Royal Grafton China 1981-1992
by Tony Boulton
(Grapevine, Texas, USA)
I was approached to become Marketing Manager at Royal Grafton in 1981. I had spent 13 years with Wedgwood, mostly in export sales for Coalport.
The company was then owned by Ceramco New Zealand (formerly known as Crown Lynn). A 4 person management team reported to the New Zealand directors. We undertook a full review of all the companies marketing activities and developed a marketing plan aimed at bringing the image of the company up to "fine bone china" standards.
The parent company, with problems of their own at home, decided they wanted to offload Royal Grafton. Running a company on the opposite side of the world was tough. A number of people expressed interest but a management buy-out was put together by John Bullock, formerly of Spode and Royal Albert. This allowed much more freedom to move forward. We invested in new products, catalogs, consumer advertising and PR including the sponsorship of a local international carriage driver, Rene Schoop. New designs were developed with specific customers and markets in mind. One particular design, Sumatra, became a best seller in many markets including the UK. Export sales grew such that on several occasions the company were close to achieving the Queen's Award.
Sadly the company struggled to make sufficient profits and when the UK drifted into recession in 1991 the bank called for the company to be sold. The John Tams company made an offer which was accepted by the directors, only for it to be withdrawn at a very late stage in the Spring of 1992. This caused a financial crisis which meant that we had to go back to Tams "cap in hand" and agree to them taking over all the assets and liabilities for the proverbial pound.
After the takeover I left the company having been told that a marketing director was not required. Subsequent events perhaps proved to the contrary, because the company disappeared into oblivion whilst Tams themselves entered into administration eventually.
In retrospect, in my opinion Royal Grafton could have survived if sufficient resources had been made available to invest in modern plant and machinery. The long serving and dedicated staff deserved better.
Peter (admin) says:-
Beautifully written article and very informative. Thank you so much!