Maxmin back with home shopping plan

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The Independent Online
Jim Maxmin, the former chief executive of Laura Ashley, is planning a return to UK retailing with a home shopping concept currently on trial in the US.

Mr Maxmin, who left Laura Ashley with a pounds 1m pay-off two years ago, is a director of Streamline, a Massachusetts company which fetches groceries, picks up and returns dry cleaning, returns rented videos and handles the family mail.

For a start-up fee of $39 and a monthly subscription of $30, the company takes a family's weekly order and delivers it into secure, chilled boxes in customers' garages. Delivery staff gain entry by punching a code into a keypad.

Backed by Mr Maxmin and Saul Steinberg, the legendary American entrepreneur behind Reliance Insurance, Streamline has been under test in the Boston suburbs since 1993.

Mr Maxmin is hoping to franchise the concept world-wide, with the UK as his first target. Speaking from his US home in Maine, he said: "This has all the characteristics of a business for the 1990s. There are certain distribution channels that are real dinosaurs. Banking and financial services is one. Supermarkets are another. People spend hours each week doing the grocery shopping. We can save them that discretionary time. Fifteen to 20 per cent of UK households would just eat this up."

Mr Maxmin has identified Esher and Surbiton in Surrey and Chelmsford in Essex as possible markets; suburban areas where traffic is lighter, making delivery more efficient.

He hopes to find franchises among food distribution companies but has not ruled out signing a deal with a supermarket chain. "I've looked at France, Belgium and Holland and Denmark and I can't see why the concept won't apply there."

Streamline is aimed principally at higher income, time-pressed families who are prepared to pay a premium to avoid the Saturday trip to the supermarket. It visits new customers to establish their requirements and organise a regular shopping list.

Customers phone or fax the list through to the company once a week, though from next month orders can be placed via the Internet. The goods are delivered the following day.