Intricacy used to be a sign of a product that was seen as a luxury, but would only be available at a premium price. The level of expert labour and expensively-sourced materials meant that the price was driven up and the only way for manufacturers to operate profitably was to pass the difference onto the consumer.
As you might expect, this creates a market that is fragmented according to income. Firms had to choose whether they would invest in the time and money needed to offer a bespoke service, or take the mass production route – making a much more basic good that is functional, but far less striking.
Today – in a trend that has brought advantages for both the producer and the consumer – the lines regarding bespoke and standardised products are much more blurred. There are a host of reasons for this, but the upshot is that it is possible to get hold of some exquisite fixtures for the home without it breaking the bank.
The influence of technology
Technology is now one of the main drivers in manufacturing, constantly pushing firms to up their game and challenge themselves in terms of the service they offer customers.
This is something that rings true for one British manufacturer in particular. J Rotherham has been a stalwart of stonemasonry and the production of fixtures for the home since the early 20th century.
Many of the less creative phases of production that would once have had to be carried out by members of staff have now been automated. This means the company can offer a guaranteed level of quality that is applied to all its products, whether they be fireplaces, kitchen worktops or bathroom tiles.
Not only that, but time is a huge factor. It also used to be the case that a premium price would have to be paid to get your order in a matter of days, but now that is more of a basic expectation than an expensive luxury.
Commercial Director Matt Rotherham explains how the equilibrium between what customers expect and what a firm is able to provide within its financial constraints is one that constantly changes.
He says: “You can cut costs, but a lot of the time there is a perception that this means cutting quality. We have a policy that we will never decrease quality. All our efficiencies have been achieved by cutting costs with more efficient production techniques.”
Matt goes onto discuss the kind of service high-value that has become a requirement – even for customers who have a lower-end budget. Although you might expect him to say this has made his job harder, synchronised efficiencies have eased the process.
“Customers’ expectations in terms of price have also changed”, he adds. “Technology helps us with this. Advances have meant that costs have come down in real terms.”
‘A balance of technology and craftsmanship’
The fact that the majority of the manufacturing process can be carried out using this efficient, cost-saving technology means that the expertise needed to provide craftsmanship are saved for the finishing touches. Overall, this brings down the cost of turning raw materials into a bespoke product.
Matt goes as far as adding that it is this balance that provides the basis for evolution in the market as a whole – in terms of the service firms like J Rotherham can offer and the types of people that are welcomed into employment in the industry.
“It’s that synergy between technology and craftsmanship that has been the basis for evolution really. It’s created the necessity for more designers, more program operators and a range of other positions that didn’t used to exist.”