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executive impact

Wedgwood and Royal Albert brands big in Japan

By Custom Media for BCCJ ACUMEN

Pierre de Villeméjane, CEO of WWRD, sees the launch of Waterford in Japan as an exciting new challenge.

What products does your firm provide?

In Japan, we concentrate on the iconic Wedgwood and Royal Albert brands.

Created in 1759, Wedgwood is a luxury, dynamic and distinctively English brand. It combines heritage and timeless design for today’s discerning aspirational consumer.

Royal Albert is a quintessentially English floral brand. Inspired by English gardens for over 100 years, it offers a wide collection of young, fun and romantic teaware and giftware products.

We are very excited about the recent launch of the Waterford brand here. Founded in Ireland in 1783, Waterford is one of the most prestigious brands of crystal in the world. It is dazzling, opulent and luxurious.

This exciting launch brings to the Japanese market some of our most iconic crystal stemware, barware and giftware collections such as Lismore and Mixology.

We will also introduce the stunning new Contemporary collection. This includes crystal desk accessories, such as iPad/iPod docks, bookends and desktop bars; as well as boudoir products, such as jewellery boxes, hand mirrors, make-up brushes and perfume diffusers.

Who are your competitors here?

We compete with Noritake Co, Limited and Narumi Corporation, as well as international brands such as Lladro S.A. and Baccarat. But, ultimately, we compete with any company that offers luxury products, from firms providing fashion goods and jewellery to companies selling writing instruments and watches.

Why did WWRD invest in Japan?

Waterford Wedgwood Japan Ltd was established in 1983. The Japanese market is a perfect match for Wedgwood’s core values. In addition to a strong gift-giving tradition, Japanese consumers have a deep knowledge of, and affinity for, ceramics. They also appreciate heritage and craftsmanship. These are the key values upon which Wedgwood has built its world-class reputation over the past 250 years.

What has been your greatest challenge?

Wedgwood has always been very successful in Japan because it represents English elegance and design. However, we also want to expand our business by responding more specifically to Japanese eating and gift-giving habits. The key challenge is always maintaining the right balance between responding to market-specific needs and staying true to our English DNA.

Have your firm’s operations changed much since setting up in Japan?

Not really. Wedgwood in Japan has a very focused positioning that is well understood by consumers. Our products are sold in premium department stores around the country through Wedgwood shop-in-shops, attended by our qualified staff. This has been a very successful model throughout the years.

What do you believe is the greatest asset British firms can offer the Japanese?

English design and craftsmanship are strongly valued in Japan. In addition, there is a fascination with, and respect for, heritage. These are the key assets of most long-standing British brands.

How might foreign and Japanese firms benefit from each other?

In our industry, Japanese consumers rely on international brands for new trends and new designs. We know our consumers expect inspiration and innovation from Wedgwood. These expectations drive the organisation to develop exciting new products.

Given the importance of quality and craftsmanship, as well as the attention to detail here, we consider the Japanese market a benchmark for new product introductions. It is a fantastic asset to have a market like Japan, which is solid, responsive and loyal.

What are the chief opportunities for foreign firms in this economy?

Today, taking advantage of the Japanese economy’s rebound is key. A stronger economy fuels consumer spending, which is absolutely critical when you rely, like we do as a luxury brand, on discretionary spending.

Particularly for WWRD, we see the launch of Waterford in Japan as a massive opportunity. We will bring in a special and exciting product line that features the perfect combination of iconic heritage pieces and innovative luxury crystal gifts. It will be a totally new and modern way to enjoy crystal!

Do you foresee any changes in UK–Japan business relations?

In our sector, UK–Japan relations are extremely solid. I am more concerned about the recent drastic weakening of the yen. This is putting a lot of financial pressure on foreign brands that export their products to Japan. If the trend continues, you will undoubtedly see price increases to mitigate the impact of this currency fluctuation.

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Created in 1759, Wedgwood is a luxury, dynamic and distinctively English brand. It combines heritage and timeless design for today’s discerning aspirational consumer.

That all sounds very nice but most of the Wedgwood line is made in INDONESIA now. Only a small line of high-end stuff is made in the UK. I believe there are fewer than 1,000 workers in the UK.

We are very excited about the recent launch of the Waterford brand here. Founded in Ireland in 1783, Waterford is one of the most prestigious brands of crystal in the world.

Sounds very nice again but actually Wedgwood, Waterford and Royal Doulton (WWRD) is owned by a private equity firm, KPS Capital Partners in NEW YORK CITY.

Sorry to be cynical but it doesn't sound so historical or British now, does it? The products are quite nice and all that but the all that rich British lineage spiel doesn't really cut it if it's now made in Asia.

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Waterford Crystal as it is today was actually founded after WWII, by two Czechoslovak immigrants, building on the city's reputation for glass that ceased production almost a century earlier.

Ironically, what generations of social-climbing Americans knew as Waterford Irish Crystal is now mostly made in the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovenia.

Could the newfound marketing momentum in Japan be anything to do with this CA consumer advice:

WARNING: Consuming foods or beverages that have been kept or served in leaded crystal products will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.

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A dear friend left me some Royal Doulton crockery in her will.

I was personally shocked to see "made in Indonesia" stamped on the bottom.

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Royal Doulton moved production to Indonesia some years ago. The traditional area of ceramic production in the UK in the Midlands, known as "The Potteries", is now mostly museums dedicated to the ceramic arts. I think there is some small scale production left though. Still worth a visit for pottery fans.

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