The Sentinel: Friday, May 15, 2009, 09:20
As workers at two of the world's most famous china brands come to terms with 225 more potential redundancies, members of the Wedgwood family are angry at plans to transfer more production to Indonesia. Here, cousins Tom R Wedgwood and Tom D Wedgwood argue that the policy of Wedgwood's and Royal Doulton's new U.S.-based owners is shortsighted and damaging.We are profoundly dismayed and angry at the announcement yesterday that there could be up to a further 225 manufacturing job losses at Barlaston. This is likely to be followed up by administration job losses as well.Pierre de Villeméjane, chief executive officer of new owners WWRD may have used a velvet tongue to talk about "significant production remaining at Barlaston" but his iron fist is crippling production and in the long term threatens to destroy Wedgwood.
Let's get this absolutely clear. We, the direct descendants of Josiah Wedgwood, do not support the production of Wedgwood in Indonesia. It is not staying true to Josiah, his legacy or the excellence of ceramics craftsmanship in Stoke-on-Trent. Or let's put it another way – if it's not made in England it's not Wedgwood.
There will now only be around 150 employed in manufacturing Wedgwood in Staffordshire, compared to more than 1,500 in Indonesia. This is purely token manufacturing. Pierre and Michael Psaros, the boss at WWRD's parent company KPS, surely do not think that producing a few tableware lines and a few Prestige pieces in Stoke will be enough to fool astute global consumers? These redundancies will involve the loss of jobs in the Prestige special skills departments as well as the long-serving potters whose skills can never be truly replaced. It is a tragedy for the Potteries and for Josiah Wedgwood's legacy.
When we carried out due diligence as part of our bid to buy the company out of administration, the financial analysis proved that in the medium and long term it makes financial sense to develop the brand as a uniquely Staffordshire luxury product. It makes commercial and financial sense because consumers expect that when they pay £25 or more for a plate that it is designed, manufactured and decorated in Stoke. That is the only way consumers can guarantee they are buying the "unrivalled heritage" that Pierre hopes to cash in on. Why else would consumers make that purchasing decision when they know they can pick up 20 plates for a fiver made in China? We had hoped KPS had realised this. We'd heard rumours that all the media attention might have had an impact on their plans.
KPS are making a major commercial mistake. Wedgwood sales have gone through the floor. Yes, there is a world-wide recession, but there is a deeper underlying reason which Pierre ignores at his peril – suddenly, thanks to the media interest, high-end consumers in these markets have suddenly woken up to the fact that Wedgwood has a factory in Indonesia producing most of its core tableware and hollow-ware. Before January, most global consumers didn't know this. They honestly thought all Wedgwood was made in Stoke, and they've shown their disapproval by walking out of stores saying: "We don't want it." The cat is now out of the bag. Our greatest fear is that Pierre and Michael actually know this but don't care. They simply want to produce tableware in Indonesia and back-stamp it with Wedgwood or Vera Wang and "grow the hell", as they put it, out of the U.S. bridal market while playing lip-service to heritage to sell the odd Prestige piece. Their fundamental belief is that luxury consumers don't care. They're wrong.
Tell the world the truth: how much production will there be in Barlaston compared to Indonesia? Will WWRD still pretend it's made in Staffordshire? Why?