April 2020 - JEM News
Get out the balloons – JEM is celebrating its 35-year anniversary! From the first newspaper Reader Offer in 1984 to current global eCommerce order fulfilment in 2019, the company has come a long way. We look back at what was hot in 1984 and how the company got started.
The 1980s are famous for vibrant, outrageously bright fashion that still influences style today. In the middle of the eighties, menswear for women was the look to be seen in, from oversized trench coats to high waisted trousers. For fitness gear, it was all about clashing colours in, preferably shiny, leggings paired with thong leotards, legwarmers and sweatbands. Whatever eighties look you went for, it had to be teamed, of course, with the ubiquitous big hair.
Eighties music was very distinct, a massive marker of the era and still much-loved today. At the time of JEM’s creation, ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You,’ by Stevie Wonder was number one in the UK Singles Chart. It spent all of September and half of October on the number one spot, succeeded eventually by Wham with their hit, ‘Freedom!’ and preceded by George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’.
The love of music is reflected in some of the technology that was popular in the eighties. Still, before the dawn of the digital age, tape cassette sales were booming and so was demand for the electronic devices to play them on. From an assortment of home Hi-Fis to the portable options such as boomboxes and the iconic Walkman, tapes were often made by recording from the radio. Ask anyone who was around at the time and they’ll remember waiting ages for their favourite song to come on with their finger poised above the record button. Sometimes the tapes were passed on to impress a crush – mixtapes were the love letters of the decade.
Gaming got its first big boom in the eighties – Amstrad, Sega, Nintendo and Atari were coveted by kids everywhere. Joysticks really bring back eighties nostalgia for many forty-somethings, and retro gaming has seen a return in the last few years, with companies such as Nintendo releasing old school ‘pixelated’ games, complete with joysticks.
By 1981, VHS tapes had taken over the VCR market, replacing the older Betamax tape system, and only increased in popularity across the decade. Video stores provided the venue to rent or buy films and blank VHS tapes were used for recording TV episodes. The ability to set a timer and record a show you’d otherwise have missed (remember there was no catch-up or on-demand available) was a new and quickly popular option for all the serial drama and soap watchers.
Political unrest was prevalent in the 1980s. 1984 is particularly memorable for miners strikes, Thatcherism and the ‘Brighton Bombing’ which saw five MPs die at a Conservative party conference at the hands of the IRA. The UK’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was quickly becoming unpopular with her hard stances – but despite this, she ruled for the entire decade (1979-1990).
It all started with Crab Clamps. JEM founder, John Mills, was a DIY fanatic. Having lived in America in the 1970s, on his return to the UK, he saw a big discrepancy between the availability and quality of American tools versus UK ones. In addition, the UK was way behind the US when it came to the mail-order industry. When John came across the fabulous Crab Clamps at a DIY trade show, he negotiated with the UK manufacturers for exclusive mail order rights and got to work publicising them wherever he could gain free editorial space.
One day, the Observer newspaper called to say they’d seen the clamps in various publications, and they wanted to do a Reader Offer on them. The Crab Clamps proved to be very popular, and the rest is history. JEM Marketing became the premier Reader Offer company in the UK within a couple of years. Over the next 30 years, JEM’s product range expanded exponentially. The company remained competitive and current by keeping up with the dynamic changes in technology, banking and distribution.