Do you think that we manufacture fewer or more goods in this country than we did 30 years ago? If you think it’s less then you’re not alone; in a recent YouGov poll three quarters of the 2,000 adults surveyed believed that UK manufacturing was lower than it was three decades ago. But in reality our output now is actually 25% up on the production levels of the early eighties and it’s continuing to rise. If you thought British manufacturing was dead, think again. According to Katja Hall, Deputy Director-General of the CBI, ‘demand for British-made goods remains buoyant…and firms have high hopes for the coming quarter’.
A ‘Made in Britain’ label on products certainly seems to have a positive effect on many companies’ order books as Cressida Grainger from Mathmos, a British brand founded in 1963 by the inventor of the lava lamp, testifies: “Made in Britain is short hand to the consumer that Mathmos lava lamps have a strong heritage and are of excellent quality. It is central for us in separating our products out from the all others. Our British-made lava lamp sales are up by 25% since we started emphasising their Made in Britain credentials’.
The demand for British-made goods is particularly high from overseas, where the perceived quality and craftsmanship of our home grown products is held in high esteem. Daliah Simble, head of sourcing and production at Roland Mouret, a womenswear brand that sources 70% of its production locally, tells me: “Made in Britain means artisanship and quality worldwide. BRIC buyers don’t want Chinese made products”.
But what about British consumers? Does a ‘Made in Britain’ label matter to them too? According to the YouGov poll which was carried out this year for the EEF, The Manufacturers Organisation, yes it does. Seven out of ten respondents said that they prefer to buy goods that have been made in Britain. Women in particular say that buying British is important to them, with 75% agreeing that they would buy UK-made goods over those made abroad, compared to 71% of men.
Independent research carried out by Make it British in 2013 concurred with these findings. It also established that many people were willing to pay more to buy British, particular the older generation. Superior quality, support for the UK economy, and job creation were the main reasons cited for their choice.
Whilst the creation of jobs is a very good reason for buying British-made goods, in reality one of the biggest challenges that many of the manufacturers in this country face is how to attract people into those jobs and train them up into a skilled workforce. Industry bodies such as Creative Skillset do a great job in implementing apprenticeship programmes, but passing on skills to a new generation can take time. In sectors such as fashion, which was one of the first industries to be hit by production going offshore in search of cheaper labour, much of the workforce is nearing retirement age, and there are only a few years left in which to train up the younger generation in order to meet the growing demand for UK production.
Much of this growing demand is coming from companies reshoring their production from overseas. According to the Manufacturing Advisory Service, one in nine SMEs reshored work in the past year, with the top reasons for doing so being to reduce cost, improve quality and shorten lead times. Bhav Mandalia, sales director at Fashionwear Manufacturers, a Leicester based clothing company, cites customer demand as the main reason that they recently re-opened a production line in the UK again after years of making in Tunisia. ‘We supply a lot of the big High Street retailers and need to be able to offer them the choice of where their goods are made. A ‘Made in Britain’ label is now becoming much more important to them again’.
So how could your business benefit if the rise in demand for ‘Made in Britain’ continues? If the current trend is anything to go by, then many UK businesses might want to re-think their sourcing strategy, if they haven’t done so yet. And those firms that are already making in the UK might want to ensure that they are shouting loudly enough about their brand’s ‘Made in Britain’ credentials.