Dominic Sacco speaks to Nick Morrill about the company's plans to expand into etail

Maplin owner excited by ‘huge potential’ of online business

Rutland Partners, the new owner of Maplin, has told PCR that the UK electronics retailer can become a force in the etail space.

The turnaround specialist, whose portfolio includes Pizza Hut and Bernard Matthews, acquired Maplin from Montague Private Equity in an £85 million deal in late June.

Nick Morrill, managing partner at Rutland, said at the time he was delighted with the progress Maplin’s management had made in the recovery of the business, but highlighted “the potential skill to be unlocked”.

Speaking exclusively to PCR about those specific ambitions for the retailer in the future, Morrill said: “In the case of Maplin, it’s about establishing a clear brand awareness of what Maplin stands for, what its customer proposition needs to be, and it is also about making sure that whether you are a customer online or in-store, you have the same experience.

“It’s no secret the store group is very robust and very successful at the moment, and we have further to go in terms of improving the online proposition. One of the key focuses will clearly be to improve the online proposition and ultimately create a full omnichannel retailer. And it’s certainly where we want Maplin to be. And at the moment it’s overly dependent on its stores business, and it has huge potential that’s untapped within the online proposition.”

What about the product mix, then? Maplin is a very well established electronics retailer, having started as a small mail order business in 1972 to grow to a national Maplin has more than 210 stores across the UK and Ireland, and hopes to grow its online operations chain with more than 210 stores in the UK and Ireland.

It is known for its wide range of tech products and electronics parts, as well as its expert advice. However, will this change in the future?

“There’s a big push in terms of merchandising, expansion of the product range, reengaging on being more innovative and having a first mover status in certain product categories, but at the same time not having a product mix that takes you away from that ‘first in and last out’ theme that Maplin became synonymous with,” Morrill explains.

“What we’re really going to do is support [Maplin CEO] John Cleland and his strategy here. We intend to help them deliver some category ownership in targeted categories where the average Maplin customer will recognise that’s what they go to Maplin for, and they want to have the maximum amount of choice and price point choice in that category.

“We are steering a very careful path away from just me too’ products which are hugely price competitive, whether in Maplin’s physical stores or online.

“So for example smartphones, tablets, plasma TV screens – that’s not the stuff we should be doing.

“What we should be doing is the stuff that the average Maplin customer really wants to engage with because he wants help or advice or solutions to his problems.

“We will really reengage with that traditional type of Maplin customer.”

The typical Maplin customer is loyal, especially in today’s age of discount internet retailing, with Maplin recording more than 25 million customer visits every year.

So what’s next for Maplin going forwards?

“The company right now is growing fantastically,” explains Morrill. “It has had its best trading period since 2006/2007. If you take the last five or six quarters on like-for-like comparisons, it is absolutely beginning to get transaction in the wider market.

“Clearly where we’d like to be 12 months out from here, is a sustained delivery of that trend.

“I think the first priority is doing the things we need to do better internally, and there are a number of those, and secondly, really begin to drive the wider perception of what Maplin has to offer.

“And if that then translates into another four or five quarters of sustainable growth, then we will be extremely well placed.”

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