Shaper: Emma Bridgewater

Show aired on 1st July 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Mongo Santa Mario with Watermelon Man. Good morning I am Elliot Moss, you are listening to Jazz FM and in under an hour we are going live to Glynde Place for the Love Supreme Festival 2017. But right now it’s Jazz Shapers the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and very luckily we bring someone who is shaping the world of business right alongside them and we call them Business Shapers, and I am really pleased to say my Business Shaper today is none other than Emma Bridgewater. Emma Bridgewater famous for the brilliant Bridgewater brand. I was drinking my tea from one of their mugs this morning no less. You will be hearing lots from her about her burgeoning empire and about the state of British manufacturing and much more to boot. In addition to hearing from Emma, you will be hearing from programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we have got some brilliant music and it’s brilliant today, all from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul I hasten to add – Esperanza Spalding, Billie Holiday is on there, Esperanza Spalding and this from BB King.

That was BB King with Paying The Cost To Be The Boss. Emma Bridgewater I said earlier is my Business Shaper today here on Jazz Shapers and Emma is the name behind one of the most famous British brands that we have in the world of beautiful things that pop up in your home. You can drink from them, you can now sleep in them, you can even smell them I think. I mean it’s all gone crazy! Emma thank you very much for joining.

Emma Bridgewater
It’s lovely to be here. Thank you for asking me.

Elliot Moss
Now, you know, people have heard you probably speak a bit, they may have read your books and you have written a few of those as well.

Emma Bridgewater
Oh yes plug them while we are here.

Elliot Moss
Yes well yes I thought we would do that, sort of we do it in reverse, don’t just build up to this, just get it out there.

Emma Bridgewater
Toast to Marmalade and other stories. Get it on Amazon.

Elliot Moss
It’s gone wild hasn’t it?

Emma Bridgewater
It’s been good. Yes. I think we made the best seller list with that book for a nanosecond, but thirty years or more of making mugs eventually of course we had to do some other things and it’s been fun.

Elliot Moss
But the, let’s go back to why you started this business. I meet many people who say well there was gap, the gap was that I had an issue and I needed to fix it and I think that was the sort of similar thing for you.

Emma Bridgewater
Precisely that. Precisely that. I was actually literally hanging out for an idea for a business. I was sure that I wanted to set something up. I’d sort of, I’d seen at close quarters two freelance careers and I felt the unrest of that and the stress of that quite kind of closely and thought if I can get a business going, that might be a good way to carry me through what I saw was inevitable, which is having lots of kids. And so I was looking for an idea and one day I was in fact specifically looking for a birthday present for my mum. I thought two cups and saucers, a nice way to say, I wish we were sitting down and chatting together. I was in my early twenties, probably spending the least amount of time at home and being a bit of a, you know sort of, oh just not very cooperative with her I guess and I wanted her to know that I was thinking about her and that I wished I was spending more time with her. And I stood in a china shop thinking well this should be easy and there was just nothing there that spoke of her kitchen and her kitchen I should say was a particularly lovely place to be – always – and I can make two or three in my life that she made and it wasn’t just me, everyone wanted to be there. She just made life very easy and fun and she didn’t fuss about the small stuff. Consequently none of the china matched. The food might easily be burnt, but it was always delicious and she never knew how many people would come in to lunch and whatever. She was very, very relaxed and the china was sort of uptight and I had a sort of revelation in the china shop that I was going to make the china that I ought to be able to buy to give her. It was very, very clear and strong. I had no idea. I didn’t go to art school, I didn’t know how I was going to make that pottery, but I was going to do it, I could see it. And I set thereafter on a bit of a mission.

Elliot Moss
What interests me about what you just said and we will come to the house and the kitchen and that feeling that is so strong still.

Emma Bridgewater
Yeah I am channelling that all the time.

Elliot Moss
Yeah I can see you are channelling that, I can see it’s still very strong in your eyes and you’re right there again. Is the belief and the knowledge that you were going to do your own thing and you said, well I was going to have loads of kids, I mean that’s kind of an interesting thing to know when you’re younger. But also that it just sounded like that was your practical way through. Is that right?

Emma Bridgewater
Practical way through?

Elliot Moss
Through life. I mean you said you know

Emma Bridgewater
Yeah I am quite pragmatic.

Elliot Moss
And it was oh well I am, but there was nothing else behind it apart from that. Is that right? I mean it was a simple, a simple feeling?

Emma Bridgewater
Well, it’s simple, but as you have identified also with quite a kind of complex back story already. So I think I bring a lot to the business in the way of tastes and you know my individual tastes and my convictions and what I like in life and how I think life should be. And as it turns out kitchen pottery offers a great vehicle, surprisingly good propaganda. Well you know I can have such fun, bigging up the singer solo. Years ago we did a mug that said ‘I love you more than Elvis’. Probably a lie for anyone to give that to anyone else. There was a bit of fuss about it and people saying ‘oh you can’t do that, we’ll get sued’ and I said you know ‘well let’s do it and see what happens’. And you know when the occasion comes along, I like writing funny messages on things, which is a tea towel that said ‘last night I had a really nice dream about Daniel Craig’. Which raised a few eyebrows. And I liked the fact that you know that could be any kind of dream couldn’t it. Actually it was my neighbour who told me she had dreamt she had to get him a sandwich and she didn’t know what kind of sandwich to get him and she was terribly worried that the chicken salad was the wrong sandwich for Daniel Craig. So it was very innocent dream.

Elliot Moss
I like the sound of this and I like the sound of my propaganda in the kitchen. That’s Emma Bridgewater my Business Shaper. Stay with me for more insight into how she has built her business which evidently started in the kitchen. Time for some more music. This is Billie Holiday, it’s actually a cheeky choice of Emma’s and we are going to have a couple more coming up later and I Get Along Without You.

That was Billie Holiday with I Get Along Without You. Emma Bridgewater is my Business Shaper today and we have talked a little bit already about the importance of the kitchen and the importance of your mum’s kitchen specifically and how that has inspired the business which is as I said was kind of this practical thing, you just said well I need to have my own business because that’s going to work for me. In the early days when you set this business up, and I believe it was in the mid-eighties, what did you want it to be apart from, you know, apart from these mugs. Was there any great aspiration to become the global brand that you became? Had you even gone that far?

Emma Bridgewater
Okay, first off there was that moment in the china shop when I could see a dresser full of colourful mismatched pottery, so what, I envisaged the product sort of instantaneously, although I didn’t know how I was going to achieve it and you know there was some sort of developments in that. Once I got to Stoke-on-Trent where I have always made the stuff, you know I went there in search of someone who would make under contract to me, but what I saw was a town in the throes of great sort of turmoil. The coal mines were all closing, the steel foundries were closing and most spectacularly the potteries which had made tableware for the world for you know, two centuries really, were all going down like nine pins and so there were lots of big factories around the city and I am a terrible romantic, you know show me a ruin and I, it makes me very emotional. And suddenly the ruins of an industry moved me indescribably and I could see, then the company and the sort of wider result that I wanted to achieve became clear. I really wanted to put one of those factories back on its feet, to fire up the kilns and get it going again.

Elliot Moss
And you did that?

Emma Bridgewater
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
And now, how many? Three hundred people work…

Emma Bridgewater
Yeah about that.

Elliot Moss
…roughly in the business.

Emma Bridgewater
Three hundred, yeah I think we are three hundred in Stoke even now and hiring, but we grew quite a lot last year and it looks like it’s carrying on this year.

Elliot Moss
And that sense of caring. I mean you cared, but it was just, it just made, did it make sense to you again? It feels like you’re very instinctive as a person?

Emma Bridgewater
I cared, but yes, and I thought gosh this is, what a mess. Someone’s got to do something about this. But actually it was more pragmatic than that underneath in that I, both of my grannies loved china as grannies should and they have very different tastes. One rather posh the other rather boho. And I knew that what went on, what had been going on in those factories mattered and that those skills and traditions was something really important. And certainly if you go to the marvellous museum in the city where they’ve got a huge collection really representing the output of every single factory that’s ever been there, every single maker, it breaks your heart. I mean that was being thrown away. All that expertise, all that talent, all that knowledge and really it was that I wanted to grab hold of and have kept hold of and for me making in Staffordshire is to participate in that, in that tradition and I think that is at the heart of our brand and I think that very thing that everyone else was else sort of chucking away and looking for a cheaper version of I think is at the heart of the success of our brand.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, that’s Emma Bridgewater, the woman behind the Bridgewater business, which is more than just a business as we are hearing right here on Jazz FM. The latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners, I hope, for your burgeoning business.

You’re listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday I am very lucky I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business and I hear all about just how they are doing it and my Business Shaper today is Emma Bridgewater, the woman behind the Bridgewater brand and the Bridgewater business. We are all familiar with it, you know when you meet someone and they’re the person behind the thing that you use. You know, we’ve not met obviously, but there’s warmth that people have towards things that they use on a daily basis I think.

Emma Bridgewater
I completely agree.

Elliot Moss
And it’s really, it’s irrational in a way, but it’s not because you meet this friend every day and every morning you wake up and this morning I did the same, I wake up and I open and there’s Mr and Mrs, two of the mugs that we use in our house and it’s just liked and it’s easy and it’s accessible and I get it, but it’s also brilliantly well made. All those things haven’t happened by accident, they are there by design. How do you every day keep yourself focused on that, on that quality and that delivery of the warmth that you are giving someone like me?

Emma Bridgewater
Well I should say it’s now hugely in the hands of the management team who are really, really great. We’ve got such good people. Because we’re that unusual thing and a sort of full integrated business, we design, we manufacture and we sell to shops and direct to the customer through our own shops and on the web. So there really has to be a lot of factual focus in the business to make sure that we’ve got the right stock on the right shelf on the right day.

Elliot Moss
You have to be totally, I mean the coherence is really hard to pull together though.

Emma Bridgewater
Yes. And mercifully it’s not me or even my husband who has proved incredibly good within the business. Not just at designing, he’s a fantastic designer, but he ran the business until recently. But it’s too big really for our amateur skills, it needs the very, very, very careful planning that goes into it now in our core team.

Elliot Moss
And therefore the role of the two of you, of you and Matthew, and for those who don’t know, Matthew is her husband and…

Emma Bridgewater
Mr Rice.

Elliot Moss
Mr Rice. And Mr Rice, I was going to call him Mr Bridgewater for fun.

Emma Bridgewater
Yeah don’t do that thing.

Elliot Moss
Never do that, he won’t be happy.

Emma Bridgewater
It really makes him cross.

Elliot Moss
Funny that isn’t it. Mr Rice and Miss Bridgewater have built this thing. When did it get too big for you two to be there. I mean how quickly did that happen?

Emma Bridgewater
It didn’t in any uncomfortable way, but just I think we realised a couple of years ago that the fantastic girl who was running, who was then head of marketing, would probably be better than either of us at running the whole business. So Julia, thank you Julia, she does the most beautiful job. And you know, it wasn’t a sort of uneasy feeling, it was just a nice progression and I suppose what happens is in the beginning you are doing absolutely everything and it’s hare and scare and fun and you never seem to sleep at all. And then as you go along you start getting people in to help and to begin, it’s the hardest thing isn’t it, when you get the right people things really change. It’s such a key part of successfully growing a business and I think we’ve got a really good team. And you asked me about focus and I know that there is something in me which is probably bordering on a condition, I do have a very steely focus and I do have a continuous vision for the company and I think that that is, that’s probably built in to most entrepreneurs in that I sometimes think that the most important thing in any business is that you keep at it. You know it seems, it seems such an obvious thing to say, but unless you’ve got that focus, the thing does just fall apart. And there are lots of very good businesses that started at the same time as me that don’t exist now and I do believe that just absolutely refusing to let go is a key to business success.

Elliot Moss
Well don’t let go because Emma has got lots more to say here on Jazz Shapers about keeping at it. In the meantime though, we’ve got a bit more music and it’s a special one, it’s Mr Frank Sinatra with I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

That was Frank Sinatra with I’ve Got You Under My Skin. I am talking to Emma Bridgewater today about growing a business, about keeping at it, about focus and about what happens when you’re not uncomfortably big as you said, but big enough to say you know what I think we need someone else to do some of the stuff here.

Emma Bridgewater
We need some experts around here.

Elliot Moss
You need some experts. Exactly. Where there ever moments when you wanted to throw that towel in?

Emma Bridgewater
I don’t think there have been. I, something happened when I first went to Stoke. I did, I made some kind of very deep commitment to it and I do feel, I mean to making there and to the tradition that I was kind of stepping into, and like everyone else I am prone to self-doubt hideously so. But there is something about the people who work in the factory in Stoke that keeps me straight, keeps me level and I never doubt that that’s the right thing to be doing.

Elliot Moss
And what’s their relationship like with you? When Emma comes on the shop floor and Emma’s moving around the business is it like…

Emma Bridgewater
Cue rude jokes basically. They are extremely, they are such great people, they are very, very funny and quite a step back, quite you know hard to impress. I had a fantastic guy who worked with me for a bit and he said, ‘I just don’t get it, they don’t, I mean they’ he was from Marks and Spencer, he was really used to when someone said jump who was in a management position, it was only a question of how high. Whereas in Stoke they hang back and say ‘why jump, are you sure? Do I believe you?’ You know they are quite naturally sceptical and I said you haven’t prove yourself to them yet. You know they will, they absolutely will, but not until they believe you.

Elliot Moss
And what happens when Emma is wrong. I mean what happens when you, you know

Emma Bridgewater
They’ll tell us and…

Elliot Moss
Yeah so they don’t like the line, they don’t like the little the funny thought that’s not funny?

Emma Bridgewater
Oh I am not sure if I would take that.

Elliot Moss
Ah okay. So there are…

Emma Bridgewater
No but when we are getting it wrong running the company and growth you know poses huge strains. You’ve got to prepared to sit down and throw your hands up and say, okay look, maybe are getting some of this wrong and we need to talk about it and we need to hear from you, you know, what it is we are doing wrong. And we’ve done that. I mean you do that as a kind of continuous process I think. You’ve got to listen. But I think that now, particularly the factory where the strains of growth can be kind of quite accident, we’ve got much better at managing people so that we hear what they are saying and continuously listen and consult.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Emma plus we are playing a track from Esperanza Spalding. That’s coming up after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Esparanza Spalding with I Know You Know and very delightful it was too. Emma Bridgewater is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. We’ve touched on things and I feel like we could spend hours actually getting under the skin of most of them

Emma Bridgewater
Are you saying I talk too much?

Elliot Moss
You don’t. You talk, you’re just right. It’s perfect. The things though, there is so much in there I mean briefly, you’ve got now a towards a twenty million turnover business, it’s global in nature so people, you know, you’re brand is famous in lots of other parts of the world. What’s the ambition now? I mean you kind of, you had this thing when you were twenty, you saw a gap, you went for it, it’s an emotional thing as well as a practical thing, what does Emma Bridgewater want to do now for the next five, ten years. Is it just more of the same?

Emma Bridgewater
It’s more of the same and it’s bigger. I definitely saw it as a big business and if I am honest I think that the distractions of family life meant that it didn’t grow as fast as it could have done in the early years. I look at some of the successful businesses in Stoke and I love that we are known as the biggest manufacturers there. I have to admit, it’s not true, we are just the mouthiest. There are four or five much bigger businesses. It’s a great place to run a manufacturing business. Britain is good at manufacturing. We need to not just keep doing more of it, but keep talking about it because a lot of what we do we do anonymously and you know we do fantastic aerospace engineering and we give it to the French and don’t get accredited. And loads of our marvellous woollen cloth is used in Italian tailoring and not accredited to us. You know we’ve got to kind of wake up and bang the drum I think harder. And you sweetly said we are an export company and sort of known all around the world. Guilty, really guilty here. We don’t export nearly enough, only about ten percent. So there’s a whole piece there as we get bigger which, you know, we’d very much like to export much more. We are a UK brand really at the moment.

Elliot Moss
What we haven’t mentioned or you haven’t mentioned is money. Not once. I mean does it, obviously it’s quite nice having it, but does it bother you, do you think about your own personal wealth at all?

Emma Bridgewater
I think it’s, I only see it as a means to an end. When I started I wanted to be able to afford a car that didn’t break down on the motorway all the time. They are sort of simple things that you know I wanted very, very badly not to have to do my VAT returns any more than twice. It nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. You know so you sort of, there are kind of steps that you go through and then you turn around and you think gosh, you’ve come much further than I thought. What we are doing, I mean Matthew and I are doing a big restoration project in Oxfordshire which I think I might feel mildly uncomfortable about if it was purely for our benefit. But as far as I am concerned, it’s sort axiomatically to share. So in May the Morris Men come and dance in our garden, we do a lot of collector events, we do open garden, we have quite a lot of people living in sheds and cabins on the place. I do want to make the world a better place, I do really want to try and create jobs and make people happy.

Elliot Moss
I like that. I mean, you know it’s lovely to hear, it’s very refreshing to hear because it feels to me right back from when you talked about your mum’s kitchen and your mum’s kitchen felt like an open place…

Emma Bridgewater
Yes.

Elliot Moss
…where as you said she didn’t know how many people were coming. It feels like you have kind of embraced that philosophy.

Emma Bridgewater
Totally.

Elliot Moss
And that’s probably why this is all working so well and I really sincerely hope it continues to because…

Emma Bridgewater
Well thank you.

Elliot Moss
…you’ve really done wonderful things and as you said, British manufacturing, we should start making more noise about it.

Emma Bridgewater
Yes.

Elliot Moss
And let’s do that going forward, it’s very important right now especially. Thank you so much for being my guest today. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it.

Emma Bridgewater
It’s called Waltz For Momma and it’s sung by my oldest daughter, Lil and the beautiful guitar playing is her lovely, lovely friend Ollie Clark and in it she soundtracks a lot of the singers that she and I both love and I think, I think the song speaks for itself, but her voice is just knock out.

Elliot Moss
The proud mum. Here it is just for you.

That was Waltz For Momma from Lil Rice and Ollie Clarke, Lil being the daughter of my Business Shaper today, Emma Bridgewater. Someone who had a vision very early on about what she wanted her business to be. Someone who right throughout it has been focused and has kept at it as she said and someone who fundamentally believes in the power of British manufacturing and what it can create both abroad and in the UK. Really brilliant stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place. That’s next Saturday, 9.00am sharp for another addition of Jazz Shapers. But right now and really excitingly we are going to be going live to the Love Supreme Festival 2017 in Glynde Place. There will be live music, live interviews and it is the next best thing to being there. If you are going there have a fabulous time. So stay with us because coming up next to introduce the whole thing is Nigel Williams.

Emma Bridgewater

After studying English at London University, Emma joined a small knitwear firm, but soon realised that what she really wanted to do was start her own company. Her ‘eureka moment’ came in 1985, when she was searching for a pretty cup and saucer for her mother’s birthday. Discovering that everything in the shops was either delicate and formal, or heavy and clunky, she realised there was a gap in the market for pottery that was both beautiful and practical, and that reflected the relaxed, colourful, mismatched home she’d grown up in.

Emma sketched out a mug, bowl and jug, and found a pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, the home of British pottery, to make them up. She then set about decorating them using cut-out sponges – a traditional technique that was to become her signature style. The designs were snapped up by Liberty, Harrods, and The General Trading Co, and Emma Bridgewater Ltd was born. The company now has a turnover of over £16m a year, and Emma Bridgewater products are sold worldwide.

In 1987, Emma met and married Matthew Rice, then a furniture designer. In 1989, they joined forces professionally, and since then Matthew has created some of Emma Bridgewater’s best-loved designs.

As the company grew, Emma was determined to keep production of the pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, and in 1996, bought a Victorian factory there. Emma Bridgewater Ltd is now one of the largest employers of potters in the area. In recognition of her work championing manufacturing in Stoke-on-Trent, Emma has honorary degrees from the University of Staffordshire and Keele University, and in 2013, she was awarded a CBE for Services to Industry.

Emma and Matthew have four children, and live in Oxfordshire. When not working, her interests include books, food, country music and quiltmaking, and despite being surrounded by it every day, she still loves to collect pottery. In 2014, she published Toast & Marmalade and Other Stories, and in 2016 Pattern, memoirs that cover everything from the rollercoaster ride of building the business and creating the iconic designs, to the best way to cook bacon, and the pleasures of a well-stocked dresser.

In 2016 Emma was appointed President of Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). CPRE campaigns to preserve the English countryside, to direct planning pressure away from greenfield sites and guard against the despoliation of Britain.

Follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaBridgewater.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“She was very, very relaxed and the china was sort of uptight and I had a revelation in the china shop that I was going to make the china that I ought to be able to buy her.”

“Years ago we did a mug that said ‘I love you more than Elvis’. Probably a lie for anyone to give that to anyone else.”

“Both of my grannies loved china, as grannies should, and they had very different tastes. One rather posh the other rather boho…”

“What happens is, in the beginning you are doing absolutely everything and it’s harum-scarum and you never seem to sleep at all.”

“I do have a very steely focus and I do have a continuous vision for the company and I think that’s probably built into most entrepreneurs.”

“Like everyone else I am prone to self-doubt, hideously so. But there is something about the people who work in the factory in Stoke that keeps me straight, keeps me level and I never doubt that that’s the right thing to be doing.”

“You’ve got to prepared to sit down and throw your hands up and say, okay look, maybe we are getting some of this wrong and we need to talk about it.”

“I look at some of the successful businesses in Stoke and I love that we are known as the biggest manufacturers there. I have to admit, it’s not true. We are just the mouthiest.”

“When I started, I wanted to be able to afford a car that didn’t break down on the motorway all the time.”