Why’s it called Dixons Carphone? Nobody’s used a car phone in years

Harriet Green
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A man using a car phone in 1959 (Source: Getty)

High street staples Carphone Warehouse and Dixons Retail have confirmed today that they’ll be merging to form a new company called Dixons Carphone.

But why are they hanging on to the ‘Carphone' bit when no-one has one anymore?

The first car phone was used in St Louis on 17 June 1946. It has three channels and weighed 36kg. Six years ago, analog cellular service, which the phones use, was discontinued entirely in the US, with just a handful of products left on the market.

We have absolutely no need for these conversation tanks anymore - I’m not convinced most teenagers would even know what one was. Not only is Dixons Carphone anachronistic, but it's hardly the catchiest name, is it?

Carphone Warehouse was founded back in 1989 by current chairman Sir Charles Dunstone and Julian Brownlie. Five years later, the firm had branched out into insurance products, and two years after that it had moved outside the UK - it wasn’t selling just car phones for very long.

Today’s £3.8bn merger is intended to create a leading “Internet of Things” retailer: it’ll sell traditional products but capitalise on shared knowledge, melding mobile technology with domestic electrical products.

Actually, Dixons name inception is even more interesting, harkening back, in a bizarrely similar way, to the same era. It was chosen at random from something many of us probably forget existed: the telephone directory. Of course, the fact it’s a pretty common surname hides its anachronistic nature - not so for Carphone.

When the (then new) chief executive of Carphone Warehouse, Graham Stapleton, was asked last year if he would contemplate changing the name, he replied that the brand was the most recognised in the industry. That may be true of Carphone Warehouse, but what about Dixons Carphone? Did the merger not present an ideal time for a name change?

Mind you, Stapleton’s caution that a name brings with it the brand - “years of awareness and knowledge” - is true. Sticking together the names of both firms ensures knowledge of their past, and of their merger, stays around for a bit longer.

Moreover, it’s more than likely that the dead meaning that comes about with every day usage will continue with Dixons Carphone. Did any of us ever say “Carphone Warehouse” and picture a business magnate in the back of a chauffeured Rolls - big telephone, even bigger braces? People aren’t going to wonder who Dixon is or was, they’ll accept the name if they like the brand and what it stands for.

The two companies are intending to focus closely on service - an ideology they share. Customers will experience something in-store that they could never get from an online retailer, and the aim is to streamline operations and make the most of new innovations.

Dixons current chief executive, Sebastian James, told Sky News:

Today, most people are using the phone to control their audio systems and increasingly it will be security systems and lighting and heating and that's beginning already.
I think we'll be the only people, together, who can really tell that story end-to-end for our customers.

If James is right, and the firms can share and grow their customer numbers, quibbles over the slightly quirky name choice will quickly fade.