What makes Belling special? On the eve of the brand’s centenary celebrations, Belling chief executive, Denver Hewlett told Anna Ryland what gives the brand its staying power and a unique place in the UK market.
Since 1912, Belling has played a key role in cooking history in Britain – from launching the first slot-in cooker and the first fully enamelled appliance, to patenting glass oven doors; creating the first fan oven and making induction technology available to the mass market.
“In my opinion, the most important development for Belling since 1992, when the GDHA Group purchased the Belling brand from receivership, was the launch of the Belling Cookcenter in 1997 which followed Belling’s entry into the range cooker sector with the Farmhouse cooker in 1994,” said Denver Hewlett, chief executive of Belling. “It transformed Belling from being an OK company to a unique one in the market. This product had many novel features, including a work burner on the hob. It was a ‘serious’ range cooker with four ovens, a six burner hob and great looks. It gave us confidence for the future – it transformed our business as it also was a commercial success.
“The group always looked to acquire great brands which have fallen on hard times. Belling was one of them: its heritage was great, its products were unique. Belling was the first venture of the Group into the major domestic appliances. During the 1980s and 1990s regional electricity companies were selling electric cookers but when they stopped doing this, cooker manufacturers didn’t capitalize on this opportunity straight away. We spotted the gap in the market.
“The current market situation is difficult for everyone. In 2011, the overall cooker market was down by 7% but I am an optimist and I believe that 93% of the market is still there for us to try to get a fair share of it. I also think that the lesson all manufacturers should have taken from the recession is: don’t chase volume.”
Made in Britain
“Bringing the majority of our product manufacturing back to the UK has also played a vital role in strengthening the brand. Less than five years ago more than 50% of products were made abroad and now 90% are made in Prescot.
“We have interviewed 1,000 people last year about manufacturing in Britain. About 50% respondents didn’t know which products were made in Britain. 66% were in favour of a mark that would indicate which products are manufactured in Britain. Therefore we started promoting the Made in Britain ethos with various business communities and with politicians. There are now 350 companies in the Made in Britain Scheme.
“However for me the scheme is not only about incentivising consumers to buy British. If we are making good products, well designed and at a competitive price – we should be able to compete with other manufactures. The Made in Britain logo is only an additional bonus. I would like to think that if the customer compares two similarly specified products, the Made in Britain mark may be that tipping point. I was surprised with the positive feedback we got from different countries where our products are exported. In these countries Made in Britain is synonymous with high quality. This year, with the Olympics and the Queen Diamond Jubilee, Britain has a high profile in the world and this is going to benefit us.”
The way ahead
“In the future, we will continue what Belling has always done: brining out product innovations to the market. Moreover, customer care has always been our top priority: three times in a row we won the D&G TEQ Awards (Total Excellence and Quality Awards) in the white goods manufacturer category – and this shows the consistency of our customer care policy. And we will continue with this as well.
“In terms of new product developments, we are going to become more fashionable and adventurous with finishes and colour. When Britain emerges from the recession, people will become more confident in expressing themselves and we should respond to this trend.”
The 100 Collection
Last month, to mark its centenary year Belling has launched the 100 Collection – a range of limited edition cooking appliances. The Collection includes four freestanding ovens, four range cookers, four built-in ovens and a new-look for the iconic Baby Belling. The design of the appliances combines clean lines with a white glass finish and chrome accents to create a ‘wow’ factor. A contribution from sales of the 100 Collection will be made to Belling’s charity of the year, Anthony Nolan, which saves the lives of people with blood cancer.
“The key to Belling’s success has always been innovation, responding creatively to the needs of families and British cooks, and this has continued apace in the 20 years since Glen Dimplex UK Ltd bought the business.”