Spicers blues


It was with great sadness that I read of the demise of Spicers, at one time Europe’s largest distributor of office products. It features heavily in my CV and was the point where I first got into IT. It is a long story and documented many times elsewhere yet somehow I managed to become the IT Director and helped implement an ERP system across Europe. Those who know me will know that none of the technical bits were down to me but from there I went on to have a fairly long (and illustrious?) career in the sector.

At the time I was there it had such market dominance that it would have been unthinkable that the company didn’t have a bright future ahead. It had set the tone for the rest of the industry, driving sales through a catalogue, or big book, and developing online trading that allowed consumers to order products long before the Internet was a thing. I still can’t believe it is no more.

I was reading a book of poetry by Ellen Hinsey, borrowed from the Lit and Phil, in which she was talking about old words and how they may ‘contain their own blueprint for destruction: the way a seed harbours in its cells its final, latent corruption.’

Her words rung true for me. Just as a baby girl has the eggs of a future generation already inside her, our old age and ultimate death must already be programmed somehow into our birth. In the midst of life we are in death.

Nothing lasts forever and looking back at Spicers I am wondering if we had focused hard enough the signs of its decrepitude were already there: the decline in the use of stationery, the reduction in the importance of stationery vendors, the discount mailers, the big sheds and of course the low cost of entry to the market on the back of the Internet.

It is clear that what has been made by man shall also come undone at the hands of man. Spicers was no exception and one day, the biggest companies that we rely on today will also have disappeared.

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