John Bloom (born 1931), is an entrepreneur, known for his success and failure at the Rolls Razor company in selling washing machines in the early 1960s.
A tailor’s son, he was born to orthodox Jewish parents in London’s East End. Bloom’s father Sam was born in Poland, and his mother was of Sephardic background. He attended Hackney Downs School. After leaving school aged 16, he tried a number of schemes before enlisting in the Royal Air Force. Bloom was initially posted to No3 Radio School at RAF Compton Bassett near Calne, Wiltshire for his training as a signalman.
The local coach company Cards of Devizes provided contracted coaches to the RAF, which on a Saturday afternoon would take the airmen to London on their 36 hour passes. Bloom decided with a friend who ran a coach company in Stoke Newington that they could undercut the Card/RAF’s coaches by half. When Cards took Bloom to court, the judge upheld Bloom with a declaration that became Bloom’s motto: “It’s no sin to make a profit.” Bloom was later posted to Bletchley Park and then managed to get a posting to Bush House in the Aldwych, on the grounds that his mother was unwell. She died several years later from a form of Multiple Sclerosis
In 1958 Bloom placed an advert in the Daily Mirror offering home washing-machine demonstrations. Generating 7,000 responses via posted coupon responses, Blooms’ unorthodox marketing and low prices meant that within a short time period he had taken 10% of the market from Hoover and Hotpoint. Bloom’s innovation was to sell the machines direct to the public via coupon advertising, at around half the cost of retailers, also sold largely through affordable hire purchase agreements.
By now selling 500 machines a week, Bloom calculated to cut overheads by manufacturing in Britain.
Bloom’s business expanded rapidly, relying on the most aggressive marketing campaign of his time.(In 1963 Bloom was the largest press advertiser in the United Kingdom** )The campaign made Bloom a household name in the country during the opening years of the 1960s – After appearing in a famous debate on “This Was The Week That Was” in November 1963 against Bernard Levin, The Sunday Telegraph and the main media reported that “Bloom was a head on victor and it was the first time Bernard Levin had been worsted in a debate” with Bloom positioning himself as a friend of the housewife, pal of the working man, scourge of the City, enemy of the Establishment, and Resale Price Maintenance. “Bloom with his youth his daring and relentless salesmanship, a symbol of bold free enterprise became a figure of folk lore to be loved or hated”*
But the retailers and UK manufacturers were unhappy with Blooms direct sales methods of cutting out the retailer, his 2 for one schemes giving a free refrigerator when you bought a washing machine, and his efforts to abolish Resale Price Maintenance, which would have meant that factory fixed retail pricing would be abolished for all products, so they reduced their prices considerably to create the so-called Washing Machine War, between direct sales and retailers. Bloom was forced to increase his advertising costs just as sales began to fall, and was then hit by the 11 week 1964 postal strike which resulted in coupon returns drying up. After the collapse there were many recriminations, but The Economist said at the time:
As the wreckage is exposed it is easy to forget what a lasting impression Mr.Bloom made on the retailing of household durables in this country. Before his arrival manufacturers tried to sell at the highest possible prices the appliances they found it most convenient to make, competing mainly on advertising claims of better performance and new technical tricks. Over a time the consumer gets more performance for his money ,at each conventional price level, but what he did not get was a chance to buy a given grade of machine cheaper. Now five years the customer is king of price as well as design.
“If the British economy is not sufficiently competitive wrote Harold Wincott in the Financial Times, if established industry is too solidly wedded to price maintenance, we need more John Blooms not fewer of them” and in a provocative letter to The Times Ralph Harris Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs wrote ” Mr. Bloom has already done more for economic growth in Britain than many of its verbal champions in NEDC and Elsewhere”
Since being made bankrupt in 1969, little was heard of Bloom until 1972. He remains married to his wife Anne, mother of his two children. He published his own book It’s no sin to make a profit in 1971.
Books by John Bloom
Those of you starting to read this book who are aged under 55 might be surprised to learn that from the late Fifties through until the mid Sixties retailing in Britain was not so different to Soviet Russia. In fact the only real difference was that in Russia, prices were set by the State, and in Britain they were set by the Establishment. British retailing was far from the free market we live in today. Back then, retailers were forbidden to sell goods below the manufacturers fixed retail price. The manufacturers set the price and the public simply had to pay it, no deals, no discounts, no choices and that’s where this story begins.
I was 27 years old, a high school reject, looking for a future, following two years national service, six years of dead end jobs and several failed ventures, I stumbled upon the world of direct selling; the rest as they say, is history. Not only did direct selling change my life, but also it changed the lives of almost every housewife and household in the country. How I hear you ask? Simple by offering the public at large a fair deal at a fair price on things we take for granted today.
Washing Machines, Fridges and Vacuum Cleaners these were all luxury appliances well beyond the means of the average British household; that is until I came along and upset the applecart. I could not possibly have imagined the roller coaster ride that was to follow. I fought to abolish retail price maintenance and won but lost a fortune in the process.
With this book I hope to entertain and amuse you with just some of my adventures and perhaps share with you a more human glimpse into the lives of the people both famous and infamous that I have met along my way. This is my life, well at least some it I hope you enjoy reading about as much as I have enjoyed living it.