In its updated profile of Maplin Electronics, Retail Week Knowledge Bank details Maplin’s stellar long-term performance, growing sales from below £50m at the end of the 1990s to more than £200m 10 years later.

Maplin has various claims to fame, perhaps notably as UK retailing’s double-digital all-rounder - double-digit sales growth in eight years of the last decade and double-digit profit margins in nine of the last 10 years. There is also its holding company’s multi-double-digit millions of rolled up interest payments on its shareholder loan notes - £52m at the last count - plunging that entity into annual double-digit millions of losses. Of course, when exit time comes for Montague Private Equity, those double-digit millions of interest will doubtless disappear in the retail operation’s lucrative wash.

Notwithstanding the recent departure of three directors all at once, Retail Week Knowledge Bank considers Maplin has another claim to fame: could it be UK only multichannel exponent whose online sales are actually falling, while its physical stores’ sales continue to grow? Online sales dropped 3.8% in 2010 and 7.9% the year before. As management points out, its transactional site is mature after more than 10 years, though still profitable. Maplin’s catalogue sales are falling even faster. So the expanding store network is cannibalising home shopping sales, with many customers clearly opting to shop in-store when one opens nearby.

This must, of course, be of some comfort to physical retailers. Certainly, for less mature multichannel and pure-play exponents there remains the likelihood of above-average sales growth before online begins levelling off. Nevertheless, any crumbs of comfort must be welcome news to hard-pressed high street operations. The current gloom may lift eventually if you stick around and get it right.

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