02 January 2007

Just another specialist

At the week-end I was in Maplin, looking for an interconnect between a standard USB and my phone. Maplin is small, but rather intense - rather like the geeky guy in the corner at a party. People can see that he is there, but they aren't entirely sure if they want to go over and risk a conversation. Is Maplin a well-kept secret or a highly sophisticated strategy play?

Maplin isn't exactly elitist, but it has a techie aura which is both a benefit and a curse. Many of their lines are available more generally, but the shop isn't exactly a pop in and browse kind of place. If you want to buy a 'cool to the touch' soldering iron then you have found the right place. Having seen one on sale, I'm consumed by curiosity - how does it work? I feel like writing to New Scientist - how can a soldering iron which is cool enough for me to touch, melt solder in a few seconds? It's like the inverse of the penguin question - do their feet need anti-freeze?

The business seems to be based around a mail order catalogue which has a significant 'thud factor'. As well as interconnects, they have plenty of components for the DIY computer builder and my younger son bought quite a lot of stuff in there as part of his latest games machine project.

It isn't quite clear to me who the shop is aimed at but perhaps I would get a clearer idea if I spent any time looking through the catalogue. One of the problems with having a network of relatively small retail stores is that no store can hope to carry all their active lines. I think that the business is designed to cater for DIY hobbyist electronics and electrical browsers who are nudged into purchases by being reminded of something by seeing it on sale. Because it is based on a small sample I couldn't claim that this is a thorough survey. It would be interesting to know what their customers thought about them and what they think about their customers.

The interconnect? Yes, they had it.

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