As rpdom says the reason Maplin have moved away from the hobbyist and have become more of a 'boys toys' shop is primarily about the economics of running a shop. Back in the 70s and 80s when both Tandy and Maplin were selling components in the shops electronics and repairing or modifying equipment was popular.
However move into the 90s and there were two big changes happening. The rise in the popularity of the chip (integrated circuit) and the dramatic fall in the cost of ready made electronic equipment. Electronic equipment essentially became un economical to repair and building your own circuit became more expensive than buying a ready made product. This all resulted in a steep decline in electronics as a hobby so only a small group of enthusiasts would continue to build their own circuits just for the enjoyment of it. The Raspberry Pi illustrates this phenomenon perfectly because it is such a very low cost item that consists primarily of the Broadcom SoC. Manufactured using such tiny components that require precise manufacturing techniques means spending time trying to repair it or indeed build your own would be futile in most cases; so it is easier to replace it.
With huge rents, business rates and staffing costs to cover; both Tandy and Maplin had to change their main source of income in the 90s and as it turns out Maplin made the better choice. I guess with Radio Shack being the dominant electronics retailer in the US they naturally tried to replicate their model in the UK, the problem being that meant concentrating on mainstream electronic goods such as HiFi, TV & Mobile Phones. This is where they ran into trouble because the likes of Comet, Currys and Carphone Warehouse had already established their leadership in these areas and they just couldn't compete. Maplin on the other hand probably because it was run by an electronics enthusiast at the time started to sell less mainstream items like disco lights, in-car amplifiers and various gadgets that continued to appeal to their core customer who likes to tinker with gadgets. Ultimately while Radio Shack ended up selling off the Tandy stores to Carphone Warehouse, Maplin managed to keep going all be it struggling. Then eventually Maplin was sold to a venture capital firm who look at the business in simple financial terms concentrating on selling high margin gadgets and essentially abandoning the component business.
The situation is that even at the high prices they charge for components it will be difficult to make it work. For example maplin sell the 7805 regulator for £1.89
, I don't know what their cost price is but considering we sell the same item for 39p
when you buy 5 we can assume it is at least a little bit less than that so their profit on that item is perhaps £1.25 - 1.50. That sounds like a lot but assuming they pay £6.31 minimum wage to their adult staff they would have to sell 5 an hour just to pay for that 1 member of staff. That same member of staff on the other hand could sell two £50 toys/gadgets in an hour making them perhaps £30 profit that would not only pay for the 1 member of staff but also cover, rent, rates and profit for the owners. It is therefore clear why Maplin are not interested in the electronics enthusiast any more who wants to buy £5 worth of components. So the obvious thing to do is reduce the range and use the space for more profitable items while raising the price of the few items that are still stocked.
Saying all of that you might be asking the question how can Tandy sell small value electronic components selling them at reasonable prices if there is nothing to be made. We believe that there has been somewhat of a resurgence of interest in electronics in recent years mainly driven by initiatives such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi and as electronics enthusiasts ourselves feel there is a place for a hobbyist friendly supplier and that the internet makes that possible by having much smaller overheads than a network of retail outlets. The popularity of the likes of Adafruit suggests that this is the case. Being able to supply components at reasonable prices however relies on being able to sell a high volume of products to keep us busy packing up lots of orders and being able to buy from the manufacturers in sufficient volume to get good prices from them much like amazon does with books and music. A big thank you goes out to all who have ordered from us your custom is appriciated, the revival of Tandy is an exiting time for us and if you like what we are doing we hope you will help spread the word.