Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Samuel Heath - tapping into creativity - since 1820

'Lana', from Samuel Heath's
latest advertising campaign
"From designing to machining, polishing, plating and assembly, we have complete control over the whole production process, so that we can oversee the quality of each product at every stage and remain faithful to our design principles," says Managing Director, David Pick, on a recent visit to Samuel Heath in Birmingham.

The business, founded in 1820, is working to preserve the craftsmanship innate within its manufacturing, whilst combining this with the latest design technologies.

It's clear to David Pick that vertical integration is at the heart of their competitive positioning. "None of our competitors operates with such a high degree of vertical integration," he says.

Professor Beverland at the School of Management, Bath University has highlighted three qualities essential to authentic brands - product quality built-in, a reputation based on heritage or a historical narrative, and a sincerity, based on a love of the product.

In the case of our West Midlands authentic businesses this sincerity, or 'love of product' often appears to be synonymous with the knowledge and control gained through vertical integration in the production processes.

It's a feature of many of these lifestyle brands including - AGA and Rayburn cookers together with AGA stoves, Morgan cars, Brooks England saddles, Pashley Cycles, Brintons carpets and Emma Bridgewater and no doubt many others too.

For David Pick the company is proud to promote its unique heritage as well as embracing innovation and new technologies to drive new product introductions.

"The company's appetite for innovation has helped us migrate from coffin furniture in the early 19th century into brass bedstead production, with the business becoming the largest manufacturer at the time," he says.

By the 1890's Samuel Heath & Sons was floated as a public company on the Birmingham Stock Exchange, but with the majority of shares remaining in the Heath family - and remaining so up to this day, the company has been able to remain in charge of its own destiny.

At the height of Victorian industrialisation the company moved into manufacturing locks, gas and electrical fittings and later as the automotive industry's growth gathered momentum the business started making head lamps for motor cars.

'Sophia', from Samuel Heath's
latest advertising campaign
 In 1958 they acquired Perkins & Powell, producing high quality architectural hardware. In 1970 Sam Heath became their Chairman. With the acquisition of Holt Siron and W Adams they moved into the design and production of luxury bathroom accessories as taps and showers.

Having been established as a traditional brass founder, the business has refined its knowledge of plating technologies as applied to the European brass used exclusively in their products today.

"Each product is hand polished and plated in up to 34 individual processes to create a flawless finish," says David.

"We have developed a layering process that is unique to us. The careful polishing and preparation of the surface and the thickness of each layer is very important in giving a lustrous finish, what we call a 'mirror finish'. It's what gives the products a true reflection, without any distortion."

This plating expertise has enabled the business to produce a vast range of finishes to their brass products including bronze, antique brass, polished nickel, polished and satin chrome, brass - lacquered and un-lacquered, and matt black. More recently new materials have been added such as wood and crystal.

"In developing new products we have in-house design engineers who work with our Product Design agency based in Cardiff. We've had a longstanding relationship with them and they're familiar with our design and manufacturing capabilities.

"We're immersed in design trends and shows and how we can interpret interior design trends in our brassware, but we're also aiming for a balanced and enduring, not faddish approach.

"Recent developments in design and manufacturing technology are enabling us as manufacturers to push at the boundaries of what's possible for us. CAD software means that we can undertake much of our design process on screen building virtual products in three-dimensions - shaping and testing for weight, volume and performance before they leave the screen.

'Veronica', from Samuel Heath's
latest advertising campaign
 "Rapid prototyping enables us to 'print' three dimensional models of our products using layers of powdered resin providing a means of producing quick, easy and cost-effective prototypes in-house in our tool room.

"We can see how rapid prototyping can become a future means of producing customised products - even those made from various different materials, such as stone and metal - with some machines already able to weld them into shape - although quality will always be a key concern for us.

"CNC (Computerised Numerical Controlled) machines have also enabled us to test complex design ideas that might never have made it past the drawing board in the past - for example modelling and testing the internal workings of products to test intricate design ideas.

"These processes are reducing lead times in terms of new product introductions. However for new taps and showers it can still take up to two years to bring a complete collection of new products to market. These developments have also been reducing the need for continual new product testing leading to more sustainable processes reducing material wastage.

"We believe, as a British manufacturer, that we're able to attract new customers through our focus on quality, our constant product innovation and by remaining true to our integrity and provenance."

And it is this provenance and integrity that lies at the heart of a newly launched advertising campaign that has been created and designed for the business by Midlands-based Cogent Elliott.

"We were looking for a new creative agency," says Vanessa Allan, Marketing Manager. "Having talked with a number Cogent stood out for its understanding of the needs of high end brands having worked with AGA, Jaguar and Land Rover.

"Richard Payne, their Creative Director, came up with the idea of using the purity of water as an analogy for the purity of the materials we are working with.

"Richard wanted to build on the Greek myth of the Three Graces to create four female forms out of water, representing the charm, beauty, creativity and desirability of Samuel Heath's key collections.

'Olivia', from Samuel Heath's
latest advertising campaign
 "The idea was to begin with an element as pure as water. By focussing on its purity and how this reflects the pure and flawless brass at the heart of all our products and from which they're all are produced, Cogent began crafting images of women inspired by water patterns.

"These water images were merged with images of models representing the spirit of the Four Graces and captured using a high-speed flash, capable of photographing a speeding bullet.

The frames were then layered to merge fluidly with the models and the water-like texture of their dresses representing the timelessness of high-end design.

"The campaign has been well received by our largely independent retailers with really positive feedback from consumers too. We see it as key to driving understanding and further clarity in terms of our market positioning."

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