A heritage brand is a company that has been around for decades, or perhaps even centuries, and taps into its successful history to establish customer loyalty and to generate sales. The ever-present challenge for these brands is how to continue to satisfy and exceed the expectations of their customers in a fast-moving world, when they were initially established a century or more ago. Suffolk has its fair share of successful heritage brands, and here we list a few. These businesses have remained well-loved by consumers because they continue to innovate, update their business models, and deploy their heritage as a marketing aid to speak to their audiences.
Adnams first began brewing beer in 1872, reviving a piece of Southwold history – beer has been brewed on the same site since 1345. Adnams draw inspiration from this long and rich history to maintain a sense of heritage. For example, in 1970, they revived the tradition of delivering beer to six pubs near their brewery by horse-drawn dray in what became a familiar sight to locals until Adnams retired their horses in 2006. Many of their beers, ciders and spirits are named to commemorate local events and places, such as Adnams Broadside, which commemorates the battle of Sole Bay in 1672 off the Southwold coast, just across the green from their brewery.
This sense of local pride extends into their charitable efforts, with the Adnams Charity being established in 1990 to celebrate their centenary as a public company. In addition, a percentage of their annual profits go towards supporting charitable causes within a 25-mile radius of Southwold. The main challenge for Adnams came from extending their appeal to a new audience and separate themselves from an old-fashioned image that appealed to loyal customers, but failed to attract a younger market. Their customer base now encompasses far more women and young people, and Adnams are well-known for their gins, vodkas and low-alcohol beer as well as traditional pints.
Adnams are conscious of the balance between drawing on their heritage and looking to the future, being ahead of the environmental curve by brewing the UK’s first carbon neutral beer, East Green, in 2008. Andy Wood, CEO, said to the Eastern Daily Press in 2019 that, “The little guys can out-localise us and the big guys can out-market us, so we have got to have a really clear story, a really clear brand proposition.”
As their tagline, ‘Garden Inspiration since 1897’, implies, Notcutts are a successful chain of garden centres that take great pride in their heritage. The original Notcutts was one of the first purpose-built garden centres in the UK, established in Woodbridge as ‘R.C. Notcutt’. It is in part due to business innovators like Charles Notcutt that the garden centre industry remains popular and thriving today. This came down to the philosophy that garden centres weren’t just places to buy plants, but also a destination where families could spend time together and a source of inspiration for gardeners of all abilities.
A testament to their care for the natural world, they have been highly successful in flower shows – between 1914 and 2008, Notcutts enjoyed 50 Gold Medal wins at RHS Chelsea. The core values of Notcutts are Passion, Inspiration, and Expertise, which have been upheld across generations of the Notcutt family, and as part of their future-facing and responsible ethos, they reduce and recycle our waste (including packaging) wherever possible and seek to minimise the environmental impact of getting products to their garden centres.
Their new brand identity and proposition was brought to life in 2018 with a family representative on hand to ensure that the tone reflected the business’s values. The logo icon is based on a plant that was cultivated by a member of the Notcutt family in the early days of the company, providing both a unique symbol and an indication of the long history of the business. Notcutts continue to ensure they are at the forefront of their sector, having launched their e-commerce website in 2010 and bringing thousands of products to an even greater audience of internet shoppers.
Glasswells was established in 1946 in Bury St Edmunds, and maintains its status as the largest family-run home furnishings company in East Anglia. The grandson of the original founder still runs the business, and as stated on their website, they are proud of their heritage and apply everything they have learnt over the years to offer a special shopping experience that is second to none. Their distinctive proposition is in their personal aspect and being a business that is service orientated, with many of their products being bespoke and available to order.
Speaking to Furniture News following a £1 million refurbishment of the Bury St Edmunds store, Managing Director Paul Glasswell said, “We are a forward-thinking company and I understand how important it is to move with the times and embrace change… Our ethos of offering the widest choice, at the best value, with the highest customer service remains the same.” Their flagship store in Bury St Edmunds contains a restaurant, ‘The Place to Eat’, and a design centre, making them a destination rather than just a store. Their second large premises is situated in Ipswich, along with shops in Haverhill and Saffron Walden, and a discount furniture outlet in Sudbury.
As with many businesses, the rise in online retail has been a challenge for Glasswells, but their website serves as a shop window to encourage customers to visit their nearest branch and get the experience of shopping in-store. In addition, as of 2018, they employed around 280 local people across their retail stores, commercial interiors group, warehousing and removals, creating opportunities within the local community.
As mentioned in our East Anglian brands ‘Before and After’ piece, the leading pub retailer and brewer Greene King was set up by Benjamin Greene in 1799. Greene King runs over 2,700 pubs, restaurants and hotels from their headquarters in Bury St Edmunds. To showcase their heritage and promote a sense of history within their establishments, most Greene King pubs contain a timeline that charts the different owners of the pub throughout time. The Greene King brand incorporates other well-known British chains that use their heritage and traditional themes, such as Old English Inns, Farmhouse Inns, and Belhaven, one of Scotland’s oldest and largest regional breweries. Maintaining the position of pubs as the heart of local communities, Greene King support Pub is the Hub’s Community Services Fund to help rural pubs that want to branch out and offer new services for the benefit of their communities such as opening a library or butcher’s shop for example. Not only do Greene King cultivate a reputation as a traditional pub firm, but they are also making strides towards environmentally friendly business practices. They have converted all the lighting in their pubs, restaurants and hotels to low energy LED bulbs, and over 570 of their sites divert more than 80% of their waste from landfill. In addition, their focus on future sustainability extends to their workforce - January 2019 saw the launch of The Stepping Up Report, setting out five goals to encourage higher social mobility within the hospitality sector.
To be successful in the modern world where we are becoming increasingly brand conscious and globalised, it is essential for heritage brands to tell a story that is relevant to the 21st century, integrating past and present into their point of view and appealing to consumers. This is the beginning of a series to shine a spotlight on East Anglian businesses in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex - next, we will be exploring Essex heritage brands.