Business structure, business culture, and the industrial district : The Potteries, c.1850-1900
This study examines the growth and development of the North Staffordshire pottery industry in the second half of the nineteenth century. The pottery industry of the late nineteenth century has been little studied by business historians and this thesis makes a valuable contribution to our empirical knowledge of the industry. Response to change and competitive challenge is examined at the level of the firm and of the industry as a whole, with careful attention paid to the evolution and operation of localized business networks. A framework within which to explore these issues is developed by, firstly, considering how theories of business strategy, business culture, and the industrial district may be used to inform one another. Secondly, the business structure of the pottery industry in North Staffordshire is reconstructed for the period c. 1860-1900. The structural characteristics thus revealed are related to the organizational structures of firms in the Potteries. The industry was characterized by many competing small and medium-sized units and personal capitalism throughout the period. Strategic responses to increased competition and falling prices evolved very gradually and remained incomplete at the close of the period. Mechanization had barely commenced in 1870 and in 1914 many tasks within the industry were still carried out by highly skilled workers. The resource bases of the majority of firms thus complemented an emphasis in marketing strategies on wide product ranges and high quality goods. A detailed examination of such strategies is provided by a case study of the illustrious firm of Mintons Ltd. However, increasing external and internal competition rendered the effectiveness of this combination of strategies increasingly uncertain and from the late 1870s the industry was pervaded by a sense of crisis. In considering the causes of crisis contemporary opinion focused increasingly on the industry as a whole, and in particular on the structure of the industry, and on inter-firm relations within the industry and district. Patterns of integration within the industry are reconstructed, and change in those patterns outlined. It is shown that the behaviour of many firms in the Potteries became increasingly opportunistic at this time. Some of the external pressure for strategic or structural change was met not by change within the firm but by exploiting the responsiveness and flexibility of the district as a whole. However, some large firms were attempting to develop more innovative strategies and organizational structures, and it was such firms which attempted to build organizations representative of the interests of the business community in the Potteries. The failure of these attempts allows for further examination of business culture at the level of the industry and district.