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Author Topic: Caithness news  (Read 4560 times)

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Offline Frank

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2007, 10:28:27 AM »
I think the problem could well be an attitudinal clash that with compromise will mean one party losing face.

On the one hand the property company states to have provided a turnover related lease, which is a very fair approach that allows diversity to continue throughout difficult economic periods (Many leases are still set up on the basis of fixed rent with upward only reviews) and turnover related means rents can fall as well as rise. The benefit for the property company is that it maintains a stable letting of a prestigious client that will attract others to the development.

On the other hand Dartington claim that the redevelopment caused a weakening in trade and that they wish Caithness to survive.

What remains unclear is why Dartington think a move to Crieff would be beneficial as it will not have that large local tourist resource of Perth. I cannot see how on-going development work can have such an impact as we are all used to building work continuing around us - perhaps the car park was closed and people had to walk between building sites to get there? Has anyone visited Caithness this summer - how was your visit affected by the building work?

It would appear that a special rent had been in place for some time, to help CG through the takeover and I cannot help the cynical view that perhaps it ending was the only reason for migrating. Clearly we do not know the numbers but Caithness are a two edged company. There is an important market for collectors with some of the best paperweight makers in the country, world league, - yet Dartington has let some of these go already. Caithness also has a big 'name' in the gift trade, but the gift trade is highly competitive and there is little commercial sense in manufacturing for it within the UK. So perhaps they wish to maintain a core set of skills to retain design and medium to high quality production.

Looking at the Dartington portfolio, they have not really any giftware of significance so perhaps Caithness were to fill that gap - in which case they only need the designers. But they have already Royal Brierley, a richer and older name than Caithness, and have only one small range of barware on-line. Dartington do not appear to target the collecting market with the exception of 2 books sold on their site... On their site they have a small about us which paints a picture of a socially mature enterprise http://www.dartington.co.uk/info/aboutus_DCstory.html until you get to the last line when it states "Dartington now operates independently of the Trust." - So no current philosophy and clearly in the case of the disposition of Caithness they do not try, hard enough, and stick to that original philosophy either.

As I have often said, collectors are largely buying on the second market and while that helps a company name to develop, it does not help its cash flow directly. The UK economic policy tries to adopt the American commercial aptitude but fails the philosophy and only manages a "money first, people last" state. So companies that are ruthless in securing wealth for the core investors are regarded as 'good' and those that regard their employees as core are just seen as potential profits for vultures. I am currently preparing a 1947 report on the UK glass industry for the Glass-Study - it directly compare the UK glass industry to the US and Swedish glass industries and the envy of both of those shows a little. But also at that point there is some realism in recognising the different cultures involved. The modern business seems to have for gotten culture - instead the investors dream of joining that elite club of multi-nationals that aspire to be virtual countries in their own right.

What can we do about it? Nothing, they own and control their companies.

However... Collectors could join and set up a new co-operative making high-end art paperweights,  also some for the tourists, and move into the premises Caithness vacate, getting the makers and designers will be no problem... they is a lot of unemployed skill in Perth. It is possible to largely avoid the need to develop a sales force to get products to the shops - it is doable via the Internet and dealers catering to paperweight collectors. If 500 collectors put in upto 1,000 pounds, there should be enough cash to get started, pay everyone piecework rates and the wages bill will reflect the business and give every worker a direct stake in success. To make that work would need a core group of 6 or 7 people to develop and execute the approach.

Offline Frank

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #11 on: November 15, 2007, 11:18:10 AM »
Latest....

Caithness in Perth will close at the end of January, only 6 staff will move to Crieff which will clearly put JD ahead of Caithness in terms of skills pool and probably weight production too! The top skills are chopped.

It is unclear what they plan to do but I suspect they will continue just for the visitors centre sales and some gift trade stuff. I doubt they will last long in Crieff. The speed with which they have moved could suggest that they are following plans made at the time of the takeover!

Offline Frank

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #12 on: November 15, 2007, 02:10:08 PM »
Stuart took over Strathearn, also in Crieff, and promptly stopped glass production. Everything then being made in England but with engraving continuing for the tourists. After a while they gave up. If you ever visited Strathearn, it was never bustling - usually the same person that you saw in PP over the road. Caithness, Perth on the other hand was always bustling, I never saw it on a quiet day although I am sure they must have had them. The Caithness shop had quite a few staff too.

Offline twenty_zero_six

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #13 on: November 15, 2007, 05:45:40 PM »
Theres no way it was a hidden agenda takeover, Dartington will only have wanted one thing - the Perth Visitors Centre because of how popular it is, and as the Visitors Centre in Devon is so popular (I often go there and its always busy) they obviously saw long term that they could develop this more here, but they had to arrest the decline in sales first - something which they obviously failed to to! and this has lead to what has happened. I dont think Dartington can be blamed for this, its just the state of the industry, we should be thankful Caithness is going to carry on at all! Im sure the decision to move to Crieff was met with another decision - close completly!

Offline Frank

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2007, 09:05:59 PM »
Crieff is a small town with nothing for the tourist trade of note, it is/was a Mecca for paperweight collectors as they could get one off specials and pieces made to order. John Deacons is based there and quite a noteworthy team that use his Studio - some ex-Caithness. If Caithness has a future it is in the high end of paperweights with one of the best cutters Harry McKay (Booted out in first phase) rumour has it that HM and AS are out in January - clearly they are dropping the world class team and skill core, so only the gift trade is left. In that trade Caithness are no better than the Chinese who are gaining skills fast and other emerging markets, but without the low production costs. Perhaps the Visitors centre in Crieff will sell Chinese made Caithness weights, design in Devon and bearing the packed in Scotland sticker.

But of course this is all speculation and gets nowhere.

What is not speculation is that glass cutting skills will die out in Scotland, no-one in Scotland will choose the glass industry and almost 400 years after glass was first made - the bother*ed English have near killed it off. Hopefully Scotland will get independence before too long! The red cross has to go (http://www.scotlandsglass.co.uk/cms/components/com_virtuemart/shop_image/category/d30511518508286f7124c940d5b850be.gif)

Offline sph@ngw

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #15 on: November 17, 2007, 01:58:12 PM »
Well done Frank for bringing this sad story to the attention of the Forum! As a fellow glassmaker AND a property landlord, I can see this from both sides. Part of the fault must be the atrocious summer which reduced visitor numbers to the Caithness Tourist Centre at Perth,which I know well from about six vists there!
A landlord is not going to be happy if a company reduces its size to occupy a visitor centre and factory unit planned for about 120, to one furnace and six people!

Sadly Dartington is under enormous commerical pressures and again poor weather does not help tourism in North Devon. The odd poor day in a hot summer used to bring in 4,000 visitors a day, Eric Dancer told me.
I have great sympathy for John Morris and his team who inherited/ bought a rather poisoned chalice, and has been hit by such an appalling summer. Eric again confided in me he could seel little future for Dartington and was glad he was retiring as costs were going through the roof and competition form the Far east was improving vastly with incredibly low labour costs.

Other Tourist based activities are also in dire straights, and selling off land for housing in Torrington was a vital cash transfusion. Quite whether the purchase of the Caithness and Royal Brierley brand names was the best way to invest this income, is difficult to judge short term.I have also thought that making paperweights was a studio/cottage industry hardly suited for lareg scale production, and at first Caithness proved me wrong, especially in the US market.
There is still money to be made from hand manufacture of glass in the UK, Nazeing Glass has had its best year since 1979, but we slashed our workforce and costs drastically to make us competitive. Now with three 3/4tonne furnaces and two 100kg studio furnaces, we are sadly probably the largest glassmanufacturing hand glass works!
And it is going to get even tougher once the currenyt recession that has just started gets under way. My advice, batten down the hatches and prepare for a rough two years at least, as the $100 a barrel oil price, the sub prime crash and the housing market slow down  and all come together. Sell you stocks and shares and get into fixed ratee before the FTSE crash comes, is my advice!
Anyone want to buy a profitable glass factory for an outrageous sum?  :'(

Offline twenty_zero_six

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #16 on: November 17, 2007, 02:20:52 PM »
Exactly the point i was trying to make!

However as a major Dartington customer I would like to point out that the land for housing next to the factory was sold when the company was trying to refiniance in 2003/04, when the company was sold to Enesco in July 04 all debts at that point were written off so the money from selling the land went towards this. Royal Brierley was aquired about a year into the Enesco era (with Enesco's own money), then Caithness after the management buy-out in 2006. The money for the Caithness takeover would have come from the Directors own back pockets and no-where else! So please think about that as well....it must be gut-wrenching for the Board to see their investment go to this (Many directors are there from the Royal Worcester era) as well of course for the staff. From what I hear through the grape-vine (I know a few people who work for Dartington) the company itself is going very well at present and the factory are very busy as well but Caithness had become a bit of an weight around its neck, much like Royal Brierley had which is why the factory at Dudley was closed in July this year.

Another reason with regards to tourism is the major decline in the number of coaches, this market is essential to many similar businesses and will have effected Caithness alot (more than Dartington which relies on Familys etc more)

Offline Simone

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #17 on: November 17, 2007, 04:06:12 PM »
From what I hear through the grape-vine (I know a few people who work for Dartington) the company itself is going very well at present and the factory are very busy...
We'll see if Dartington survive the next 12 months catering to the lower-end gift market.

The lampwork weights sold extremely well, as we all know, and far better than the previous few years.

It's just a shame the directors don't understand the paperweight market, nor the collectors. Otherwise they'd have targetted the paperweight dealers in America, who want high end weights, and also the European paperweight dealers... oh well, it's their loss!

Women and cats will do as they please,
and men and dogs should get used to the  idea.

Offline twenty_zero_six

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #18 on: November 17, 2007, 04:31:22 PM »
I was talking about the Dartington factory and not the Caithness factory, and I wouldnt say Dartington is low-end, the high end Crystal is some of the best there is. They do have cheaper glassware as well of course, but Dartington is very much high-end tableware. I do fear for the future of the Caithness brand with you however, I can see them concentrating on making Unlimited collections (for everyday budgets) and more 'modern' lines like the latest Sarah Peterson ranges - (im not sure how the die-hard Caithness devotes have found them but I think they are fresh, interesting and modern). Caithness is a modern contempoary brand like Dartington is so this makes sense. I can see Dartington trying to merge Caithness's products to fit its own - i.e more art glass with lots of vibrant colours. Hopefully Caithness can find itself a new 'niche' in the market and grow for the future.

Offline Frank

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Re: Caithness news
« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2007, 08:59:47 PM »
It is good to get your input in this discussion Stephen. Yes I do see the problems Dartington face too, although with managing Scotland's Glass I find it unfortunate that I live to see an end to the story of Scottish Glass tradition.

In cataloguing the work of Caithness, much of my effort is on the gift trade part which is the greatest in numbers of models produced. The techniques used are the simplest and while they do have a following it is much less so than the higher end. Surely in commercial terms it is better to transfer such work overseas to remain competitive in the low end gift trade. Burn's Crystal have managed survival and import all of their blanks. Outsourcing ocerseas is always an emotional issue but if it can maintain a business viability - then some people keep their jobs.

The UK has always excelled commercially but never had the success of the US, which I believe is very much about the difference in attitude of the workers. The UK has always managed to maintain its position through the talents of individual - both working on their own and working for companies. Paperweights were brought back onto the modern map partly through Scottish enterprise and one man's passion, it was he that gave the push to Caithness to start producing paperweights. The original purpose of Caithness Glass being to bring employment to rural Scotland. It was the success of Domhnall Ó Broin and Charles Orr designs that made Caithness a success. Colin Terris built on that foundation to complete its success and introduce weight making. There is much in that design portfolio that could still be exploited to great effect. But the most recently active weightmakers, lampworkers, cutters and designers have created paperweights that are in a world class yet never marketed as the art they were.

Paul Stankard's work fetches remarkable sums straight from his studio today and Caithness certainly had people capable of working in his class. It is realistic to develop in that end of the market but in the UK the artist entrepreneur is fairly rare in comparison to the US, but the UK could create teams of marketeers and designers that could enter this lucrative market. Caithness still has the infrastructure to achieve this, it must be worth exploring. It is the larger dealerships in paperweights that should be involved in these discussion, not just the US.

But there is a fundamental issue that really matters here, without an outlet for skilled glassworkers within the UK those craft skills will die out and the UK will suffer in the long term as designers will not have access to the knowledge needed for effective glass design. Shareholders and investors are primarily concerned with short term gain, long term stability being desirable but a first victim at times of stress. I am sure, Stephen, that without your family efforts Nazeing would have been absorbed and spat out long ago - it is only a family that will invest in the long term today and that is sad. Perhaps a different approach to investing or company finance is the way to overcome these external fluctuations, a bit outside my sphere. Certainly it will be sad to see the end of factory hand-glass production and I for one hope it does not come to pass.

General note for visitors: Glass production is an expensive business, glass requiring a lot of energy to keep at the working temperature and the selling price has to cover energy that and the workers salaries. You cannot turn the pot off if orders do not meet your capacity, likewise you need a capacity that will meet sales orders in a reasonable time frame. With today's energy costs and wage levels this is a complex balancing act and the responsibility of management. Get it right and profits are feasible, screw it and you lose money. Britain also has a history of low expenditure, per capita, on glass production and profit levels of glass production are not very high. But the value of the exports has usually been important as well as the respect that UK glass has had for quality.

I quote here from a 1947 report on hand made glass in the UK that is probably reasonably comparable to today apart from the percentage of costs to wages and energy. Courtesy the Glass-study

Quote
The hand-blown section of the glass industry in Britain is very small when measured financially. If the money value of turnover or of capital employed is used as the yardstick, the eight companies (of which two are “public” and six are “private”) are together no larger than any one of many companies in other industries. All the businesses are old established, and it is certain that in no firm does the balance sheet set a value on the chief asset, i.e., the world-wide high reputation of English Hand-Blown Crystal Glass, or what in financial parlance is known as “goodwill.”

It is, however, of the utmost importance that this hard won asset should be preserved and, indeed, fostered and developed for the benefit of the country as well as for all engaged in the industry.

It is probably true to say that in no other industry is the family business more predominant, for even the two public companies have this characteristic to a certain degree.

The family element is less obvious today but probaby more important as far as survival is concerned.

Quote
Employer and employee vividly remember what has already happened when the market was flooded with glassware of good quality produced in Central Europe under conditions which would not be tolerated here. The industry must, therefore, first be assured that it will be protected from this form of competition.

There are many such comparisons made today! And no chance or protection through tariffs.

Quote
In 1936, about half the hand-blown section of the industry made a profit of not over 4 per cent. on sales turnover.

In 1937, 16 firms representing about 80 per cent. by volume of this section showed an average net profit on sales of 4.57 per cent. Nine of the firms made an average profit of 8.62 per cent., and the other seven an average loss of 3.02 per cent.

In 1938, 16 firms representing about 80 per cent. by volume of the industry showed an average loss of 3.59 per cent., six showing a profit of 4.53 per cent. and ten a loss of 13.44 per cent.

In 1939, 21 firms representing about 90 per cent. by volume of the industry made an average profit of 1.74 per cent., nine showing a profit of 8.84 per cent. and twelve a loss of 9.65 per cent.

In 1940, 22 firms representing about 90 per cent. by volume of the industry showed an average profit of 5.05 per cent., twelve showing a profit of 10.04 per cent. and ten a loss of 7.96 per cent.

The fortunes varied a lot with swings between profit and profitability - with today's high costs such swings can be more destructive.

One thing that would make a difference is that if everyone reading this detrmine each year to buy at least 6 items of hand-made glassware produced in their own country in addition to their usual buys AND encouraged other collectors to do the same - these problems in the glass industry are not unique to the UK.

 

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