This morning, while going through my usual virtual stack of newspapers (aka NewsGator, my RSS aggregator) I bumped into an interesting story being reported by The Register UK announcing that British computer retailer Time Computers Shutters Stores. The Register story indicates that The Computer Shop (which is the retail storefront name of the company that produces Time Computers) has had to temporarily shut down its “about 150” retail stores because the company can no longer process credit card payments.
That piqued my interest because if it’s a technical glitch, it’s an interesting story of the dangers of relying on a single-point-of-failure technology as a business. But the real story is far more interesting…
The first clue that there’s something else going on is found when visiting The Computer Shop’s parent company Web site Granville Technology Group, Ltd. Its Press Centre reveals that neither The Computer Shop nor Time Computers have issued a single press release since 2003. That’s not what would be expected from a growing, thriving firm and our first real clue that there might be more to this story than a technological glitch in its credit processing capabilities.
To dig further into this story, I decided to use the powerful search capabilities of Google News, initially searching for Time Computers has closed its retail stores, letting the search system toss away all the unimportant words in the pattern.
The results weren’t very useful, so I tried again, using quotes around “Time Computers” and the words “has closed its retail stores”, and had, predictably, one measly match, the story I’d already read in the Register UK.
A broader search was obviously called for, so I tried again with just the quoted company name and this time the full story of The Computer Shop / Time Computers was revealed.
ZDNet UK reports “Time computers denies tales of woe” with the summary “An email claiming to detail a multitude of ills at Time Computers was dismissed by a company spokesman on Thursday as “a malicious mix of fact and fiction”…” and earlier ZDNet UK also reports that “Time staff sent home as work dries up” with the summary “Staff at Time Computers were sent home on Monday morning because of a lack of work, according to union sources. This is the second … ”
The Inquirer has the most illuminating story about what’s going on at Time Computers, however. Even its summary should pique your interest: “PC RETAILER Time Computers has closed all 78 of its stores following a crunch meeting with bankers. The business�s management … ”
Did you notice that The Register reports “about 150 stores”, the Inquirer reports 78 stores for this chain and the Granville site itself indicates “over 150 stores”. That dramatic discrepancy is just one facet of this curious story!
Reading through the Inquirer reveals what’s going on with The Computer Shop: “The retailer confirmed that HSBC has withdrawn credit handling facilities after the company defaulted on a loan. Time is now unable to open stores while credit card payment processing is forcibly on ice.” [HSBC Group] Journalists like to talk about how their fact-finding is superior to the lackadaisical efforts of us bloggers, but why didn’t the Register reporter, John Oates, (who has written some terrific pieces for the Register in the past) do his own homework and find out about the HSBC loan default and corporate credit problem? That’s the heart of this story, not that the stores are closed, but why they’re closed.
Meanwhile, good luck to The Computer Shop and its management team: whatever the situation, watching the slow implosion of a retail chain as it fails to keep up with the competitive landscape is never a pretty sight.