Helping the small guyAfter a major restructuring exercise in which Maplin has boosted its catalogue distribution experience the company is focussing its attentions on the interests of the small UK customer. Paul Gregg reports As Britain’s two largest broadline catalogue distributors, RS and Farnell, battle it out for sales in the pan-European market, Maplin is engaged in a crusade for the hearts and minds of the small UK customer. Now that an optimum balance has been achieved between the professional and hobbyist operations, the Essex-based company has undertaken a major restructuring exercise, with the intention of boosting the professional component side of the business. This has been seen by the industry as a commitment to recruit a new management team with considerable experience in catalogue distribution. The new team comprises six managers who collectively have over 60 years experience. While the number of retail outlets was growing successfully, to the extent that there are 48 of them throughout the country today, a lot remained to be done to improve the performance of the professional side of the business. There was the added problem of the hobbyist tag spilling over to effect the perception of professional customers when it came to having an account with Maplin. When sales and marketing director, Neal Turner joined Maplin Electronics from Farnell last July, he immediately set about refocusing on the professional component side. “We decided to readdress the basic elements of our catalogue business in order to establish ourselves as a credible option the eyes of the professional buyer” he said. “Our research indicated inbound calls must be handled inside 10 seconds and the customers were increasingly concerned about larger pack quantities, which are becoming the standard in the industry.” “Customers want the ability to buy one-offs, and not be forced into buying larger quantities which will ultimately increase stock holding of low usage items. Our strategy is to focus on the small to medium size accounts in the catalogue business, because we feel that the smaller company and the start-up are not being properly, focused upon,” he added. Last month, Maplin published a CD catalogue and opened its own Web site. At the same time, it did away with the confusion of different brand names, such as Maplin Professional Services and Mondo, so that all the activities now come under the umbrella name – Maplin Electronics. Since then, telesales customer response times have come down dramatically, and all orders are despatched the same day from the central warehouse in Barnsley, through Securicor, the company’s delivery partner. The field sales team has been increased to eight people, who travel the country visiting key accounts on a regular basis, and are supported by a proactive telemarketing department of sixteen people. Through a newly announced joint venture with SEI-Macro Group, Maplin customers will now have access to ?15m of inventory held in the UK by SEI-Macro. And product marketing groups at SEI-Macro will work closely with Maplin marketing teams to promote semiconductor products. The trading relationship, estimated to be worth ?1m during its first year, will help Maplin to broaden its product offering to its business customers that are currently serviced through its catalogue or retail outlets. Macro will also make Maplin’s product and service information available to part of its customer base. “One of the most frustrating issues facing professional customers is find that a product is out of stock,” said Turner. “With access to Macro’s vast database, we can source alternative branded products quickly and efficiently, so ensuring shortened delivery times for customers”. SEI-Macro Group’s director of marketing, Paul Webster, said: “We are keen to support Maplin in its drive to offer service to a segment of the customer base not being developed by Macro”. While other catalogue distributors have tended to broaden their product range into areas other than electronics, Maplin is focusing its attention on core electronic components and products, with the emphasis on “no minimum quantity”. Maplin at a glance The company began as a component mail order business in Rayleigh, Essex, back in 1972, essentially serving the hobbyist market. The first shop was opened at Westcliff-on-Sea in 1974, and the growth subsequently came from that business before it branched out into trade component distribution in 1985. The firm was acquired by the Saltire group in 1994, and is today it is a major contributor to group profits.