Paul Griffith has recently taken a look at what creates energy in marketing a successful business, including the wellness business Battersea Yoga.
Now it’s my turn to visit a successful business to find out what makes it tick, and how successful marketing has been a force for sustainable growth.
Artichoke was founded by its Creative Director Bruce Hodgson 25 years ago and describes itself as “Designers and Makers of Bespoke Luxury Kitchens and Interiors”. With an amazing portfolio of projects (like the one pictured below), ranging from Tuscan villas to Mayfair townhouses, and a client list that is as at home in the pages of ‘Hello’ or ‘Tatler’ as it is in its luxury residences, Artichoke has clearly done a lot of things right.
However, when I meet Bruce Hodgson at the company’s workshops in Cheddar, Somerset, to talk to him about what ‘winning’ looks like, the incredible projects and glitzy client list are not top of his list. At the outset, he says, the company was founded on his passion for good design and the desire to make beautiful, tangible ‘things’; today, he describes this as “creating strategies for living”: bridging a gap between architecture, interior design, and traditional furniture making.
What does winning look like?
Driven by the global demand for luxury goods, and the rising premium property market, there is a strong market for this kind of high-end and high-margin design. This has fuelled Artichoke’s growth to thirty people, the creation of its own design studio and the recent investment in new purpose-built 14,000 square foot joinery workshops. However, it’s clear from talking to Bruce that profit, while important, is not his primary driver.
When I ask him how he would define success, he says it crystallises above all “when I’m at the company summer party for all our staff and their families – I can see that we’ve built a business that’s sustaining those families, and that we’ve created a culture that I’m comfortable to live in: that’s egalitarian, decent and consistent. I don’t expect utopia, but if you get the culture right then that feeds through everything you do, including the message you send out to the market.”
Other indicators of success include his pride in the company’s creativity and technical knowhow, which means they are able to overcome almost any design challenge thrown at them by their demanding clients. Sustainability is also very important: “I want to build a business that’s going to be here in 50 years’ time, as a centre of excellence for design in Somerset” Bruce says. “Profit is obviously critical – it’s a fair exchange for the risk that you take as a business owner, and it gives you the freedom to develop. But long-term sustainability is also vital, and providing a future for the team we’ve built up.
“At some point we may consider selling the business, but only if the buyer was as committed to Artichoke’s sustainability and culture as I am. That’s more important to me than realising the maximum possible sale value.”
Good intent drives marketing
This commitment or ‘good intent’ is what, in turn, drives the company’s marketing, rather than a fixation on profit or a company valuation. Bruce says, “we try to get our cultural values across in our communications, such as the website, and more importantly in how we behave to clients. If a client has entrusted us with their home, then we have to respect that trust. So if that means working til midnight to get a job right so they can move in the next day, then that’s what we’ll do. In turn, it means that clients feel they can trust us to get the design right, and often give us free rein.
“We’re wedded to quality and good design in everything we do so we don’t cut corners, but we’ll push back if the client wants to spend on something we think is unnecessary, even if it reduces our fees. We use sustainable timber, even if that puts our costs up, because it’s part of our commitment to act in an environmentally-friendly way.”
This clear intent at the heart of the business has made it relatively easy to build a strong and distinct market position and business development strategy, which the company describes as an embodiment of their passion for design. Rather than spend money on Mayfair showrooms, Artichoke invites its clients to visit its Cheddar workshop. The company’s website showcases its amazing projects, but also emphasises its investment in people, technology and manufacturing capability. Its press coverage appears in high-end design publications and blogs, and its social media feeds major on the company’s people, skills and commitment to quality.
Be passionate and set parameters
Bruce’s advice to anyone starting a business is to be passionate, and to communicate that to your target market: “People buy from people – it’s a cliché but it’s true. If you want people to be passionate about your product, you have to show your own passion for what you do.”
He also talks about how it’s important to set clear parameters and establish a distinct market position: “be clear about where you want to go, then it’s much easier to shape your marketing strategy and secure a good position in the marketplace. We’re in the lovely position now of being able to turn work down if it doesn’t fit with the ethos of what we want to do. That may not be something a start-up can afford to do, but it’s something to aspire to!”
In touching briefly on the downsides, Bruce describes how running your own business can become all-encompassing especially if you are emotionally attached to it. But he clearly recognises that this is just the flipside of doing something he loves, and creating a sustainable business built on ‘good intent’.
by Victoria Ash