January 05, 2009

Insights on the demise of Waterford Wedgwood

These are interesting times indeed.  At a time where one third of the UKs major banks have been nationalized (or part nationalized depending on your perspective), auto makers are being bailed out and major household brands, such as; Woolworths and Waterford Wedgewood are going to the wall.

It is fashionable today to blame it all on the credit crunch and associated global downturn.  But, while these events can certainly exacerbate failure, there are generally additional underlying factors that explain the demise of a once successful business.  Indeed, for the past 5 years the company had been substaining heavy losses.

When it comes to Waterford Wedgewood I must declare an interest, or at least a little insider information of a sort.  Way back in 1996 / 97 I led a project by one of the many cheeky upstarts that had started to nibble at Waterford Wedgewood's success.  In this case it was the Belleek – Galway Irish Crystal group owned by a wealth Irish American businessman, which even back then imported glass cost effectively from Eastern Europe and simply cut it in Ireland.

I remember well talking to buyers, in US organizations, such as; Macy's, as well as other much less glamorous / prestigious outlets about how they and their customers could be tempted away from the Waterford Wedgewood giant.   They talked about changing customer buying patterns, new outlets and channels and of course new designs, price-points, packaging and promotions.  We listened.  The market moved, so too did the business model.  

What are the lessons for us in sales and marketing.  Well, the first is that even your biggest competitor is vulnerable.  That is a positive thing.  The second is that the needs of buyers and customers are continually changing.  The third that being smaller makes it easier to change and adapt.

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