The MNEMOS project, involving Salford Business School and partners from four other European countries – the University of Turku in Finland, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, Consultancy Tis Praha in the Czech Republic, and the Spin consortium and ID Technology in Italy – looked at how craft sector SMEs more than 40 years old in their countries, including manufacturers of textiles, clothing, food and drink, ceramics and jewellery, could use their heritage and history to set their companies and products apart from competitors and even boost productivity and innovation. It was funded by the EU’s Lifelong Learning: Leonardo da Vinci programme.
Dr Aleksej Heinze, Senior Lecturer at Salford Business School, explained: “Plenty of companies are steeped in history and have a rich knowledge of traditional production methods, links with their local area and many more unrealised assets. Knowledge of an organisation’s past is invaluable, enabling them to differentiate themselves from others and innovate their products and services.”
Termed ‘Enterprise Cultural Heritage’ (ECH), this knowledge formed the basis of the study, which aimed to enable companies to understand the potential value of their cultural heritage and to help them manage these assets effectively to drive quality and grow business.
A survey of SMEs found that many were interested in making the most of their cultural heritage but found it difficult to identify this heritage and use it to their advantage. The project also identified a number of craft businesses across Europe which are already using their ECH successfully, making them more competitive.
One example is J Atkinson & Co, an artisan coffee roasting and tea blending business based in Lancaster. Founded by Thomas Atkinson in 1837, the company is now run by Ian and Sue Steel, who have made a distinct virtue of its heritage and history. In the seven years since they took over the business they have experienced rapid growth and, when it became apparent that they were suffering from capacity constraints on the volume of coffee they could roast, they opted to buy a larger model of their 1930s Whitmee Roaster rather than choose a modern machine.
“The decision to stick with using vintage roasters is far more than just a marketing exercise,” said Ian. “It has been a crucial qualitative decision, preserving elusive flavour profiles imparted to the coffee beans during the roasting process. To modernise would have been to throw the baby out with the bath water, losing the very thing that makes our product unique and so much loved by our loyal customers.”
His wife, Amanda Brooke, director of Grossmith, said: “Grossmith had a reputation for producing the finest perfume in the world and our heritage includes Royal Warrants from Queen Alexandra, a King of Spain and the Royal Court of Greece, plus over 300 different original formulae together with original moulds for crystal perfume bottles made by Baccarat in 1919.
“With Grossmith back in family ownership the first phase of the revival is about using a combination of heritage and excellence in design and materials to position the company as one of the leading perfume houses in the world. Our challenge for the next phase will be to innovate and broaden the appeal for our fragrances and other fashion-related products.
“We are delighted that Grossmith have been identified by the MNEMOS project as one of the examples of heritage used to develop a competitive advantage.”
Aleksej concluded: “Companies such as J Atkinson & Co and Grossmith have long capitalised on the power of their past and are a good inspiration for others. These companies have utilised their heritage during product development and through advertising. There is no reason why other small businesses cannot do the same.
“Identification, understanding and preservation of the heritage values attached to a company and celebrating the differences that a business brings to its customers by highlighting its historic roots can be the crucial ingredient in setting the company apart.”
As a result of its research, MNEMOS has now developed free ECH management training materials for SMEs looking to capitalise on their history, available at http://www.enterpriseculturalheritage.org/en/e-learning.html, covering the role of brand, change, heritage and intellectual property management elements in ECH management.
For further information on the MNEMOS project, go to www.enterpriseculturalheritage.org.