I spend most of last Wednesday in the curiously-named Andaz Hotel, conjoining Liverpool Street Station. Researching for this post I realise this was what used to be the Great Eastern Street Hotel. I see now it's part of a US chain, hence the deviations from the old name. I prefer the old name, of course. It evokes a bygone era of trains and romantic travel (yes Brief Encounter) and important visits to Cambridge, with the back-drop of the City and high-earning financial professionals. However, this new hotel is a rather engaging mixture of traditional facade and features with contemporary surprises and a display of wealth. It is informal in a way too, which I suppose is why it feels quite hip and refined at the same time. The name seemed to work, eventually, after I let go of my romantic nostalgia.
This was a day dedicated to Crafted. First, I met my mentor, Anda Rowland. We will meet regularly over the next year as part of the programme, with the aim that I can give my business the structure and focus it needs to make it grow effectively. After this, we had a Crafted workshop with the other craft makers, which included a session with Anda too and also Bill Amberg, the leather craftsman who has developed his work into a global business.
Anyway, back to the important business of building a successful craft-based business. The workshop took place in the masonic temple of this hotel, which certainly conformed to the curiouser and curiouser feeling I'd been having about Andaz. But, before I deviate into Alice in Wonderland, it was all very useful and practical. I had been a little worried that the advice we would receive on this programme would be too generic but when you hear it from the CEO of Anderson and Sheppard and Bill Amberg himself, it has real weight and relevancy. Personal experience and learning is powerful and there are few who have shouldered this kind of growth. It felt very precious and important.
Anda and I have been talking through the positioning and pricing of my work, so it was interesting to hear Bill talk of a product pyramid. This means you've got a range of products that go from under £100 (the bottom of the pyramid) and the top priced products which are thousands of pounds and are often bespoke, one off pieces. There are then casual and formal products on either side of this pyramid. It was interesting to me that they still brand the products in the same way, even though the entry level products might have a different customer. The high end customer is also often a customer of the more affordable pieces. I am working on a newer range which is intended to create a range of product, price and seasonality so I've got blouses that work for summer, though also winter hopefully.
The other big lesson of the day was around controlling costs, structure and process. An interesting pairing where Bill spoke rather fruitily about all the dreadful sides of the business financial, costs and stuff like that and how you absolutely need to do it, but maybe not yourself. The first person you get at a senior level is a finance director, or if you aren't ready for that, you get an accountant involved. I have just succumbed and realise I should have done this much earlier. I thought I couldn't afford it and that I could anyway do it myself because I am relatively numerate. However, I do sincerely loathe it so I have always left it to last and have been paying for this. Things are hopefully going to be tighter.
Anda, on the other hand, showed that there was still glamour in cost control and spreadsheet, despite Bill's depictions of 'that side of the business'. Her advice was very clear around keeping a very close relationship to your costs. This is another area that I'd rather not look at too closely. If you don't know what your costs are you can't control your business. It's a foolish thing to do, but relatively easy to fall into if you have creative energy that gets the better of you.
The final lesson I came away with was around creating the 'signs of luxury' in everything you do. Anda was talking about the move from Saville Row to Old Burlington Street and how prior to her coming to take over the business, they had never invested in the look of the place and it gathered a shabbiness and this put off newer and younger customers, who didn't understand it and couldn't equate this with luxury. The old guard loved it, but it wasn't sustainable just relying on older customers. You had to create the environment that speaks at every level of detail about your product so that your customers get a feel for what the product will be and this creates anticipation and reassurance. Interestingly, they have also created a short film (follow the link at the bottom of www.anderson-sheppard.co.uk) which is aimed at revealing the process. They discovered that new customers were intimidated by their own ignorance of the process and were afraid to look foolish.
I think I've done much of this, thanks to my experience with branding from my previous jobs. However, it time for me to tighten up and focus this much more clearly in everything I do. My work is inevitably at a certain price because of the quality of the fabric and the making. It's not a mass-market product. Therefore, what you are paying for needs to be communicated more effectively and widely. It's not really about the organic (which is part of the cost); as this doesn't resonate strongly enough with customers. It's about the process and the experience.
There is a common ground in mine and the other craft makers and the work of Anderson and Sheppard and Bill Amberg in that is is a form of luxury that is all about the making and the materials, rather than for example, Tiffany, where you are paying for retail space and marketing and really a mass-produced item. This is the true luxury and this is what differentiates us.
P.S. OMG I've just seen the Bill Amberg leather-bound Penguin Classics. Now, that's a way of showing one's appreciation for literature. (Friends & Family reading this, please take note, this might be a good birthday present for me, as you probably know about my fondness for Brideshead Revisited).