for, well, everything that doesn't have a price printed on the box.

I think they are working on the "captive audience" concept, public transport in rural France is limited and expensive, and towns around here are not close to each other so it will cost in petrol to go any distance for a better deal. So they mark up the prices because a sufficient number of people (still) put up with it.

PS: You still get milk in pints? Over here it is about €1,10 a litre and the farmers are saying that's too little, so god knows how viable it is for your farmers. Problem is if the model is unsustainable, the low prices will cause suppliers to jack it in, which means less supply which means prices will rise. Everything needs to be reasonable and in balance. Messing up one part of the chain for a short term gain will cause problems in the long term. As you noted - a big supermarket moves in with lower prices, and the older shops in town die off...

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Maplin catalogs from the 70s (ruh roh...) had Concorde, and improbable but shiny starships boldly delivering packs of 5% resistors to planets beyond the final frontier.

Maplin catalogs from the 2010s have CCTV kits, SAD lightboxes for sad people, 5mW Special Mini Disco Laser Multipacks and Volcanic Heated Insoles.

I can't help feeling this is not the future we were promised. [sniffs and wipes tear]

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The future that wasn't

Ah. The disappointments.

One magazine from the late 50's, which shall remain nameless, had some bold visions of the future - by the year 1980 we would have flying cars (obviously), no poverty, no unhappiness, etc, etc.

And...gasp...there are power lines running over the beautiful hills and valleys, on the pylons that are made out of PLASTICS!

Well, screw those flying cars, screw those utopian societies, screw those frikkin-sharks-with-frikkin-lasers! I want my plastic pylons and I want them now!

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TRT
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The catalogue...

also used have an enormous amount of information - sample circuits for the ICs, suggested ways of wiring things up, resistor colour codes reproduced in black and white...

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Re: The catalogue...

Oh hell yes, now I remember the resistor colour codes... in black and white. And other gems such as sample circuits that somehow got mirrored in printing or not-so-carefully (or was it a ploy to buy more) skipped power regulating components.

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Anonymous Coward

All too true

Though I laughed out loud, I also share your disappointment. Those of us who enjoyed the 70s are now approaching our 70s... Hopefully we'll retain the ability to laugh at ourselves.

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Re: The future that wasn't

Your wish is my command :-)

I build overhead lines for a living (well i do the easy bit in a nice warm office with a computer to do all the hard sums - other people actually bolt em together for me)

And just this wekk i discovered that due to the projected scarceness of stout wood poles in 2015 we are shifting to a laminated plastic construction.

this will be the thin end of the wedge, you mark my words, we'll have plastic pylons before you can say 'knife'

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Non PC colour code

0 Bad

1 Boys

2 Rape

3 Our

4 Young

5 Girls

6 But

7 Virgins

8 Go

9 Without

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Re: The future that wasn't

Thank you, that's just wonderful. Being 35 years late is not a problem, no grand vision has ever arrived on time.

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Re: Non PC colour code

@ Non PC colour code

For 9, we always used "Willingly" instead.

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Two words (and an ellipsis)

Tandy catalogue...

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

You're killing me! Had the trs80 in it and the got it for xmas. Best present ever.

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TRT
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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

Used to work for 'em.

5 resistors for £1.79.

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FAIL

Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

Ouch.

Back around 1980 Rat Shack decided to inflictintroduce their shops onto the Dutch electronics hobbyists. Which market didn't exactly have a gap urgently needing filling anyway, back then. Add to that the prices, apparently set by having each component handled individually every step of the way from manufacturing to shop shelf, and sent first class airmail from Taiwan via the US to Europe, the shop assistants' excruciating cluelessness, whose collective IQ would still be less than their smallest shoe size (in US unit), and the horrible ratio of usable stuff to unmitigated tat, made them last not even a year.

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TRT
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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

Oddly, Tandy started as a shoemaker in the US.

Intertan - what it did enable me to do was to get instant employment in Canada for the BUNAC scheme. And yes, Frank, it is me if you read this and think, "Do I know that guy?"

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Unhappy

Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

I used to love Tandys. Spent many a lunch time in there buying electrical bits and bobs, that I may or may not have needed. Then they dropped most of their range of electronics components (apart from a few resistors and 555 timers) and concentrated more on consumer tat and mobile phones. Not many years after they pretty much vanished. Maplins went from catalogue to shop so I got a new haunt. Now it seems that Maplins have decided to go down the consumer tat route, I just wonder if they learnt anything from Tandys demise? So who will be next when Maplins disappears? Rapid?

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

Ah yes. The bottom 1500 IIRC. Many hours of fun stocktaking on a Sunday, pegboards around the back of the store, sorting the packets out onto the right peg and reading out the stock codes to the manager's wife who was ticking them off on a mahoosive pile of green and white lined 12" fanfold. The top 400 was the microwaves, tvs, hi-fis, computers etc. I used to know all the stock code series... can't quite recall now... 15- was for TV + HiFi? 479- was resistors? Damn.

Anyway, you're right. Maplin are likely to go the same way. I recall a manager's meeting once where they showed the Christmas advertising campaign. All very modest, old-Argos like advert - a conveyor belt of goods with prices. What actually came out on TV that year was an 80s neon acid trip with a legging-clad girl wearing a Walkman-clone walking a dalmatian through puddle lined streets whilst a radio controlled monster truck splashed up and down the kerb and various characters sauntered past enjoying their tech gear. Cue the queue of people in the new year who were bringing back the RC monster truck as it wasn't waterproof...

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

Ah yes. Tandy. Didn't they invent the "£=$" concept?

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

So who will be next when Maplins disappears? Rapid?

http://www.conrad.com/ ?

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

Anonymous John, the Sale of Goods Act 1979 is a more likely source for that. (Sellers have greater responsibilities in the UK than in the US, and it looks as though they’re compensated for that by equating £ with $.)

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

For the love of $Deity, stay away from the RS catalogue(s)!

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

Yup .. 26 series for the TRS-80 stuff. I was a part-timer there for 5 years in the early 80s (got a gold TC pin and everything) ... learnt programming there and even wrote a stock control system for the local store that ran on the Model 3 ... ahh those lovely yellow hand written receipts (typing them in on the system at the end of the day).

Stock takes were fun .. trying to do it faster than before ... climbing around the 'stock room' which typically consisted of rather dodgy wooden racks in a 20 foot square bit at the back of the shop.

Counting thousands of pounds out on the floor on Christmas Eve after managing to push people out of the door so we could close on time.

Happy Days ... although I did recycle all my wages back on their stuff 8-/ (but I got the pick of the 'sales' and 'discontinued' items .. still have the original TRS-80 Model I .. and a top of the range logic-controlled tape deck picked up for £25)

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

I seem to remember it as top 400 and bottom 16(hundred), was 42 series audio interconnects etc, I think 274 series were assorted plugs and adaptors, off the top of my head I though resistors were 279 but I could well be wrong. . . it's > 20 years ago after all.

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Re: Two words (and an ellipsis)

Ah yes, I forgot the pin, I was quite prod of it at the time, I think it's in a box of assorted tat in the spare room now

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Yup, Maplin syndrome

Although my affliction is less severe - I am able to walk past if I am disciplined about it.

However if I do go in it's game over. Money will be spent, on something I will never need and will probably stop working within hours, or days at best.

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Scary,

It's almost as if you're inside my brain!

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