Josiah Wedgewood

JOSIAH WEDGEWOOD September 17th, 2010 Josiah Wedgwood was an 18th century potter and entrepreneur whose company, Wedgwood & Bentley, rose to success and fame in the mid 1700’s, despite having very little start-up capital and very few connections to break into the earthenware market. How was he able to succeed as an entrepreneur, where so many others had failed? Josiah was an innovative visionary, one who always seemed to be one step ahead of the competition, one who could see the outlined horizon rather than just the hand in front of the face. His reasons for success were not only his drive and ambition, but his innovative marketing strategies such as celebrity endorsements among the aristocrats and nobles, display rooms for his wares, “inertia selling”, and brand marketing. These and his ability to manage his company’s growth, had helped lead to his juggernaut business in the pottery industry in the 18th century, one that has continued to this day. According to Koehn, “he [Josiah Wedgwood] recognized that rising incomes in eighteenth-century Britain meant that many men and women now had more money to spend on nonessential goods such as china. He also saw that large numbers of people directed their spending toward social emulation. ”(Brand New, pg. 3. ) Social emulation refers to the desire of lower classes to copy all mannerisms of the class directly above them. In recognizing this shifting consumer want (social emulation), Josiah was able to attract interest in his wares through various innovative selling, manufacturing and distribution procedures, and create a market need that only he could fill. One of his most important selling points was getting his wares to have a certain “celebrity status”, as is seen with many of today’s products, such as sports idols in Gatorade and sports apparel ads. Josiah even set the future trend for the countless celebrities nowadays, who have their own makeup and perfume line(s) named after them. One example in Koehn’s Brand New was when, “Josiah suggested calling a set of flowerpots after the Duchess of Devonshire. These and other techniques, he said, ‘complete our notoriety to the whole Island’ and help greatly in the sale of goods both useful and ornamental, by showing that’ we are employ’d in a much higher scale than other Manufacturers. ’” (Brand New, 35. ) Knowing that the middle class would want to look and feel like they belonged to the upper class of aristocrats and nobles, Josiah planned his sales strategy towards this emulation trend, so that the middle class were able to see the quality, beauty and usefulness of his wares, and feel like they were royalty. Another famous example of Wedgwoods’ products reaching “celebrity” status was when Catherine the Great of Russia commissioned Josiah to make a china set consisting of 952 pieces. Each piece was meticulously hand painted, using both old (i. e. expedited manufacturing processes) and new (i. e. hand-painted scenes on the china) industrial practices. The china set was presented in a showroom, displaying Josiah’s eye-appealing wares to London’s upper class. This and other showrooms became an integral part in creating the market need for both ornamental or luxury goods, which at the time only he could fill, and also to expand his customer base, domestic and later, foreign. (Brand New, 11-12) Josiah saw the importance of having these celebrity endorsements, knowing they would give his products a certain prestige among the upper class and desirability among the middle class. On the other hand, the display rooms would give potential customers a chance to look, see, and feel his wares, before they made a purchasing decision. Wedgwood was targeting the upper and middle classes with his celebrity endorsements, but what were the purposes of his showrooms? According to Koehn, “He [Josiah] envisioned a distinct selling environment from that found in many other shops. Most eighteenth-century merchants did not devote great time or money to displaying goods…Wedgwood, by contrast, wanted facilities for retailing as well as premises large enough to show various table and dessert services completely set out. Such displays, as he wrote Bentley, would both attract and entertain female consumers. (Brand New, 30. ) Clearly Wedgwood saw a potential female market for his wares. Traditionally, women are the fashioners of the house, and appreciate the novel and the decorative to add beauty to their homes. Josiah most likely realized this after his marriage to Sarah Wedgwood. According to Koehn, “She [Sarah Wedgwood] helped with his experimental work, discussed commercial finances, and advised him on pottery design, helping him anticipate what women buyers wanted. Sarah suggested, for example, that he decorate the lids of transfer-printed teapots and sugar owls, which had previously been plain. ”(Brand New, 28. ) Wedgwood greatly respected his wife and listened to her regarding his female consumers. He realized that the husbands of his female customers would listen to their spouses, much like he did, which could lead to purchase of his wares. Wedgwood paved the way for most modern day retailers, such as automobile dealerships who use showrooms to display their most eye-pleasing, highest quality cars, or furniture retailers who have fully furnished rooms to try and sell a bedroom set, kitchenette, etc. These showrooms allowed potential Wedgwood customers to examine his wares at their own pace, letting them compare different products until they found the perfect vase, china set, etc. These showrooms had other possible underlying advantages such as, the opportunity for newly acquired salesmen to train themselves and become accustomed to what Josiah’s wares could offer people. Lastly, these showrooms could provide an after-the-sale customer service. For example, in Brand New, “Wedgwood’s customers received free shipping anywhere in England and compensation for damage that occurred in transport. They also received a satisfaction-or-money-back guarantee, the first recorded example of such product support. ”(Brand New, 35-36. ) Advantages of this kind of customer service include convenience and confidence. Customers who bought Josiah’s pottery knew that they wouldn’t have to travel long distances by horse to get his wares because he was willing to absorb the transportation costs and bring the product directly to the customer. Customers could also be confident that when they purchased a Wedgwood product it would arrive to them in great condition, and if any damages did occur, they would be fully reimbursed. Josiah created further convenience for his customers by participating in one of the earliest recorded examples of “inertia selling”. Koehn describes “inertia selling” as, “marketing to selected customers by shipping them unsolicited goods and offering them the opportunity either to purchase the items at set prices or return them to the manufacturer at no cost to themselves. ”(Brand New, 32. ) Wedgwood once again set the trend for modern day mail-order book, record, and video clubs (i. e. Columbia House), many of whom use “inertia selling” in combination with a sales catalogue. According to Athineos, “Wedgwood wasn’t shy. He was the first pottery manufacturer to impress his own name in clay on the bottom of his pots. ”(Forbes, 360-363) This created brand equity for Wedgwood & Bentley and further increased the confidence of his customers because with Josiah’s name engraved, customers always knew what they were getting: Wedgwood’s skillfully crafted wares, of the highest quality and most aesthetic beauty. It also built awareness in his target markets (nobility and the middle classes), creating a certain prestige and brand loyalty among them. In conclusion, Josiah Wedgwood was one of the world’s finest entrepreneurs and innovators. His celebrity endorsements, although costly in time and money, proved to be invaluable in propelling Wedgwood & Bentley to the top of the upper class market, which in turn led to his dominance among the middle class market (who had the desire to socially emulate the upper class) and set the trend for many of the celebrity endorsements we view today. His innovative marketing practices such as, display rooms and his various selling techniques (i. . “inertia selling”), are still seen today through companies like auto dealerships and book/video clubs such as Columbia House. His marketing strategy was impressive when you think about the limited amount of start-up capital and few business connections he had. It is quite a feat to manage such a high scale operation, especially during a time when transportation was limited to horse and boat, no fax-machines or telephones were available, and the technology we have in today’s manufacturing plants wasn’t present.

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