The Jewish Chronicle
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