About Us

Malcolm and the Marzipan

In 1965, our founder Malcolm McRae had a supermarket in the Central Scotland town of Falkirk. Even then, preparations for the Christmas rush began in October. Malcolm ordered his usual ‘gross’ of marzipan (12 dozen = 144 units). When this arrived, he discovered his mistake: the marzipan was packed in boxes of a gross. What he had ordered was a gross of boxes. This meant that he had a gross of a gross (a ‘great gross’), or 1,728 units of marzipan.

There was, however, much to do. So he placed the excess in the storeroom and told the staff to send it back after the festive period.

At that time, there was no automated stock monitoring. Instead, companies had to do a manual stock-take on a regular basis. In Malcolm’s case, his was done in February. At the February stock-take in 1965, he discovered the remaining marzipan.

Marzipan is a seasonal product and the season had passed. Yet Malcolm’s storeroom still contained more than ten times his normal peak-season demand. It was too late to return the marzipan to the supplier, but he didn’t want to throw it away. Instead, he came up with the idea of producing a special advert for the marzipan.

Malcolm’s wife was an elocution teacher, with a classic ‘BBC-presenter’ voice. She recorded a short advert suggesting that “marzipan is not just for Christmas” and advising customers to “bake a cake and make it special” by putting marzipan on it. Malcolm frequently played music in his store, so he added the advert to his tape. Every so often, the advert would play between tracks.

Within days, the marzipan had sold out. He had sold ten times the amount that he would normally sell in a year, in a fiftieth of that time. Malcolm was astounded by the power of the music and advert combination. He began selling the concept to retailers. It wasn’t long before he left retailing altogether, and founded what is now the longest-established audio management company in the UK.

In those days, the music was given away free, in exchange for the right to sell advertising in the stores. This was the predecessor to the modern concept of allowing retailers to generate an additional income by re-selling advertising space on their system to relevant third parties. Much has changed since then, not least the quality of the music, and audio point-of-sale advertising has gone from strength to strength.

In 1969, Philips Electronics purchased Malcolm’s original company, Comtad (Commercial Tape Advertising) Ltd, and formed SMS (Sound Merchandising Services) Ltd. Seven years later, they decided to focus on their core business of manufacturing, and sold the assets of their service businesses. This included SMS, for which Malcolm and his son Finlay were then working. Linking up with Malcolm’s other son, Alistair, they bought the company back, although Philips retained the name. 

On the 26th of April 1976, Registered Company SC59883 was formed as GMS (Recordings) Ltd and in April 2018 the business was passed to Finlay’s children, Heather and Calum, who rebranded it to Marzipan Media in recognition of the original reason why their grandfather started the company – to help retail, hospitality and leisure venues sell more products using music, advertising and screen media.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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