Interview with Secretary Richard Peck, Royal Warrant Holders Association, about sustainability, quality and how the Royal Warrant changed
September 1, 2015
The Royal Warrant Holders Association is a stone throw away from Buckingham Palace. There many of my British ideas were confirmed. My decent British shoes made and purchased at Crockett & Jones in Northampton days ago were introduced appropriately to the world. The black front door, the heavy carpet and a female assistant secretary who reminds me of Miss Moneypenny transferred me into the world of James Bond. In the conference room there were pictures of Her Majesty and the heir to the throne on the walls, furthermore medals and a chandelier on the ceiling.
On the upper floor I did not meet M, but Richard Peck, the secretary of the Association. Richard Peck is a polite gentleman with golden handcuffs and seal ring with whom I chatted about submarines and Burberry trench coats. He was a submarine commander in former times and my knowledge about submarine types run out soon.
We had a very nice and entertaining conversation in which my impression was confirmed that the Royal Warrant Holders are very humble. I was deeply impressed as Nicolas Lobb told me „it is such a privilege to ship abroad“ and I had to realize again that his company has been making the best full bespoke shoes in the world for the last 150 years. Richard Peck is very proud of these stories and his eyes were shining (which I am able to understand now). He told me about a family business which builds horse-drawn carriages entirely without plans.
Secretary Peck, the Royal Warrant is not limited to UK based companies?
That is correct. It is not. For example, Volkswagen and Procter & Gamble hold a Royal Warrant. But predominantly Royal Warrant Holders are British companies.
On Maundy Thursday I shortly saw Her Majesty and her Bentley car in Sheffield.
That is an interesting thing. Rolls Royce used to have the Royal Warrant, now it is Volkswagen with the Bentley. Actually, the Royal family uses many cars. Volkswagen invests a lot of money in the United Kingdom, which is absolutely fantastic. These car companies start to wake up to the fact that the oil is running out. There is a British company experimenting with cooked oil to produce bio diesel and aviation fuel. Although the owner told me his heart sunk a bit when a potential oil field near Sussex was discovered, there is no doubt that the future is innovation and sustainability.
In general, does the production have to take place in the United Kingdom?
Not officially, but this becomes increasingly a requirement in practice. The Prince of Wales (remark MIF: Prince Charles) is a big supporter.
Which role does sustainability play in the application and review process?
It is a very strong element. There is quite a range of review processes. The Prince of Wales is a keen advocate of environmental issues. Three years ago all the Royal Warrant Holders had to undergo this environmental audit. It is everything: It is looking at their carbon footprint, it is looking at their suppliers and sustainability of use of resources. Overseas they are looking at the working conditions for those involved in the production. Especially in third world countries the audit makes sure everything is ethical.
How is the review carried out?
The review is carried out by a non-for profit organization called „Business in the Community“. Basically, it is an online audit with questions in different areas. Additionally the environmental policies have to be sent in. The companies are very straightforward in answering the critical issues. If there are areas where the auditors need more information, they will go visiting the companies. But in fact, the Palace has just started to take on some specific environmental people so that they can be more involved in looking at companies.
When did this emphasis start?
Increasingly so the last five years.
How many companies have been granted the Royal Warrant?
As Queen Victoria died, there were 2000. Nowadays, there are 800 and the number is pretty steady. Last year we had 80 applications, 20 were granted. It is not as easy to get the Royal Warrant as it used to be. They are tightening up a bit.
How do granted companies perceive themselves? I was quite impressed about their mindset.
They consider it a huge honour to be granted a Royal Warrant. You are very right, these companies are quite humble (appears to be very proud). The Royal Warrant is a sign of recognition that there is a satisfactory trading arrangment between the company and the Royal Households. It does make a statement about these companies. Nobody would ever say they are the best, they are the ones the Royal Households prefer. The companies are terrible careful with the Royal Warrant. They do not trump it too much.
Is it possible that the Royal Warrant gets revoked, let’s say in case of misbehaviour?
It is in theory possible. It happens very rarely.
„Quality shoes last far longer“
The criteria are strict, the procedure is long, the Royals are demanding customers, prestige and sales are promising, so why do companies lose the Royal Warrant?
There are other circumstances which might result in the non-extension of a Royal Warrant. For example personal preferences change or the business declines over a period, so that is does not make sense to grant a warrant for so low business turnover. Also, a change of ownership of the company might result in a non-extension.
So there are special regulations concerning mergers and acquisitions?
In fact, companies do get acquired and they do merge. The Royal Households look at this very closely and they might suggest that the company looses the Warrant. There might be five years of business without the Warrant. There might be changed dynamics in the trade relationship, either on the preferences of the Royal Households or the way the company operates.
So there a companies with which a Royal Household deals on a regular basis and there is not a Royal Warrant granted?
Yes, there are business agreements with a lower turnover, companies in the line to be eligible to apply for one or even some personal preferences among the grantors. The Royal Warrant means that these granted companies do business with the palace, meet the strict requirements and this is officially announced.
Can you tell me which kind of shoes the Prince of Wales wore at his wedding?
(Laughs) No, I don’t know, I am afraid.
I am so much into shoes…
…actually I couldn’t tell. There are a number of shoe companies. You might allude to the article in the Times about the Prince of Wales shoes from Lobb in St. James Street which lasted over 30 years.
This is of course a mark of a quality product. It is an interesting fact, because probably those shoes have cost him less that if he had gone to a high fleet store for a pair which would have lasted him a few years and then bought another pair, another pair, another pair.
„The Royal Warrant is a statement“
I found it interesting to learn that the Royal Warrant is granted to an individual and not to a company?
Yes, it is a hangover from the old times. It is a useful process. Nowadays, it is good to have somebody to call. Nobody always performs perfectly, but the question is how quick you are fixing things.
What kind of companies hold the Royal Warrant?
The companies are incredibly diverse. In the last years there is an interesting shift towards high tech, for example a helicopter company holds the Royal Warrant. There are big companies, such as Burberry, Procter & Gamble and Volkswagen and small ones. John Lobb has been producing shoes for 150 years.
A very lovely example is a British family business, a father and a son with three employed people. The father is able to build a horse drawn-carriage without any plans at all (gets excited). He builds it from eye. He got it in his head and builds it. There is a perfect dimension for width between the front wheels in relation to the back wheels. You have to reduce resistance for horse-drawn carriages. He does everything in his head. It is quite extraordinary.
Is there some common feature most of the Royal Warrant Holders have?
Most of them are rather small, often owner managed. They strive to innovation and have visions. They have real passion. There is huge enthusiasm among them.
What kind of impact does a Royal Warrant have on consumer behaviour?
The Royal Warrant indeed usually brings a big boost in sales, particularly in the export market. A Royal Warrant does not mean that the company, which got granted it, is the best. Nevertheless a Royal Warrant is a statement. In the Far East there is no question that the Royal Warrant has a huge impact. For example in China, people understand that the Royals want the best.
Apart from the prestige and the sales, in modern times, is the Royal Warrant still relevant in times of newspapers, magazines and the internet?
I would argue that the Royal Warrant has considerable influence to progression. These companies really strive to stay ahead of the game. They got to, otherwise they lose it. You can only stay ahead of the game by innovation. I mean innovation in a broader sense, not only the products, also the workforce and working processes. There is a lot to learn from.
The small family business I told you before has a fascinating contrast. The son just learned how to build a horse-drawn carriage without plan and now also experiments additionally with computers: Skills used 400 to 500 years ago, at the same time latest equipment. And it is the same in textile, there are many textile companies holding a Royal Warrant. They also combine traditional and very high tech ways of production.
What does the Royal Warrant Holders Association do?
The Royal Warrant Holders Association handles everything connected with the Royal Warrant. We are governed by Council. We act as an interface between the Royal Households and the companies. Of course the Royal Households act directly with them, but the Palace can not do everything. It is doubtful whether the Warrant would still exist without the existence of this membership organization.
Do companies have to pay much for the Royal Warrant?
I would say no. The Royal Warrant can’t be bought. They only have to pay an affordable subscription fee to the Royal Warrant Holders Association, which carries out related administrative work. It is not expensive, the fee is connected to the companies turnover. They get value for money.
What is the latest trend?
The Royal Warrant Holders Assocation organizes exchange between the companies to improve youth employment and apprenticeships. We further work on the whole environmental and sustainability issues and deal with them much more. The companies can exchange best practices and learn from each other.
Sir, thank you very much for seeing me.
Not at all, not at all.
After we exchanged some polite words about the astonishingly good British weather, the female assistant secretary accompanied me to the front door. I skipped a Bond like joke and enjoyed a lovely British beer in a pub next to the Justice department. Heaven approves one more day, I found a lucky penny on my way to the pub.
The interview took place on April 13, 2015 in London. Men’s Individual Fashions thanks the Royal Warrant Holders Association. We also thank John Lobb and Gieves & Hawkes for granting photo permissions.
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