Friday, 25 February 2011

Emma Bridgewater - Making It Here!

Emma Bridgewater
Midlands Productive Heritage and Future

"So many exciting things can be made here in the Midlands and Stoke is the place to make quality, but there's been a mass blindness about making things in England," says Emma Bridgewater speaking in the hospitable surroundings of her Factory Shop in Hanley, Stoke on Trent. We're mulling over the demise of so many of our great brands born out of the West Midlands productive design heritage.

"It's not necessary, we can do it. It's sad to see so much of our manufacturing skills and heritage being lost. I like to work within a recognisable tradition. We have so much infrastructure - museums, art schools, all with the intention of making things, but somehow it doesn't seem to happen.

"What I've always found is when everyone's turning to the right, have a look to the left.

"Everyone told me you shouldn't go into manufacturing, so I thought, why not? I think I will.

"And you don't want to stay making in Stoke, everyone's going abroad. Why? I think I'll stay here. I don't think we should automatically do the obvious.

"I don't understand why there aren't more Emma Bridgewaters. We employ 180 people and we're recruiting at the moment. We've had two years of flabbergasting growth; in the year that just finished we grew in excess of 30% and that's on top of 30% the previous year. In 1985 we had a turnover of £30,000; by 2010 it was £11m.

"I think it's incredible that the Stoke on Trent pottery industry is rising again and I very much plan to be part of the future. I don't think we need to make everything abroad.

"I don't think our industrial base was anything like as sick as it was thought at time of last recession in the early '90s. There was a collective hysteria about making things cheaper. Make well and make them at the right price - this is what's really needed.

Emma Bridgewater in her Eastwood Pottery
 "There hasn't been enough independent thinking in management.

"Why is it that the ceramic firms in Stoke which have survived have been making for the catering or commodity markets and yet in spite of that have managed to succeed?Because they've been consistently well managed. Their strategies have focussed on producing distinctive designs to drive niche market positions. Most importantly they have been privately owned.

"CEOs of publicly owned businesses have been given impossible tasks to reach targets within the short time frames expected by the City. To achieve their bonuses they have had to do dreadful things.

"Bad habits have led to the closedown of many businesses that otherwise might have survived. Why, for example, did Wedgwood and Royal Doulton destroy each other with chronic indigestion? They both gobbled up all the competition, as was the fashion at the time. They lost focus on their customers and what they were really looking for.

"We're located here in the Eastwood Pottery which used to be the home of J&G Meakin, taken over by Wedgwood in 1970 and I very much regret the demise of other renowned potteries such as Masons.

"There is a way in which groups of people infect each other and the landscape here in Stoke was flawed by the 'buy and swallow' mania of the period.

"You're not just buying turnover when you buy a load of brands. How do you run 2 brands or companies effectively? It certainly doesn't interest me. I need to grow my own business - I might look to further diversify through licensed goods, but I have to keep in touch with my market, my customers and what they really want.

"Manufacturing is conservative by nature. There is no natural deviation from what has been produced in the past. But you have got to face the customers and be absolutely clear about what they want and how they want to live.

"All too often manufacturing is the tail that wags the dog. If you're not careful, and especially if you don't love the product you're making and are simply focussing on the numbers, you'll begin to lose touch with what your customer really wants. It's not enough just to have some slick marketing - this alone won't work and customers will notice. You have to be welded to the product, the customers will get that.

"At the root of it was the breakdown between buyers and makers. The makers had lost touch with the buyers and the buyers could find lovely china in much nicer surroundings than Stoke!

"Too often the ideas that people have in business about building something to 'get a result', or sell it on for a profit, are very reductive. What the economy needs is longer term thinking. Germany floats on a raft of family businesses. I haven't heard anyone talking much recently about family businesses, we still seem to be cow-towing to the City.

Emma's Background

"I read English at London University and my dad was publisher who had been building his business and took it public whilst I was at college. If I hadn't done this I had thought I might go into publishing - I wanted to be a literary agent.

"After university I worked for two girls doing knitwear, who were having a blast, with little pain who had huge success. I was in New York in the early '80's selling into high end fashion retailers. One of their designs, a red jersey, was worn by Diana Spencer on the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles. Overnight we went from selling 40 to 100 pieces a week.

"In the summer of 1984 I came up to Stoke and set up in business a year later.

"I had the 'kerching moment' when I was looking for a present for my mum's very nice kitchen in Oxford. I stood in a china shop and there was nothing there that I wanted to buy her. The nearest was some Portmeirion, but that was more like the sort of thing my great aunt had on her mantelpiece and just a little dated! In my head I could see what I wanted but there was nothing like it for sale.

"So when I arrived up here I wanted to hook up with someone who could make my ideas a reality. I found a mentor who had a workshop and he let me experiment with 3 or 4 of my own shapes and gave me the chance to learn how things were made. Within a few years I had acquired manufacturing facilities and before long we had expanded into our current factory on the Caldon canal which I run with my husband Matt.

Opportunities for young people today

"I think it's easy to get cast down. Of course there's a huge pressure on jobs at the moment.

"When there is no work you may want to make things that people want, to create your own job.

"You don't have to do what everyone else is doing, just find out what people want. There is no point waiting for something to come along. If you go along to a supermarket or warehouse there are nothing but opportunities to do these things more dynamically and efficiently.

"For design students leaving university I think a register of students and producers would be a very good idea - because there are people out there prepared to make things if you have ideas about what you would like to have made coupled with an understanding of market opportunities.

"Too often young designers don't seem to know what to do with their portfolios, but they do need to get these in front of potential partners and employers. It would be tremendous to provide them with the opportunity to interact with our authentic and much cherished brands in an uninhibited way.

"If I'm a maker with capacity I could enter my details onto a website and these could be searched by anyone who might want to make something - perhaps to meet seasonal demand or for the longer term.

"Too often people have too little interest in starting their own businesses and making things. I went to Magdalen School recently to give a talk. When I asked the students there if they had ever visited a factory, not one of them put up their hand.

"Art School should give you a good network to get together with a full range of contacts that'll give you the best chance to get your business ideas moving and there should be much more networking to support new business creation and survival.

"We also need to be conscious of how we are creating the environments that encourage young people stay on in our region after their studies. This is very much about the quality of life on offer.

"Usually university quarters are good places to be with nice sporting and recreational facilities, bookshops, art galleries and libraries - all the key elements of cultural life. To keep and attract the best talent we need to focus on continuing to develop places where people want to live and work."

Monday, 21 February 2011

Authentic Brands - Quality, Heritage and Sincerity deliver higher margins

Professor Mike Beverland
School of Management
University of Bath
 "If an employee comes to you with an idea for a new product with no obvious market; it's new to the firm, new to the world and may not be even be possible to make, what would your reaction be?" asked Professor Mike Beverland at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design at Birmingham City University recently, speaking at the first of the 2011 series of Design Built-In Visiting Lectures.

Many, if not most businesses wouldn't touch these ideas with a barge pole. For marketers, working to the credo, 'the customer is always right', innovations tend to become incremental; radical innovation is risky and rare.

Nonetheless, risky ideas can re-shape how we see and experience the world. As the author of "Building Brand Authenticity : 7 Habits of Iconic Brands" Prof Beverland, who has recently moved to Bath University from Australia, showed how his research indicated that successful brands are 'ignited' through innovation with brand authenticity derived from it.

Brands that continue to innovate become part of history with higher margins and are loved by users. But innovators need support by their very nature - for going against tradition and breaking the rules.
Authenticity, he argued, is central to modern marketing practice.

Brand authenticity leads to - increased consumer perceptions of uniqueness (critical differentiation); increased purchase intentions and word-of-mouth support; attraction and retention of a greater proportion of higher value customers with these brands becoming embedded in wider cultural environment.

This can happen to such a great extent that people's loyalty and identification with these brands becomes embedded into their lifestyles to form part of their identities as individuals.

Companies can build brand authenticity through three key steps - by building product quality, reputation based on heritage or a historical narrative and sincerity - or developing the brand as part of a moral crusade.
In terms of product quality key features of these businesses include a love of production; design-led Innovation and a focus on developing meaningful connections between their products and their customers.

Heritage as a feature had often been overlooked in recent years, but was about building a reputation for innovation and leadership, coupled with becoming part of an identified culture or historical narrative.

Research by Stephen Brown, University of Ulster, showed that brand revivals had become a feature within consumer markets in recent years. These demonstrated familiar themes including the ability to evoke vivid memories of a collective experience, be relevant and in particular capable of being updated and generate collective longing for 'better times'.

Sincerity tends to be linked to making innovation a moral crusade. If companies made a sincere claim and didn't back it up they would quickly become compromised.

Professor Beverland highlighted James Dyson's quest to re-invigorate Britain's industrial past by making innovation a personal moral crusade. New Zealand cleaning products business, BEE - Beauty Engineered for Ever - was making cleaning 'fun' by using natural products and by doing this had become one of fastest growing companies out of New Zealand in past 5 years.

Many of these businesses have a real passion for making their products combined with a genuine service orientation which can be summed up in the phrase, "Build it and they will come". When Australian naturalist, Steve Irwin built his Croc Park, or the Steve Irwin National Park - he felt that if Aussies came face to face with wildlife in their country they would love it.

These were leaders who got their hands dirty. "How many CEOs know the central functions of their businesses today?" asked Professor Beverland. Or as Vivienne Westwood put it, "I have to get to the bottom of things. I have to try to understand something...the world we live in suffers terribly from a sort of trademark-ism where everybody thinks they can find these simple keys to things and then fit everything in. The truth is in the detail."

By getting stuck into the detail and really understanding the business and their markets these businesses were able to leap ahead of customer demand, bypassing some of the short-comings of taking a marketer-led approach.

As Prof Beverland put it, quoting from Stephen Brown, "Most mainstream marketers, maintain that the customer is always right, that the sales figures speak for themselves, that the public gets what the public wants. This may be so, but it's also true to say that the customer is always right wing - conservative, reactionary, stuck-in-the-mud - that sales figures don't always speak the truth and that the public shouldn't always get what the public wants."

Or as James Dyson has put it, "Sure we do some market research, but we don't listen to it slavishly. There are times when you have to bravely step forward. A true innovator takes risks."

For Professor Beverland companies could learn from 'market immersion', as opposed to market research. This could be developed by adopting stances such as employing customers within your business; living with the market; trusting your gut instinct, allowing employees to dabble or take time out to innovate, experimenting with new products and seeding your fan base early to take your customers on a journey.

As Chief Executive of Click Clack, John Heng put it,"to design a product for the US you have to be part of the US which is why I'm out of the office seven months of the year. I'm a US resident. I'm into it every day, I watch CBS News, CNN, ABC, just to become part of what happens."

Closer to home in the Midlands, Morgan Motor Company employs sports car enthusiasts taking on board their views when developing new products such as the Morgan Aeromax, which has been followed by the Morgan Eva.

Playmobil's founder, Hans Beck, was credited with "inspired Instinct" in developing their range. Much of it was based on his observations of children and how they play. Beck spent over 3 years sitting and playing with children. He noticed that they drew people with exaggerated facial features and whilst they had many toys they did not have small models of people to use with their toys.

Companies that take the market immersion route can end up actually spending less of R&D than their peer competitors, for example, Apple spends 5.9% of turnover on R&D compared with a 7.6% spend for the industry average.

"Marketing is, when you think about it, all too often based on a form of 'Hearsay Evidence', which would not be admitted in a Court of law- for good reason," said Prof Beverland. "Too often marketing teams outsource market research and you get something back from people who are not passionate about it. Anthropologists have lived with people for years to understand them, for good reason."

Ultimately brand authenticity was built through careful selection of your teams and by taking care of them; telling their stories to affirm your brands values; encouraging creativity by supporting risk-taking ideas and leading by example, - getting involved in innovation.