Cutting Room: All is not as it seems with Shebang


The distributor has talked up its Go Mobile brand a lot in recent months, but negative claims from franchisees suggest all is not as it should be

The news that Shebang had sold its Go Mobile retail business wasn’t a complete surprise – the buyer was, however.

The Go Mobile brand is a successful one – any multinational mobile phone retailer that is still in business despite competition from the operators’ stores and giants such as Phones 4U and Carphone Warehouse is obviously doing something right.

But while Shebang chief Iain Humphrey (pictured) has talked a good game, it’s been evident in recent months all is not as it should be.
Shebang had 100 Go Mobile retail stores spread across the country, all run by the Purple Partnership franchise with Shebang effectively paying the rent, providing the means for partners to stock their shelves and paying them a commission.

Take those elements away and you have a big problem – and that’s exactly what Purple Partnership members have accused Shebang of recently – with some even suggesting the franchise was being ignored.

This in itself made the Shebang feature on page 28 incredibly difficult to write. When we met with Humphrey just a few weeks ago all seemed very positive. He admitted mistakes had been made and said he was determined to right any past wrongs. At the time, the Purple Partnership was a major part of that.

But no sooner was the ink dry than calls came pouring into the news desk from franchise partners venting spleen on Shebang and saying its credit account with hardware distributor BrightPoint had been closed, meaning they could no longer order or replenish stock.

And this wasn’t the first negative story we’d heard. We had received reports of bailiffs entering franchise stores because rent had not been paid – a responsibility we’re told is Shebang’s. Others have claimed commissions have either been paid late or, in some cases, not at all. Mobile News ran a story in April (issue 511) relating to a complaint from a call centre in Manchester which claimed to be owed £15,000 and had had to let staff go as a result. Another claimed commissions being held back unfairly was likely to put them out of business.

Whatever the reasons, it didn’t make positive reading.

But, as stated above, Humphrey admitted to making mistakes. What he failed to tell us while visiting his head office in Daventry was that behind the scenes he was on the verge of selling the Go Mobile brand to A1 Comms. Was it a too-good-to-be-true offer or had he simply lost faith in the model, as many have speculated?

A1 Comms’ move came as a bit of a shock. Its managing director Paul Sisson, who set up the firm in 1997, turned his back on the high street in 2006 – closing A1 Comms’ stores in and around Derbyshire in the process.

Sisson, unlike Humphrey, presumably felt that competing against the likes of Carphone Warehouse, Phones 4U and the network operators was too much at the time – instead taking advantage of the dot-com boom by setting up online mobile sales sites,

This proved to be a wise decision. With A1 Comms and BuyMobilePhones combined, turnover hit £31 million in 2009/10 and £37 million in 2010/2011. In the last financial year to March 31, 2012, this rose to around £50 million.

Sisson said he is expecting to grow turnover to £90 million in the year to the end of next March, with the inclusion of the Go Mobile business increasing this to £120 million.

Speaking to Sisson last week following the announcement, he sounds like a man full of confidence.

He clearly has the appetite for another crack at the high street and his comments on page 2 will go some way towards appeasing the franchise community.