Whatever happened to Dixons

Gone – well, sort of.

Over the years, the composition of the British high street has changed immeasurably. At one point, you would find a Dixons opposite a HMV and a Gamestation next to a Woolworths. Sadly, times changed as the internet and out of town shopping centres brought about the death of a number of traditional retailers.

But given Dixons’ position of strength – they were the UK’s premier electrical retailer and were an early web adopter – why don’t they exist on our high streets or online anymore?

In one night in 2006, almost 200 stores vanished. Then, six years later, their internet site closed. It was a strange, abrupt end.

Or was it?

If you look carefully before setting off on your holidays, you might catch glimpse of a Dixon branded store in an airport or at the Eurotunnel terminal. And, if you read the financial section, you will be able to find the name of Dixons listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The beginning

Dixons was founded in 1937, by the duo of Charles Kalms and Michael Mindel. The pair had met in London, where Kalms had previously been selling advertising space on the London Underground. Mindel was running a small but relatively successful photographic studio in Oxford Street and was keen to expand.

After some brief discussions, the two joined forces to established Dixons Studios Limited, and the company was officially registered in October 1937.

The early years were relatively successful. From their base in Southend, the company expanded to own a handful of studios around London as demand for portrait photography grew. However, come the end of the Second World War and Kalms and Mindel’s portfolio was reduced to just one solitary location in Edgware, north London.

A few lean years followed, but Dixons was once again on an upward path by the time that the 1950s came around. With the help of Stanley Kalms, Charles’ son, the company capitalised on Great Britain’s new-found love in photography.

Instead of focusing solely upon studio work, the group took on a retail arm that was immensely successful. Thanks to some ingenious marketing (take their frankly brilliant ‘Cameraderie’ slogan as a prime example) and the introduction of a mail-order division, the business took off.

By 1957, Dixons had secured agreements with leading Japanese electronics manufacturers, cementing the company as the UK’s number one photography retailer.

The successful sixties and seventies

Success was followed by expansion. Between 1962 and 1964, the Dixons acquired Ascotts and Bennetts, two of its major competitors. This buying spree resulted in the number of Dixon stores to rise from sixteen to fifty-eight in two short years.

Thanks to the swinging sixties and a reduction in working hours, Britain’s leisure activities once again altered. Again, Dixons were there to provide a new generation with the means to document their travels and experiences on a regular basis. Oh, and of course Beatlemania helped: Thanks to a boom in the British music industry and Dixons’ links with Japan, high quality hi-fi units were introduced to the company’s already impressive catalogue.

From Southend to the States

The group continued to engulf its competitors, absorbing Currys in 1984 and a number of smaller stores and business such as Orbit, Greens, and Bridgers. With their portfolio of stores exceeding 600 at this point and their stock encompassing everything from cameras to refrigerators, Dixons were clearly Great Britain’s number one electrical retailer.

To top things off, fifty years after Dixons first opened its doors in Southend, it acquired the third-largest power retailer in America, Silo.

Currys and PC World

As noted, Dixons purchased Currys in 1984. The takeover was a protracted one, but once completed the management structure decided that it would be advantageous to keep the two rivals brands operational.

As strange as this sounds today, at the time it did make sense: Dixons was popular with customers looking to purchase new technologies, audio and visual equipment, whilst Currys was the store of choice for those in search of a new fridge.

This philosophy continued when the company bought Vision Technology Group Ltd (VTA), the owners of the burgeoning computer retailer PC World.

The problem was that as all aspects of the business grew, technology was changing. As we were introduced to laptops, mobile phones and handheld music devices, the lines that separated the brands blurred during late-1990s and early-2000s.

Retail to e-tail and beyond

In 2006, the ever decreasing gaps between the three competing companies and the growing market share of internet retailers proved too much.

“This high street has become an increasingly challenging environment and the cost of maintaining a presence there has increased,” noted John Clare, the chief executive of Dixons’ parent company.

And so the decision was made to retire Dixons from the high street.

Staff were briefed that this move would ‘crush’ the opposition. In reality, online opposition crushed Dixons as the brand synonymous with bricks and mortar stores failed to transfer successfully to the electronic sphere.

After six years of being an online only retailer, Dixons officially closed its digital doors in 2012 and ceased trading.

Only they didn’t.

Though Dixons’ web presence had been 404’d, their parent company lived on with the Dixons name. With the Currys and PC World stores under their umbrella – not to mention of host of European based retailers – Dixons Retail lived on.

In 2014, it with the leading mobile phone businesses, Carphone Warehouse, to create the Dixons Carphone group, which is one of Europe’s leading electrical and telecommunication retailers.

Whether you’re looking for a brand-new 4K television, a state-of-the-art surround sound system or a future proof mobile phone, the chances are that you’ll find it in a store operated by the famous name of Dixons.

Unless you happen to be in an airport or preparing to board the Eurostar, that is. Twenty-one Dixons-branded shops still exist, serving the duty-free market. So if you are a little nostalgic and fancy some retail therapy under the signature Dixons signage, swap the high street for the high-life.

So there you have it, the company that’s name was picked out of a phonebook, still exists – sort of.