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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
The brands that time forgot

By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online business reporter

Abigail's Party
They did things differently then
What does a company do when its products are stuck in a timewarp?

And not just any old timewarp, but the 1970s - the taste-free era of sideburns, kipper ties and the three day week.

Silentnight, the company which makes Parker Knoll furniture, was last week forced to cut 800 jobs and close two factories after years of falling sales.

The company blamed cheap foreign imports and under-investment.

But the real problem, as chief executive Nino Allenza admitted, is that Parker Knoll's image is simply out of date.

Its appeal is limited almost exclusively to the over 60s, who recall its 1970s heyday, when it was Britain's best known furniture brand.

That it survives at all - in the era of Changing Rooms and Ikea - is, perhaps, a minor miracle.

Blue Nun

Silentnight is refusing to throw the towel in. It plans to relaunch Parker Knoll later in the year with a range of smart new designs.

But what chance does it stand in the style-conscious 21st Century?

Richard Hammond, of Spirit Advertising, which recently helped mastermind the relaunch of another Seventies stalwart, Blue Nun wine, is confident it can succeed.

As long as it avoids the obvious relaunch pitfalls.

"The trick is to re-present the brand in a fresh, contemporary way.

"It is a very easy default to go to the retro look but that rarely works.

Find out what makes your brand different and exploit that to the maximum. Find its core essence."

Target market

Blue Nun was once the UK's best-selling wine but as consumers developed more sophisticated tastes, the German Liebfraumilch became a byword for naffness.

It was successfully relaunched three years ago and now claims to be selling more in the UK than it did in its 1970s heyday.

The key, Mr Hammond argues, is to find out what your market is and target it ruthlessly.

Hostess trolley
The Seventies favourite is winning new fans
"It isn't necessary to spend vast amounts of money on television advertising.

"With Blue Nun we said we are going to go for women in their late 20s, and we didn't spend our money anywhere else.

"We just narrow-cast the media that was relevant to them," he told BBC News Online.

It is also crucial to avoid a superficially trendy makeover, or "putting a baseball hat on it", as the ad-speak has it.

Spirit's campaign for Blue Nun was deliberately understated, emphasising the drink's role as a pleasant accompaniment to social occasions.

Hostess trolleys

Another cornerstone of Seventies suburban life, the Hostess trolley, is also enjoying a quiet revival.

The mobile hot plate system was once de rigueur at dinner parties throughout the land.

But changing dining habits have seen it slip out of favour.

It was sold by owners Philips five years ago, after years of declining sales.

New owners, West Yorkshire-based tumble-dryer maker Crosslee ditched the Echo brand name in favour of the more-resonant Hostess name.

Crosslee's sales and marketing manager Lucy Nichols was handed the tricky job trying to make the Hostess appeal to a new generation.

"It was quite daunting. I went home and told my mum, she just laughed and said 'I'm sure you'll do a very good job'.

"A lot of her friends have got them."

"When you look back at some of the advertising that Philips did it is very dated. 'The hostess with the mostest'.

"It just conjures the image of old dears in dingy dining rooms with their little hostess trolleys."


To the untrained eye, the Hostess trolley still looks like a prop from Abigail's Party, Mike Leigh's satire on the social pretensions of 1970s suburbia.

But Ms Nichols insists the new pine and brushed-steel designs are winning it a new generation of fans, who use it to keep their take-aways warm.

Crosslee has even produced a limited edition union jack Hostess trolley for Harrods.

But where the company has really scored is in seeking out niche markets, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Last year the Hostess trolley was certified as suitable for use by Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America while the need to keep food warm during Ramadan has made the trolley popular in the Middle East.

Perhaps there is hope for Parker Knoll after all.

Job cuts loom at Silentnight
10 Apr 03  |  Business

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