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Norfolk China Story
Don’t be fooled by the name! GA member Norfolk China offers far more than simply china. Giftwrap spoke to its director and founder Nick Guyton to find out more.
Nick Guyton’s enthusiasm for his business is palpable. He clearly loves what he does and has a real passion for the company he started some 23 years ago. Since then, he says, much has changed and Norfolk China’s focus has shifted away somewhat from British-made ceramics produced at its base just outside Norwich, to supplying a wide range of products - including not simply ceramic mugs and thimbles but also textiles, fridge magnets, pencils and pens - aimed primarily at the souvenir market.
“Our market splits right down the middle. Fifty percent of our business is with individual tourist destinations such as zoos and stately homes while the other half is producing products for independent retailers – especially those in seaside towns,” Nick explains.
The vast majority, around 90 percent, of what Norfolk China sells is personalised for each individual customer to bear either the name of a particular attraction, or in some cases simply the name of the town where the shop is based. That said it does also offer some stock ranges featuring licensed images from, amongst others, the wildlife photographer Paul James, the artist Hazel Ashley who is famous for her naive seaside scenes, and the fantasy artist Peter Pracownik. More recently it has produced mugs featuring the work of the street artist Banksy – and no, Nick doesn’t know who he actually is!
“I think one of our major selling points is that our customers don’t have to order thousands of an item to have it personalised. Our minimum orders are really quite low, for example 36 mugs or 50 tea towels, and because the personalisation is all done in-house at our premises in Norfolk, they can re-order easily and not have to wait too long for delivery,” he says.
Nick is clearly proud that, although he buys in many of the products he sells from China, he nevertheless maintains a thriving workshop employing a staff of 14 in Norfolk. Over the years the company has invested heavily in keeping this facility up-to-date and has all the latest equipment for laser cutting wood and for printing textiles although many of the processes they employ, especially the decoration of their china items, still rely on expert hand skills.
The business is very much a family affair. His father, who has a long history in the gift and home industry and previously worked for Henry Reeves, is a sales agent; his mother is in charge of ceramic production and his long-term partner is the company secretary.
The company is thriving and Nick is looking forward to strong sales over the Christmas period. So what is the secret of its success? “Hard work – I can’t bear to see a full inbox – I like to get things cleared and if necessary I’ll work weekends to do it. You’ve got to put in the hours and you’ve got to be prepared to invest. Since we started in business, technologies, especially digital technologies, have really moved on and you need to keep up-to-date. You meet people at trade shows and they are telling you all about their new Mercedes one year and the next year they’ve gone – you can’t take anything for granted,” he says.
Brexit is, of course, a case in point. Nick is he says concerned about the effect that the low pound is already having on his overseas buying which he does in dollars. That said, he is clearly a pragmatist and is also optimistic that the increased cost of foreign holidays may encourage more Brits to take a ‘staycation’ – something which could be very positive indeed for the many British seaside retailers who stock Norfolk China’s souvenirs and thus ultimately for the company itself.
THE EAST ANGLIAN GIFT FAIR
You might think that running a successful business would be challenge enough for Nick but this is clearly not the case as he is also the man behind the ‘East Anglian Gift Fair’ (www.eastangliangiftfair.co.uk) an annual trade show to be held next year from 8th -10th January at St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich.
“It’s only relatively small with 30-40 exhibitors but it is a great place for national suppliers to meet with buyers drawn mainly from Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Lincolnshire – who find it difficult to get to the major trade fairs in the Midlands and London,” he says.
The show, which is being championed by the Giftware Association, is inexpensive. Stand costs are £49 a sq. metre and this includes an electric socket as well as free tea and coffee and even a piece of cake.
“It’s really friendly and informal and because it takes place so early in the year it provides a great opportunity for buyers to see what the new season is going to bring. People also love the fact that they can shop it in a day or even half a day – they also like the cake! ” says Nick.
Nick is hopeful that GA members and readers of Giftwrap who have not previously visited the Fair will be tempted to do so this year and looks forward to meeting them there.