x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

How to market a sure-fire success ... in a roundabout way

There’s a fine line between the engaging raconteur and the long-winded bore. With the festive season approaching, the boundaries between the two blur.

As you’ll know if you’ve ever been stuck next to one at a dinner party, there’s a fine line between the engaging raconteur and the long-winded bore. Similarly, there’s often only the width of tissue paper between something kitsch and a piece of junk.

With the festive season approaching here in the UK, the boundaries between the two blur readily. After all, what do you give as a present to your nearest and dearest when most of us already have more than we know what to do with?

One man who seems to have got it just about as wrong as can be is self-confessed “postbox enthusiast” Kevin Beresford. An entrepreneur of unorthodox passions, his latest commercial venture, a 2014 wall calendar depicting Fast-Disappearing Red Telephone Boxes of Wales, has become something of a laughing-stock after the manufacturers reported that the item has failed to sell a single unit since it was released in September.

Lest you suspect he’s taken leave of his senses, poor Mr Beresford could have been forgiven for thinking he was onto a winner. Two years ago he scored a huge commercial success with a similarly bespoke product entitled Roundabouts of Great Britain.

The calendar, which was lavishly illustrated with photographs of, erm, roundabouts of Great Britain, proved extremely popular and in doing so introduced the wider world to such cultural and architectural glories as the mini-gyratory system in Studley, Worcestershire, the Fishguard cement double-ringer (complete with ancient cannon as centrepiece) and the iconic Pembroke Pump House roundabout (“flowers, grass, clear sinkage – what more could you want?” gushed Mr. Beresford in the accompanying caption).

Indeed, such was the success of the venture that it spawned a sequel, Roundabouts of The World, as well as similar publications dedicated to Insane Asylums of England and British Roadkill. Thus Mr Beresford must have imagined this year’s offering would prove a similar money-spinner.

Disappearing Red Telephone Boxes of Wales, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, consists of a photographic celebration of the iconic public phone booth – a British institution that once adorned the nation’s high streets but which now, in the wake of mobile phones, is disappearing from our urban landscape.

Competitively priced at £9.99 (Dh59), the calendar satisfies even the most demanding collector of kitsch. Examples of the genre are pictured against walls, graveyards and grassy lawns in various parts of the principality, from city streets to famous beauty spots.

Mr Beresford, who clearly loves his phone boxes as much as his roundabouts, describes the red booths as “Reassuring, dependable, comforting, weatherproof, and virtually indestructible”: a description which could well apply to the man himself. Explaining his thinking behind the project, he claimed it was intended to be an antidote to the millions of similar products devoted to celebrities.

When asked to explain why the publication had failed to attract even a single customer (and why it’s been dubbed by some as the “worst Christmas gift ever”), he replied with admirable stoicism: “I think perhaps it hasn’t quite caught the imagination of the general public”. Mr Beresford may be no businessman, but he may yet have a dazzling future as an expert in the art of understatement.

But before we laugh too readily at his ineptitude, Mr Beresford may have the last laugh. In the days since the news broke of his product’s calamitous commercial failure, Fast Disappearing Red Telephone Boxes of Wales has been swept along on a tidal wave of free publicity. As a consequence individuals are now snapping it up online from as far afield as Australia and Canada. Indeed, such has been the clamour for orders that his website had crashed. And thus Fast Disappearing Red Telephone Boxes of Wales has gone from being kitsch, through to junk, and back to kitsch again, all in the space of a few weeks.

It was writer Brenda Behan who famously said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity”, a maxim which Mr Beresford, like all good salesmen, has taken to heart.

Indeed, he is already piggybacking all this free exposure to trumpet his next big idea for winter 2015 – a calendar depicting famous UK prisons. You have been warned.

Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London