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April 2020 ertonline.co.uk


Q&A


The company continued with product development through two World Wars. By 1931 the Swan brand name was born and inventions around this time included the 8-30 two-slice chrome plated toaster, the Swan iron and its famous glass kettle. In 1988 Swan was acquired by French manufacturer, Moulinex, and Bulpitt & Sons (which had become a subsidiary of BSR Housewares Ltd by this time) was dissolved in 1989, more than 100 years since it was first established. British and European manufacturers were facing increasing pressure from cheaper Far East imports at this time and before long Moulinex found itself under the same pressure. The company went bankrupt in 2001 and its brand was acquired by Groupe SEB, including Krups and Tefal, while the Swan brand was sold off. Nearly the whole original Swan sales force was made redundant. Rob Wileman is now the company’s Managing Director. He started working at Swan as a Sales Assistant in 1986. “For me it was a really exciting new venture,” he tells ERT in this exclusive interview, “but the brand was already an institution, with 2,000 people working there and it produced two million kettles a year. “By the late 80s I was running the sales side of the business, which was a great opportunity as I was only about 28 or 29, but it was quite daunting. Unfortunately business became tricky around this time as the Moulinex teams in France were trying to consolidate manufacturing. Mr Wileman explains: “In the UK we like two- and four-slice toasters, but in France and Europe they only like long-slice toasters. And they wanted everything white, but Swan’s heritage is in coordinated colours and that made our proposition quite unique.


“Things were frustrating, so in 1994 I left to set up my own company importing kitchen products.” Mr Wileman spent time working for Morphy Richards before leaving to help form the Cygnet brand, bringing Swan back to life using the old Moulinex factory and enjoying great success supplying tea urns all over the world. By 2001 he was in charge of the business and was joined by former Morphy Richards colleague, Paul Simpson. They continued production, re- launched the Swan Teasmade and also introduced soup makers, ice cream makers and more grills and pans as well as moving into the MDA market with a collection of glass-fronted beer chillers.


Q: It seems the history of the brand has really made it what it is today? Rob Wileman: Absolutely. We’ve got a great brand story and it made us really independent and very determined to succeed. And that passion comes through in our team here. It’s only a team of 20 but they are focussed, they all have the same ethos and they’re proud of what they do. Our strap line reflects the heritage behind the brand and some of our most popular products are still going today, but we have so much new innovation coming through with our collections and especially our move into MDA. We are trying to diversify as well. In the States, for example, we now sell into Home Depot with all our coordinated ranges, which is quite ground- breaking for a business like ours; but we’re in Canada, South Africa and Korea and we are just about to launch in Australia.


Q: Tell me about your latest products. RW: Firstly, a massive strength of ours is coordination. We are actually the only brand in the world that coordinates MDA with SDA but also housewares like saucepans, pots and pans. So we have some great quality collectable products.


19


Swan Products Ltd was formed in 2009 and took over developing and marketing Swan under license with Littlewoods. From there the company went from strength to strength.


In 2015 Swan collaborated with radio and TV personality, Fearne Cotton, to launch an exclusive range of Instagram-worthy kitchenware and cookware called Fearne by Swan. This opened the company up to new audiences with hugely increased interest on social media, which led it to introduce further collections and also spurred the company towards more online activity to connect directly with consumers all over the world. Mr Wileman continues: “In 2017 myself and Paul approached Littlewoods about buying the Swan brand and eventually it was handed back to the original Swan employees who are passionate about its heritage, putting the future back into our hands.”


Our latest, best-selling range at the moment is the Nordic range, with a contemporary design, a soft-touch matte finish and wooden handles. It looks incredible! It’s taken off like a storm; every time we get product in it is selling out straight away! We’re so keen to get these products in store so consumers can explore the range for themselves. There is also the Gatsby range, which is a bit more ‘bling’ with the gold and black. The other big development for us is in floorcare. It’s not a product that has always been synonymous with Swan, but the Eureka Swan tie- in incorporates an American brand – very similar to Swan and a similar sort of age – and it’s actually the largest appliance manufacturer in the world that supports us to give us that exclusivity. We launched Eureka Swan around 12 months ago and we’ve sold over 25,000 products already. So it’s actually getting some good traction; the quality is great and the reviews are really good too.


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