Recently I travelled to the picturesque Yorkshire town of Harrogate to attend the Home & Gift Buyers’ Festival. My primary purpose was to visit Dee Two, who were exhibiting there, but the trip also provided me with an opportunity to chat to potential new customers too. In addition I attended some of the informative sessions that Home & Gift had organised as part of their Great Northern Retail Forum. One of which was an interview-style keynote speech with Janet Street-Porter on why it was important for us to be supportive of products that are made in Britain.
Janet began by telling us about some meat-pies that she and celebrity chef, restaurateur, and television personality, Gordon Ramsay had investigated for his Channel 4 programme, ‘The F-Word’. They discovered that the pastry lids for these pies were the only component made in Britain. But as these were the final part of the production process they were able to be labelled as ‘Made In Britain.’ Since then the EU Parliament have voted for compulsory country of origin labelling, although how that will affect United Kingdom manufacturers post-Brexit remains unclear.
True to form, Janet was amusing and very perceptive about the image problems surrounding Britain and British products. She felt that much was self-inflicted, especially by UK tourist boards who only seemed capable of promoting “Beefeaters, Twiggy and Carnaby Street!”
Yet, as a nation, the British have the ability to be quirky, innovative and create things that surprise. Positives for British products are that they’re of a high-quality and are well made, have longevity and often come with a back story. All qualities that discerning customers, regardless of their location, now look for in their new purchases.
When analysing brands like Burberry, Dyson and Cath Kidston, they are all perceived as being UK ‘heritage’ brands, despite a large proportion of their manufacturing taking place outside of the United Kingdom. This interpretation stems from elements like style of photography, choice of models, and supporting graphics etc. Janet implied that heritage brands were good for the UK and felt there was some room in the marketplace for more.
When asked about Italy and France, Janet replied that they also produce great design. The main difference is that these countries view design as an intrinsic part of their manufacturing process, plus they’re not afraid of promoting it. She told us how the French wine industry has stood up to the onslaught from new world wines by focusing on elegant, almost sublime, packaging. When visiting the Milan Furniture Fair, it’s not unusual for her to find a top British lighting designer there, who has relocated simply because Italian companies are willing to investing in product prototyping.
A tricker question was “How do we get British people on board to back our products?” Janet answered by revealing her love for Doreen’s triangular shaped Black Pudding. She told us that one of the UK's biggest challenges was that “We make brilliant stuff, but we don’t see how to sell it and connect with people who have a choice.” She continue by providing us with a local Harrogate example. “Betty's Tea Room,” she said, “has a back story, but it's been updated. They train their staff in the story. Customers who go there know they’re not eating what was served in the 1920's. It’s only perceived.” So put simply, people will buy-in to a product, service or brand if the story is authentic and relevant to them.
Asked about her favourite British brands, Janet instantly responded with a long list that included John Lewis, Habitat, and Clarks Shoes. She said that she was “delighted to see Ercol having a renaissance.” We were told about Linton Textiles in Carlisle who have been weaving tweeds for Chanel for years, and where she has purchased off-cuts of fabric to make cherished cushion covers.
Janet encouraged UK manufacturers to be commercially competitive. We were asked to consider the UK drinks industry and the proliferation of gin distilleries that have appeared over the past few years. Each one has its own story and is keen to provide customers with a unique experience in some way. This combination is the real key to why this niche sector has suddenly taken off. By contrast, her friend has created a character that has become the brand for his soft-drinks company. Using this character, ‘The Bunny Man’, as his unique selling point he’s given it a life of its own. This includes The Bunny Man writing engaging blogs to promote the company and its products to an already over-crowded market.
All this lead me to agree with Janet’s earlier rhetorical question “Did cool Britannia ever go away?” I don’t think it did. I’m of the opinion that UK creativity is alive and well, and flourishing too. It is certainly a great asset that the United Kingdom will need in the unchartered Brexit waters of the future.
So what advice did we, the British manufacturers and service providers in the audience, take away from Janet’s keynote speech? The answer was a few simple and effective points to remember:
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