Smallcombe Clocks & Lights

All businesses go through change but when this includes the processes used to sell your products, professional design, coupled with strategic input become important requirements.


 As Smallcombe Clocks & Lights discovered, it can also be the catalyst for even greater business success.

Key IssuesResults
  • A change in business focus requiring a more professional approach to marketing
  • Introduction of on-line trading
  • A new communications to fit in a modern age whilst retaining all the key elements of a traditional company with traditional values
  • Greater awareness in the market place
  • More clearly focused direct marketing activities
  • Increased sales


Business: Smallcombe Clocks & Lights
Design Company: Page Media Group PLC
Employees: 10
Founded: 1974
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Business Background

Starting out as a small family concern back in 1974, designing and manufacturing a range of Grandfather clocks, the company grew to such a point that by the mid 80’s almost every major department store and mail order company in the UK were selling Smallcombe clocks, introducing new products such as mantel shelf clocks, along the way.

Although their reputation for
quality, craftsmanship and design were without question, the competitiveness of the market – particularly from overseas manufacturers – was making it difficult for them to increase their profitability.

In 1993, they acquired a retail unit
at the Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock and started selling both their own range of clocks and models sourced from overseas suppliers.

By 1996, they had all but pulled out of the wholesale market and manufacturing, concentrating on retail through their Lakeside shop.

They also embarked upon selling their products through mail order and “off-the-page” advertising with advertisements appearing in the national press.

Less turnover but greater profit – an approach that remains today.

Identifying the need for design

The mail order business had been going well, supplemented by national advertising. Despite this success, Managing Director Ray Smallcombe knew that a more strategic approach was needed and that meant professional design. Ray takes
up the story;

“Things were going well but I realised we needed to move the business on. Up until then, it had more or less “evolved” into what it was. It was clear that we needed a holistic approach to the way we marketed ourselves both strategically and practically”

Ray, a long time fan of Business Link
for Essex, was working with one of their business advisers, who introduce a design management adviser to review their promotional literature. This proved to be the catalyst to move things forward.

Design management

The design management adviser assisted Smallcombe to consider the
management of different aspects of design, they were taken through the basic issues involved in undertaking a successful design project.

Develop an outline design brief
Ray and his team were taken through a process to develop an effective design project, the initial outcome being the creation of an outline design brief although the process itself was an important part.

Strategic review
The business strategy was reviewed, particularly in relation to its objectives
and this was used to develop a design strategy, thinking through the personality of the company and products, the target market and how it would differentiate itself from its competitors.

Identifying the competitive edge
Discussions took place with The company to draw out distinctive differences that would enable a designer to develop promotional material that truly represented the company, clearly demonstrating its competitive edge. The outline design brief brought these together with the scope of the project, which identified the specific items to be designed.

Designer shortlist
Once this brief had been developed a short list of appropriate designers was identified. Each was given the brief prior to attending a credentials pitch, an appointment where the designers present their portfolio of work, hear about the client’s business and discuss the project.

The designers were then asked to put together a costed proposal, which described the approach they would take to the project.

Commence the design project
The design project then began with
a meeting with the selected design company, Page Media Group PLC,
to agree in detail the brief for the project, to discuss alternatives and options, budgets and timescales and clarify the roles and what would be expected from the client.

For Smallcombe Clocks, the requirement extended way beyond design. They were all too aware of their limitations in developing the mail order side of the business and required a company to provide advice on how to develop their database and increase their business from such activity.

They were also keen to introduce
on-line trading, something they
knew very little about but a factor that was playing an ever important role in their market place.

Page Media Group PLC devised such a strategy, creating a content managed website enabling Ray and his staff to update the site easily, together with online trading facilities. This was coupled with a mailing and advertising strategy, refining the mailing lists they already had and ensuring that they had maximum advertising exposure for the budget available.

This was all brought together with the design of new promotional literature, advertising and a website, portraying the business in a manner appropriate to their market, retaining a sense of the traditional but in a modern style, enhancing of the qualities of the business that had previously helped them achieve success. Central to this, was the design of an extensive product catalogue that was mailed to over 7,000 recipients.

The results

As Smallcombe’s marketing activities have continued to evolve, so their sales and profitability continue to increase. A piece of direct mail launched late in 2004, selling one particular model of clock, was their most successful to date. Web sales are on the up and their position in the market place, strengthened.

Of late, the strategy has expanded to draw more people into their Lakeside shop – a strategy that’s already working and with a new incentive programme due to be rolled out throughout 2005, the future looks distinctly bright for Smallcombe.

They SayWe Say
Think beyond simply design Design is a management process. It’s part of what makes your business unique and something that can be controlled as a business activity rather than simply a business requirement. With Smallcombe, it also had a direct influence on sales. Take time to consider its impact across all your activities and make sure the design company you use understands this too.
Demand much from your designers but keep a watching brief. Design is a two-way process requiring feedback and frank exchange of ideas between client and the designers. When you mix strategic services into the process, then even greater care is needed. Never be afraid to challenge proposals and never lose sight that it’s your business.
It pays to be professional As part of the management process, design should be viewed as an investment – not a cost. Skimp on budgets and it will come back to bite! There’s a great many excellent designers out there so use them.
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