Superbrands case studies: Royal Doulton

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume IV', May 2001. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by the independent Superbrands Council.

Case study provided by the Superbrands organisation.


Pottery and ceramics are a strong indicator of the art and lifestyle of a given age. Indeed archaeologists rely on shards of pottery fragments to establish the level of sophistication of past civilisations.

Today's consumers are more demanding and discerning than ever before.

The rise in home entertainment has been matched by the introduction of contemporary, functional tableware. At the other end of the spectrum however, the decrease in traditional family meals and rise in solo eating, TV dinners and convenience foods has seen the companies extend their casual tableware ranges.

Withstanding market fragmentation, ceramic giftware has enjoyed considerable growth -- gift-giving, home decoration and investment being the main motivations. Despite the introduction of many alternative forms of gifts, the ceramic form is sought after as offering true qualities of heritage, traditional craftsmanship and real long-lasting value for money.

The key markets worldwide for premium ceramic tableware and giftware are the UK and Continental Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and Australasia. In total the global market is estimated to be worth over £1.5 billion.


Royal Doulton is one of the world's largest manufacturers and distributors in the premium ceramic tableware and giftware market. Its illustrious brand names include Minton, Royal Albert and the core Royal Doulton brand.

With almost 200 years of heritage, Royal Doulton is a thriving global organisation, with around £200 million annual turnover, employing around 6000 people across its UK production houses and numerous distribution operations worldwide. Approximately half of Royal Doulton's sales are generated overseas.

Royal Doulton is a market leader within the ceramics and chinaware markets, around 40% of all English bone china being produced by Royal Doulton as well as almost half of the UK's ceramic sculptures.

The company's Hotel and Airline division is also the world's largest supplier of bone china to the international airlines industry. Indicative of its continuing favour, the division holds major contracts to supply chinaware to British Airways Club World and Club Europe.

Contracts are held also for Emirates and South African Airlines. All three airlines are noted for their high quality in-flight service, and Royal Doulton - aware of the need for brand differentiation - prides itself on creating contemporary ranges for each of its clients which, through the use of shape and surface designs, are uniquely distinctive.

In total, Royal Doulton produces a range of 30,000 different items across a broad range of product groups. As well as the company having provided Royal Doulton devotees with their treasured collection pieces, its Royal Albert design 'Old Country Roses' has become the world's best selling bone china tableware pattern, with over 150 million pieces having been sold since its introduction in 1962.


Royal Doulton has been producing ceramics and tableware for almost 200 years. As far back as 1815 the company founder, John Doulton, began producing practical and decorative stoneware from a small pottery in Lambeth, south London.

His son, Henry Doulton, built up the business, relocating it sixty years later to Stoke-on-Trent. By 1901 the quality of Doulton's tableware had caught the eye of King Edward V11, who permitted the company to prefix its name with 'Royal' and the company was awarded the Royal Warrant.

As Royal Doulton, the company expanded its production facilities and by the 1930s was involved in the manufacture of figurines and giftware.

Royal Doulton was awarded the Queen's Award for Technical Achievement in 1966, for its contribution to china manufacture -- the first china manufacturer to be honoured with this award.

During the 1960s and 1970s Royal Doulton discarded its drainpipe production interests and acquired Minton, which had begun china production in 1793, and Webb Corbett, a crystal manufacturer.

In 1972, Royal Doulton was bought by Pearson and merged with Allied English Potteries. The move introduced a number of key brands, including Royal Albert, founded in 1896, and also Lawley's retail chain of china and glass giftware.

In 1993, Royal Doulton was demerged from Pearson and became a publicly quoted company listed on the London Stock Exchange.


Each of Royal Doulton's principal brands -- Royal Doulton, Minton and Royal Albert -- enjoys a long association of royal patronage, and holds at least one Royal warrant. They are also trademark registered.

When drawing up new product design, Royal Doulton designers study the market, analyse consumer research and often refer to their own museum and archives for inspiration.

The Royal Doulton Archives, located at the Sir Henry Doulton Gallery, the museum of Royal Doulton in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, house a variety of material dating from 1815 to the present day. Contents include Royal Doulton Pattern Books containing over 10,000 hand-painted water-colours illustrating the talent of artists employed over the years by the Burslem Art Studio.

Apart from providing an invaluable historical record of decorative ceramic styles -- from the exquisitely gilded and delicately hand-painted cabinet and tableware of the Victorian and Edwardian era to the bright and bold angular design of the 1930s Art Deco -- this collection is an inspirational source for Royal Doulton's current Design Studio.

Today, Royal Doulton provides a wide range of domestic tableware manufactured in bone china and fine china the brand is also featured in an extensive range of crystal stemware and giftware.

Royal Doulton lists amongst its products an extensive giftware range, character jugs, china flowers and an array of collectable figurines often known as the Royal Doulton 'pretty ladies'. Some of the figurines are inspired by history and literature, for example the figure of Heathcliffe and Cathy from 'Wuthering Heights'.

For the junior members of the household, Royal Doulton also produces nurseryware, and many of these ranges are of interest to adult collectors. Its most popular collection is 'Bunnykins', while 'Brambly Hedge' giftware; the Disney collections such as 'Winnie the Pooh' have also excited and sustained much interest.

Royal Albert, which traces its origins back to 1896, has become an internationally recognised brand, offering domestic tableware and gift items. Equally famous, with an illustrious heritage, dating back to its inception in 1793, is the Minton range, best known for its most popular pattern Haddon Hall, which is particularly favoured by the Japanese market. Minton is also renowned for its intricate gold patterns, where one plate can cost £5,000. These, however are unique works of art, many of which are purchased as heirlooms. The artists at Minton also undertake special commissions.

Royal Doulton has a manufacturing capacity of around 500,000 pieces per week. Its tableware production factories are considered amongst the most advanced in the world -- a tribute to the research and development department based at Baddeley Green, Stoke-on-Trent. In addition, the company runs around 3,000 tests per week to ensure that the highest possible quality of manufacture is maintained. Royal Doulton is noted for its high standard of working practices and technology which is heralded as being among the most advanced and professional in the entire international china industry.

As the corporate ambition is to generate 50% of its sales overseas, an extensive distribution chain is required to oversee global sales and marketing. The company currently operates in over 80 different markets and has distribution companies in the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Recent developments

Royal Doulton is undergoing an important period of change in its long history as it implements a brand master-vision as a first step in repositioning the company's brands. Clarity for the position of the Royal Doulton and Royal Albert brands within the tableware and collectables marketplace has been key to the review.

The Royal Doulton brand has been segmented into five categories -- Classics, Archives, FUSiON, Café and Studio -- and identities have been created for each of the sub-brands, together with a new Royal Doulton brand logo. New global merchandising systems, in-store environments, point of sale and trade and exhibition design have all been identified as key to the repositioning.

Of course, despite significant changes in direction, Royal Doulton has continued to do what it does best -- produce top quality chinaware collections. The new ranges of casual diningware are stylish, functional and user friendly, suited to all modern appliances including dishwashers, microwaves, ovens and freezers.

The Licensing Division, created in the mid 1990s to propel the Royal Doulton brand into new product sectors, has achieved considerable success, not least the launch of 'Doulton' luxury perfume, created by Patricia Bilodeau, Senior Perfumer at Dragoco. Other categories inspired by the company's rich heritage and design include an extensive collection of decorative fabrics and furniture sold in the US market as well as teas, textiles and ties in Japan.

In the UK licensed products include, kitchen textiles, Flemish tapestries and throws, stationery, children/baby gifts and accessories.


Central to Royal Doulton's promotional and marketing activity have been the re-positioning and rationalisation of the brand and the communication of same. The introduction of everything from new logos to in-store promotional material and branded fixtures have demanded that the focus of activity be centred on the communication and effective introduction of the recent significant changes.

Royal Doulton's immediate goal is to become more global, offering greater consumer relevance through a diversity of products and an extension of its offering in contemporary creations.

At grass roots level, Royal Doulton continues to employ a variety of traditional promotional techniques ranging from trade fairs, in-store promotions, seasonal magazine and selected press advertising including supplements in bridal and lifestyle magazines.

There is also a strong and effective public relations campaign in place, which is reviewed annually.

Added to this, the visitor centre which was opened at the Royal Doulton factory, Nile Street, Burslem in 1996, is very popular. Open seven days a week, it features the world's largest public display of Royal Doulton figures, numbering over 1,500. Visitors are able to tour the factory during the week, although bookings have to be made in advance.

As an acknowledged leader in china tableware, Royal Doulton is working to maintain its unique position at the cutting edge of product development. Through building on its investments in areas such as Indonesia, Royal Doulton can maintain close control of its production and marketing throughout the world, making the most of its high brand recognition.

Brand values

Around the globe, Royal Doulton is valued for its sense of heritage and Englishness. As one of the oldest and best-recognised chinaware brands in the world, Royal Doulton has earned itself a reputation for excellence, quality and distinctiveness of design -- values which it intends to build on in order to take the brand forward in the new millennium.

Prized by collectors the world over, Royal Doulton has an international reach extending way beyond its English roots and product. To sustain its position, Royal Doulton's emphasis for future brand growth centres on its ability to focus on people, to understand its consumer base fully and then to produce products which suit individual tastes and needs.

Royal Doulton identifies its core brand values as integrity, innovation, creativity, craftsmanship and decorative skills.

Things you didn't know

  • The largest and most expensive figure made by Royal Doulton takes more than 160 hours to hand paint and costs over £14,000.

  • Royal Doulton was the first china to enter space. China plates were carried on the inaugural flight of the space shuttle 'Discovery' in 1984.

  • Royal Doulton ceramics are included in a time capsule inside the base of Cleopatra's Needle on the Thames Embankment in London.

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd