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Our Passion – Lessons of History

At Belgrave, we’re often asked about the graphic style of our website, as well as the art that adorns our walls. They reflect an appreciation for how the world has, since the beginning of recorded history, conducted business between countries and peoples – especially the last five centuries of trade between the West and East.

That is evident in our business and its connections to the international commercial life of Charlotte, through clientele representing medical, professional and cultural interests. The story of brand involves art, commerce, manufacturing and international trade. Enduring connections between cultures and communities is a lesson in the way history interweaves and echoes familiar themes in centuries past that continue in the new century.

Americans first engaged directly with Asian trade in 1784, when The Grand Turk sailed from New York to Canton bringing luxury goods directly to American people. Those early entrepreneurs knew that marketing flows from keen objectives, understanding target markets, identifying and fulfilling those needs, and leveraging integrated marketing and satisfying customers to reach desired profitability. Though marketing channels can be diverse, core marketing strategies remain constant. They are scientific, not serendipitous.

The art with which we surround ourselves helps us hear the past as we help clients position themselves for the future in Charlotte’s increasingly global community.

1. Target Markets

Targeting is everything in marketing. European merchants sought the quickest routes to goods around the world to satisfy market demands, while finding foreign markets for local goods in exchange. This required them to conduct business in foreign ports, promoting their clients’ products while acquiring luxury goods for high-end markets and filling the holds of ships with merchandise that could be easily sold to a broader market back home.

Merchants needed to be aware of every level of the societal market. Although tea and silk were the primary exports sought by American and European merchants of Asian traders, porcelain could be ordered and manufactured to market tastes. Forms used only in one culture would be made for that market, while specific designs were decorated to appeal to smaller markets: armorials for landed gentry and royalty, religious motifs for various churches or synagogues, and floral or pictorial scenes for a general market.

2. Customer Needs

Tea, silk, lacquer and porcelain were among the luxury commodities developed in China and exported to the West. These goods were exotic and unknown in Europe until they were introduced by merchant traders beginning in the 16th century. Every merchant was challenged to produce or acquire a unique product, ways to protect the secrets of its manufacture, methods to advertise and increase sales, and ways to second-guess the market.

The first Western merchants to arrive in Asia acquired what was already being produced – mainly porcelains, lacquers, silks and gems made for the southeast Asian clients that reflected their tastes. But clients seek the personal: a coat of arms that spoke of their status, or a special design that reflected their family, business or passions. Chinese craftsmen quickly and efficiently responded.

3. Integrated Marketing

Marketing is generally thought of as product, price, place, promotion – the 4 P’s. Asian porcelain was made using a white clay body called kaolin, a material the Europeans could not replicate, and therefore was unavailable elsewhere. Goods were inexpensive in foreign ports, but as luxury goods demanded high prices in the West. Companies sold most goods at auctions dockside. Marketing was the key ~ ordering what one knew would sell, arriving before other ships would flood the market. Savvy advertising.

Asian merchants responded quickly to changes in taste, trends and requirements for individuals, countries, organizations in the West and around the world. Imagery was paramount: it had to say instantly what the customer was trying to express. This may take the form of armorial devices, religious or political scenes, or organizational emblems. These were provided by the customer and expertly modified by Asian merchants to satisfy customer demand, and then promoted just as astutely by Western merchants in their intended home markets.

4. Profit through Satisfaction

A monopoly existed in the production of Chinese goods, and every means possible was used to protect the secrets of their production. The worldwide desire for these created a chain of supply and a management style that was the envy of all other countries. Chinese merchants were masters at responding to market demands, just as Western merchants struggled to capitalize on fluctuating markets at home. While a single ship might take months to complete a voyage from its home port to Asia and back, communications were kept current by obtaining and forwarding information to clients and businesses through letters passed from ship to ship.

End of Story

Speed to market is a crucial component of success. The first ship with a cargo of coffee or spices could corner a market before it was flooded by subsequent arrivals; the first to respond to a change in market demands could meet those demands before others or before the fickle market changed again. Porcelain, made only in China since the eighth century, was not able to be produced in Europe until the early 18th century. After that, the market for Chinese porcelain began its decline.

All products, styles and trends have a lifespan. The trick is staying relevant and ahead of the competition.

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View these Chinese Porcelain pages for details about how Asian art portrays lessons still relevant today.