Forward with Vision
Richard Roberts succeeded his father as Chairman and Managing Director,
and under his leadership the Company has judiciously broadened its range
of products. Around 1973 it became evident to him that Britain's
television manufacturers, still fully occupied with satisfying the mass
demand for colour receivers created by the transition to a full colour
service in November 1969, were not fully exploiting the upper end of the
market. Though by this time many receivers were giving excellent
pictures, under the pressure of competition they tended to be fitted
with cheap loudspeakers and housed in run-of-the-mill cabinets. Imported
luxury models were available, but their cabinets were not always to the
taste of British buyers, nor were their circuits always satisfactorily
modified to British transmission characteristics. Here, then, was an
opportunity for the Company to apply to a new field the marketing
philosophy that had served it so well for radio.
Planning throughout 1974 led to the formation in May 1975 of a new
company, Roberts Video Ltd, also led by Richard Roberts. Two receivers
were launched in September, using the Philips G8 and G9 chassis with a
number of extra features: remote control, twin loudspeakers and tone
controls; the cabinets were veneered in real teak and fitted with
sliding tambour doors.
Dealerships were offered to all Roberts Radio franchised dealers,
initially on the same terms as applied to portable radios: a discount of
30% on the recommended retail price (RRP), with no additional discount
for quantity. The following year, however, with the Price Commission
investigating the cost of small electrical goods, the Radio Electrical
and Television Retailers Association (RETRA) withdrew its approval of
RRP. Roberts Video was the first manufacturer to respond, dropping RRP
and offering modest quantity-discounts. This was an astute move, for it
won the Company honourable mentions in The Times and in the trade press.
Roberts Video showed steady growth from its first year of trading, when
2,500 receivers were sold, and it was against this background of
successful diversification that Roberts Radio acquired Dynatron Radio
Ltd from Philips in January 1981. Established by the Hacker brothers,
Ron and Arthur, in 1927, Dynatron had arrived in the Philips (old via
the takeover chain Dynatron-Ekco-Pye-Philips. Us name had long been
associated with high-quality television and audio, making it an ideal
complement to the Roberts Radio marque, and the Roberts Video brand was
subsequently replaced by Dynatron. Using the same marketing and sales
organisation as Roberts, Dynatron continues to sell full-specification
television receivers in a variety of reproduction and modern styles
through approximately 700 retail outlets in the UK.
Roberts Radio has also acquired the firm of A E Kevern Ltd which has
made its cabinets ever since 1932. Originally in London's Goswell Road.
Kevern's moved to Haverhill, Suffolk in the 1960s under a government
re-location scheme. There had long been an understanding between the two
companies that, should Kevern's ever wish to sell out, Roberts Radio
would have first refusal, and in 1977 this offer was made and accepted.
Administered from East Molesey, Kevern's nevertheless retains
considerable autonomy, and devotes around 25% of its effort to contracts
for other firms. Shortly after this acquisition the group's total
workforce rose to over 300.
Of recent years. Royal Warrants have again figured prominently in the
Company's affairs. In 1978/9 Richard Roberts had the distinction of
serving as President of the Royal Warrant Holders Association, while the
Roberts Radio Company has been granted two further Warrants, in 1982 and
1985 respectively, as manufacturers and suppliers of radio receivers to
H M Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and to HRH The Prince of Wales. In
1981 the Warrant granted to Dynatron Radio Ltd in 1963 as suppliers of
televisions and radio-gramophones to H M The Queen was transferred to
that company's new owners.
One Roberts' dealer invokes a quite different link with the monarchy to
promote a battery-only MW/LW model: "A very high quality receiver. Ideal
for HMP". It is indeed. In Her Majesty's Prisons, only radios without
vhf. telescopic aerials or mains lead are allowed, while the dearth of
other entertainment puts a premium on good performance. However, any
suspicion that the set was aimed at this market is dispelled by its
name: Rambler 2.
Selling only through accredited dealers has become something of a rarity
in the age of the discount warehouse, but works well for Roberts Radio,
whose prospective customer is likely to be less concerned with shopping
around for the lowest price than with knowing that should the set ever
go wrong he will have no difficulty in having it put right. The dealer
is assured of his fair profit and knows that his accreditation enhances
the shop's prestige, while the Company secures prominent display of its
products at the point of sale.
Roberts Radio's uncompromising insistence on quality has endured, though
it has had to be adapted to current conditions. Thus plastic-cased
receivers and personal cassette players are imported from the far east,
but are built to specifications meeting the Company's standards of
performance, styling and finish. However, wooden-eased receivers still
predominate, and these continue to be made at East Molesey. The latest
of them is a synthesizer model with channel storage, giving perfect
tuning at a touch. It exemplifies the judicious blending of tradition
and innovation that has always characterized Roberts Radio, and that
augurs well for its future.