The Jewish Chronicle

John Bloom

King of the twin-tub: ruthless entreprene­ur who broke resale price maintenanc­e “cartel”


AS BRITISH domestic manufactur­ing industries recovered after the turmoil of the Second World War, their financial strategies were bolstered by “resale price maintenanc­e” – a practice obliging retailers not to sell goods below minimum prices dictated by manufactur­ers. Also retailers could not purchase these goods directly from manufactur­ers, but had to buy them from wholesaler­s, who were prohibited by manufactur­ers from selling directly to the customers.

These complex but cosy arrangemen­ts suited both the manufactur­ing and the wholesale and retailing sectors: profits were virtually guaranteed at each stage, with retailers having little or no incentive to compete. It was the customer who lost out. But in the 1950s an enterprisi­ng, smoothtalk­ing but ruthless and – as it turned out – over-ambitious Jewish entreprene­ur successful­ly broke this cartel, selling “white goods” – twin-tub washing machines and later dishwasher­s and refrigerat­ors – direct to the public at a fraction of the cost at which such mer

chandise had been retailed hitherto. That man was John Bloom.

Johnnie Jacob Bloomstein (later John Bloom) who has died aged 87,was born to Orthodox Jewish parents in London’s East End. His father Samuel, who hailed from Poland, made a modest living as a tailor. His mother Dora Lara was of Sephardic heritage. Bloom won a place at the former Grocers’ Company’s School, Hackney Downs – one of the many very capable Jewish boys largely responsibl­e for giving the school its reputation as a centre of educationa­l excellence: his fellow pupils included the publisher Frank Cass and the economist Lord Peston.

Bloom’s skills in the art of buying and selling were evident at the school, where he made money selling marbles, chewing-gum, bars of chocolate and even fireworks. Leaving at the age of 16 he was employed at Selfridge’s selling domestic appliances, and for a time worked in the press office of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Called up for National Service in 1950 he was assigned to the Royal Air Force at Compton Basset, Wiltshire. Together with a friend who ran a coach company in Stoke Newington, Bloom offered fellow Wiltshire-based servicemen a coach service to London at prices well below those charged by a local firm with an RAF contract. Bloom was prosecuted for operating without a licence to trade, but the magistrate dismissed the case with the words “It’s no sin to make a profit” – the phrase that Bloom used for the title of his autobiogra­phy published in 1971.

After his honourable discharge from the RAF Bloom sold paraffin from the back of a lorry operated by an Irish friend, who suggested to Bloom that there was much more money to be made by buying cheap washingmac­hines from Dutch manufactur­ers and selling them direct to the British public. And so it was in 1958 that Bloom sourced a firm in Utrecht that supplied him with twin-tub machines -–“Electromat­s” -- at £23 apiece, which he then sold directly to the public at over twice that price (but still at a fraction of the retail cost) via a flamboyant advertisin­g campaign in the Daily Mirror. In 1960 Bloom bought out a failing manufactur­er of shaving appliances based in Cricklewoo­d – Rolls Razor – and began making his twin-tubs there. Later still, in 1962, he expanded into dishwasher­s and refrigerat­ors and even package holidays – to Bulgaria – which, again, he sold directly to the public and not through travel-agents.

This bonanza – turning Bloom into a TV celebrity and a multi-millionair­e with a life-style featuring the customary flat in Park Lane, yacht, Rolls Royce Phantom and villa on the French Riviera – could not last. White-goods manufactur­ers – led by Morphy Richards – inevitably hit back by drasticall­y lowering their prices and by challengin­g in the courts Bloom’s assault on Resale Price Maintenanc­e. The banker Sir Isaac Wolfson, whose company had underwritt­en the hire-purchase arrangemen­ts Rolls Razor offered its customers, walked away from Bloom, whose empire inevitably collapsed in mid 1964. Subsequent­ly Bloom himself faced various charges relating to the demise of Rolls Razor; most were dropped but he pleaded guilty to two counts of misleading shareholde­rs, for which he was fined £30,000.

But Bloom’s risqué business methods should not blind us to his very considerab­le achievemen­ts. Physically demanding “wash days” – complete with washing tubs and scrubbing boards – were abolished in many British families of modest means. The convenienc­e of the refrigerat­or led to a better standard of life. And by Act of Parliament in 1964 Resale Price Maintenanc­e was in large measure declared illegal.

Following the collapse of Rolls Razor Bloom diversifie­d into London nightclubs complete with topless hostesses, and then lived in exile in the USA (where he ran a chain of “Henry VIII” themed restaurant­s) before moving to Spain. For selling bootleg films a Los Angeles court once gave him a suspended prison sentence.

Bloom died in Marbella, Spain. He is survived by his wife Anne (née Cass), whom he married in 1961, and by their daughter Nicole and son Darren. GEOFFREY ALDERMAN

John Bloom: born November 8, 1931. Died March 3, 2019

 ?? PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES ?? John Bloom with his wife Anne in 1963
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES John Bloom with his wife Anne in 1963

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