back to article Administrator PwC chops Maplin staff

PwC has laid off a number of staff at Maplin Electronics as the future of the retail chain continues to look bleak with potential suitors unable to agree terms and a "controlled closure" process imminent. The gadget souk was put into the hands of PwC's administration team on 28 February following a string of financial losses …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    now faces the prospect of breaking up the group and selling off individual assets

    Broken into component parts, a rather poignant fate given where it started from.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      To be fair they did try to solder on even when faced with administration.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        <sniff> Not a dry joint in the house

        1. Korev Silver badge
          Coat

          Yep, I'm feeling wired now...

      2. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

        Don't despair. They're in a state of flux and could yet brazen out the crisis.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          i.c. what you are saying but I can't see a way to rectifier the situation, I may have to consult my crystals ball.

          1. A K Stiles

            Velleman can only do so much I suppose - time to cable-tie up the loose ends.

            1. no_handle_yet

              Please stop. I'm getting very breadboard of these puns.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                agreed, some of them are getting quite schottky.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  I wonder what LED them to this?

                  1. Dan 55 Silver badge

                    Diode ones are the best.

                    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                      I/m surprised out resident Diodesign hasn't commented yet.

    2. Laura Kerr

      A vero sad day.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        better to be sad than angry, you wouldn't want to blow a fuse now.

        1. wolfetone Silver badge

          Trying my best to resistor the temptation to make a pun, but I haven't the capacitor to succeed.

  2. Gene Cash Silver badge

    > Maplin, once known for its well-trained staff, began to lose a reputation for technical knowledge and so its unique selling point started to become less apparent

    This is the case with all the brick & mortar stores that I can see. There's now zero training in a business's basic line of product or work.

    Radio Shack used to have staff knowledgeable enough to suggest component values, or at least a relevant Forrest Mims book.

    Barne's & Noble used to have staff that could actually suggest books based on what you said you liked. Now they just pound the hell out of you to BUY a loyalty card.

    Best Buy staff used to be able to point you in the direction of PC video cards. Now there's things locked in cabinets that I can't actually buy, like SSDs, VR headsets, cameras, and drones.

    Sears sales staff used to be able to actually tell you the pro and con of buying a particular appliance or tool and the difference between this model and that one, other than the price.

    There's no longer any "added value" to going to a physical store, other than the tiny, tiny chance they might actually stock something you know you already want.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Economically this might be a good thing. All those people interested in electronics and computers who would have had to work in Maplin / Radio-shack because there wasn't a big computer company in their town can now get a well paid job in computers wherever they live.

      And all the English lit graduates who once worked in Blackwells and Waterstones are now fulfilling a useful community service roll ensuring your name is punctuated correctly on your Starbucks cup

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        useful community service roll

        Presumably bacon..

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "This is the case with all the brick & mortar stores that I can see. There's now zero training in a business's basic line of product or work."

      Several years ago there used to be a long established independent builders merchant nearby. They had a really good plumbing department. Then they cut back on staff and the plumbing expert was gone. Eventually they sold their brand name to BuildBase and their big high street site was sold for a large apartment development.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        their big high street site was sold for a large apartment development.

        That's what capitalism is supposed to do. If the land was more valuable for housing than a plumbers merchant then it is "a good thing" that it was turned into housing.

    3. Siberian Hamster

      +1 vote for the Forrest Mims reference, those little notebooks were my first steps into electronics when I were a lad.

      Also you've summed up exactly why even though I'm prepared to pay a little bit more for something from a bricks and mortar store I'm purchasing more and more often online. That 'knowledgeable PFY' Maplin* or PC World or whoever that you could have a little discussion with is gone, replaced with droids that either follow you around asking 'can I help with anything' multiple times or ones that do their best to ignore you.

      *my Maplin still has a guy that genuinely knows about stuff - YMMV.

      1. PNGuinn
        Holmes

        @Frozen Hamster

        I'll see your Forrest Mims and raise you Bernard B Babani.

        I think I'm beginning to get old.

    4. graeme leggett

      Reasons for visiting a physical store

      1) the stuff is not available on the internet

      2) the stuff is something you really need to look at before you buy - bed, sofa, car

      3) the staff are key to the selection process

      4) buying across internet is otherwise impracticable - DIY materials (pots of paint, length of 2 by 4)

      5) browsing is fun (allegedly) - garden centres etc

      6) I need it now!

      1. nijam

        > 1) the stuff is not available on the internet

        Actually, it probably is.

        > 3) the staff are key to the selection process

        I take you haven't actually been in a store recently

        > 4) buying across internet is otherwise impracticable - DIY materials (pots of paint, length of 2 by 4)

        DIY and builders merchants do online sales and they deliver

        > 5) browsing is fun (allegedly) - garden centres etc

        I refute that allegation

        > 6) I need it now!

        ... so I order online instead of having to wait until the store opens? (Maybe you closer to that particular store than I do, though.)

        1. juice Bronze badge

          "> 1) the stuff is not available on the internet

          Actually, it probably is."

          It may be, but (especially if you're not an expert in that domain), finding it can be tricky if you don't know the actual name for it. I've had that a few times and it can be easier to just nip down to the shop and look in the most likely aisle/ask a staff member, rather than hunting on Google to try and track it down

          "> 3) the staff are key to the selection process

          I take you haven't actually been in a store recently"

          Depends on the store - there are still people who are knowledgeable about their wares and are happy to provide assistance.

          "> 4) buying across internet is otherwise impracticable - DIY materials (pots of paint, length of 2 by 4)

          DIY and builders merchants do online sales and they deliver"

          Yes, but delivery costs can be prohibitive for larger/heavier/small-volume items. F'instance, BnQ charges £5 for orders under £50, and won't deliver bulk-material orders (e.g. bricks, wood) under £100.

          And you have to be at home to accept the delivery, unless you have very accepting neighbours!

          "> 5) browsing is fun (allegedly) - garden centres etc

          I refute that allegation"

          Fun is relative... sometimes it's just nice to get out! This also ties into point 2) which you skipped - it can be useful to gauge physical properties (e.g. the way the fabric feels, the weight, etc) and/or look at potential alternatives.

          There's a reason a lot of warehouse retailers have cafes :)

          "> 6) I need it now!

          ... so I order online instead of having to wait until the store opens? (Maybe you closer to that particular store than I do, though.)"

          That's a funny definition of "now", especially if you're in the middle of a highly exciting Cunning Plan or dealing with a crisis (leaking pipes, blown PSU, broken window, etc).

          Ordering online generally carries at least a one-day delay penalty, barring certain special cases such as the limited selection available on Amazon Prime. Or, y'know, where you order online and then go to collect it... at the store. Which, y'know, has to be open.

          Anyhow, BnQ is open until 20:00 weekdays [*], 19:00 Saturdays and 16:00 Sundays, and as nice as it is to play with hammers and powertools at midnight, the neighbours generally don't approve. And much like cockroaches and politicians, you're generally never that far from one - there's half a dozen within 15 miles of where I live, the closest of which is ten minutes walk.

          Similar applies to other warehouse stores - and if you're near to a shopping mall, these are often open until 21:00 or 22:00 (e.g Meadowhall/Trafford Centre); many Asda/Tesco supermarkets are 24/7.

          And while it can be a tad eerie, it's definitely a nicer, quicker and quieter shopping experience at midnight, even if you do have to dodge around the shelf restockers!

          [*} I swear they were open until 22:00 for a while - guess there just wasn't the sales volume!

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          > 6) I need it now!

          ... so I order online instead of having to wait until the store opens?

          It's the difference between "I can get it after a 15-minute drive" and "It'll arrive by next-day post".

          Sometimes you can't wait the 24 hours that it'll take for stuff to arrive.

    5. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: staff knowledgeable enough to suggest component values

      If Edinburgh woollen Mills had taken them over you might have heard this conversation in one of their stores:-

      Customer: I need these capacitors and resistors please.

      Store assistant: Hmm, I don't think that these resistors would go well with those capacitors: blue and green don't go well together y'know.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      staff training

      I meet the same problem in supermarkets (where can I find ...) and most hardware stores (do you have something to fix...). The main exceptions are with older people who take the trouble to find stuff out. If I ask most of the shelf-fillers they have no idea.

      I do know of a friend whose teenage son (many years ago) worked on Saturdays in a computer store and knew about the products and so would advise customers about what they needed. He was told off by the manager, as he was just supposed to be selling stuff.

    7. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      There's no longer any "added value" to going to a physical store

      For some chains (*cough*PC World) there never was. I well remember quizzing a 'senior' sales specialist there about monitor refresh rates (CRT monitors - remember them?) and getting the sinking feeling as the look of glazed panic came over his eyes..

      In the end I just asked to look at the manuals from a few boxes in order to get the detail that I wanted. This was (very much) pre-Amazon UK..

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PwC

    I wonder which of the accountancy firms was the auditor for Maplin (or Carillion for that matter).

    1. paulf Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: PwC

      Carillion = KPMG

      EDIT: Maplin Electronics Ltd was audied by KPMG according to this from Companies house but I don't know where that fits in the complex corporate structure

      Maplin - I couldn't get a definitive answer although I did find this opinion article which gives lots of accounting type information on how a company with good cashflow became a "zombie":

      "The company that has been placed into administration is MEL Topco, which is the top layer of a complex corporate structure created by Rutland Partners in 2014 when Rutland purchased Maplin Electronics Group (Holdings) Ltd. from its previous owner Montagu Private Capital. Maplin Electronics Group (Holdings) Ltd. still exists, however; its 2017 accounts say that it is a "non-trading intermediary holding company". Its sole owner is MEL Bidco. MEL Bidco is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MEL Midco, which in turn is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MEL Topco. The corporate structure below Maplin Electronics Group (Holdings) is similarly complex."

      "Quite why Rutland has created such a complex corporate structure for Maplin is not immediately apparent, but I suspect it may have something to do with tax, or rather avoiding it."

      "When Rutland Partners acquired Maplin in 2014 it funded the purchase with debt. That debt was loaded in its entirety on to the books of MEL Topco, in the form of £15m of bank loans at Libor + 7.5% and £72m of shareholders' loan notes at 15%."

      1. paulf Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: PwC

        I note from the CH page the entry "Incorporated on 22 June 1976". I suspect this means it is the actual original operating company that runs the shops etc, and isn't one of the various entities further up the chain created as part of the various PE ownerships - but I don't have a copy of the corporate structure to be sure.

      2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Debt

        When Rutland Partners acquired Maplin in 2014 it funded the purchase with debt.

        I wonder if there are any stats on how many takeovers that were 100% funded with debt failed and importantly how many actually got out of that load of debt and became profitable.

        My guess that out of 100 the figures are 99(failed) and 1(succeded). Perhaps I am being generous with the '1'.

        These companies are nowt more than Vultures.

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: Debt

          "These companies are nowt more than Vultures."

          As all El Reg Commentards know, the vulture is a noble and honourable beast. Please do not use them as a metric for low lives.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Debt

            vulture is a noble and honourable beast

            I think that might be *slightly* overstating things. They perform a useful function (converting dead things into compost) though.

            Much like El Reg commentards. Non compost mentis.

        2. paulf Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: Debt

          @Steve Davies 3

          I’d say you’re being generous with that ‘1’ but it depends how long you give them. The longest lived after a debt fuelled acquisition is probably Debenhams after their ownership by Permira (?) about 10 years ago although that’s a case of 1. To the best of my knowledge and 2. Watch this space...

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Debt

            That company structure is kind of complex... so it's like an OS with a hardware abstraction layer, on an emulated BIOS in a virtual container, with a side channel hypervisor, and an emulated EFI shadowing real address space?

          2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Debt

            is probably Debenhams

            I think Michael Dell funded a lot of the process of taking Dell back into private ownership by using debt but I could be wrong..

        3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Debt

          any stats on how many takeovers that were 100% funded with debt failed

          I would suspect that it's pretty close to 100%. Dell might be the outlier - but they were a profitable business before Dell himself took them private again.

          To amend your query slightly I would suspect that 100% of failing companies where the takeover was funded by debt will go out of business. If the business is already failing, I can't see how loading it with yet more debt is going to help. Likewise, I can't see how any sane bank is going to lend against a failing company unless they own substantial assets that the bank can grab when the company goes belly-up.

          These companies are nowt more than Vultures

          Vultures have a critcal role in the ecosystem..

      3. Slef

        Re: PwC

        In my (very limited) understanding the use of loans between the various "separate" companies means that the parasites have first call on whatever assets there are left in the "group" but of course that might be pure shyte and the parasites are really just interested in maintaining the pensions and welfare of the staff! I think I just saw a pig flying by.

        1. Captn_Jack

          Re: PwC

          If by parasites you mean Rutland you're not far off

          The loan is a secured debt which effectively makes Rutland a creditor after HMRC etc. Effectively that would mean that they'd receive some of any profits made as part of a sell-off

          Although it's unlikely there'll be much profit once the VAT bill has been paid. A lot of the stock still in the warehouse is quite old so wouldn't fetch a great deal if sold in bulk, it may not even sell for the price it was originally bought at

      4. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: PwC

        "Quite why Rutland has created such a complex corporate structure for Maplin is not immediately apparent, but I suspect it may have something to do with tax, or rather avoiding it."

        Could it be a shell game - move lots of money (or debt) around, and hope that no-one can keep track of where it's all gone until it's too late. I can't help thinking that the purchase might have been funded with borrowing by the parent, but somehow that parent has borrowed money through the bought business and repaid it's own loans. So when the bought company goes titsup*, the debt is loaded onto that, and it's other creditors that lose out while the parent is laughing all the way to the bank.

        In this case, total inability to support usual peddling (of electronics stuff).

  4. AndGregor

    I like going to Maplin for impulse purchases when I've been paid.

    The stock variety has been that bad I've run out of things to buy over the last year. £500+ drones, over priced IOT tat and expensive security cameras don't float my boat (though I did buy a camera out of need to get my retail fix).

    I even considered a gaming PC but I'd be ripped to shreds for paying them prices..

    Sorry to see them go, the guys and girls in my local branch are knowledgeable and helpful, whoever chose the product line and pricing have done them no favours.

  5. TonyJ Silver badge

    A shame, but as others have said...

    ...inevitable.

    The staff in my local branch are all very friendly and as far as it goes, helpful, although not particularly knowledgeable.

    But the tat they sell! And almost all of it seems so incredibly overpriced.

    I bought my lad a couple of their electronics kits over the years and they were terrible. In each case, the solder just refused to flow to the pads (even after a good clean on the second one).

    And yes I can solder :) in an earlier life, I was a fully fledged electronics engineer.

    I don't know if it's the same at others' stores, but a good 25% of my local one seems to be given over to "Disco/DJ" kit as well and I've always wondered just how big the demand for that sort of stuff could possibly be.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sad - but a sign of the times

    I popped into my local Maplins yesterday for a quick look around, thinking that maybe a "fire salvage sale" might have started.

    Apart from the sign on the door about the appointment of administrators, the inside was no different.

    A few shelves were empty - no doubt as no stock has been bought in to replace what has been sold...and lots of (IMHO) overpriced items, which will probably be marked down, as PwC get to grips with selling off the stock (as they won't get paid unless they can sell off some assets) - and as the stock has cost THEM nothing, so they'll try to shift it as soon as poss now, to keep the secured creditors happy whilst keeping some money back to cover their own costs.

    I feel sorry for the staff though...but the management clearly have let many people down, by charging too much for products that people don't want.

    AC as I might have been the ONLY customer who walked into ANY Maplins store yesterday !!

  7. Dieter Haussmann

    It is sinking like a LED balloon.

  8. hoola

    Parasite & Vultures

    As with all these events, the underlying venture capitalists will have done all sorts of financial engineering to ensure that they are sorted. The auditors appear to be incompetent but get a nice fat fee and the administrators are laughing all the way to the bank. There appear to be so many obscure financial tools now in terms of credit, credit insurance and everything else, all run be the very people that have brought the country to it's knees one have to ask how we have reached this state.

    If you dig down enough all these collapse appear to end up as a result of some ratings outfit, bank, investment tool or consultants. All of whom are being paid huge amounts of money.

    1. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      Re: Parasite & Vultures

      Indeed, it's not all about poor retail performance...

      http://www.coppolacomment.com/2018/03/the-sad-story-of-maplin-electronics.html

      Though the website was diabolical given the quality of the old catalogues.

  9. nijam

    The fact is that Maplin has been a "dead man walking" for years. All the commentards' diatribes about venture capitalists and the like is misplaced, because they are talking about symptoms, not causes.

  10. Mike Scott 1

    I actually shopped in a Maplin store last week, for the first time in about 10 years. Uniquely, I urgently needed a HDMI to DVI converter and knew I could likely get it at the shop 3 miles from the office. There were 3 staff in the shop, and at least while I was there just me as a customer. There was also mountains of stock - And high value stuff too, home automation, cameras, lighting etc.

    I got the bit I needed - at £12 probably twice the price on Amazon where I would usually shop, but I needed it then and there. A business cannot sustain itself on that kind of purchase. That is why they are doomed.

  11. juice Bronze badge

    I've not been keen on Maplins for a few years...

    First, their marketing and store-layout strategy seems to focus on overpriced gadgets and tat: the actual useful and interesting stuff is shoved to the back of the store where it languishes under dust and cobwebs.

    Then, even their bread-and-butter stuff generally has a heavy markup.

    And finally, their staff training manual looks to have been derived from the old Window Salesman manual. If I've gone into the store, then it's because I'm either mooching while bored, looking to see if there's anything interesting or buying something specific. It's therefore counter-productive to have some sales-minion (who generally doesn't appear to have any domain knowledge) jump on me as soon as I walk in the door - it actively deters me from even contemplating a visit!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This story is moving quickly

    The Glasgow city center store is now sporting "closing down" signs.

  13. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Lesson from Kmart...

    Locations, Locations, Locations.

    The story goes... Kmart, the failed retail corporation, had been devalued to just a few hundreds of millions of dollars valuation. Somebody suddenly bought it. Why? Because although it was nearly worthless as a retail chain, its real estate holdings, including Leases, was worth billions.

  14. FidotheFrightful

    Maplin staff chop

    Not surprised. They had it coming.

  15. steviebuk Silver badge

    Kinda sad to see...

    ...the one in my local town with the 50% off, closing down sign. The staff having to carry on knowing they're out of work soon. Never used to bother me when I was young, just thought of the bargains. Now think of the staff losing their jobs.

    Been in and I think most is just now down to what the stuff is sold elsewhere.

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