September 2, 2015 / 10:10 AM / 2 years ago

UK firms still covet royal approval as Queen hits record 63rd year

A commemorative stamp (R) from 1990 with depictions of Britain's Queen Elizabeth (R) and Queen Victoria (L) is seen next to an 1840 Penny Black stamp with Queen Victoria on it at Stanley Gibbons in central London, Britain, August 21, 2015.Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - You may have noticed it above the door of a perfumery in London, in the inner lining of an expensive custom made suit, or even on a packet of English Stinking Bishop cheese - the gold emblem of the British monarchy.

Over 800 companies in Britain hold the royal warrant, a certificate for providing goods and services to the royal family. Still coveted by Britain's small businesses, it allows the use of the Crown's coat of arms in their branding.

Queen Elizabeth, who on Sept. 9 becomes Britain's longest ever serving monarch, each year grants around 20 more warrants, which date back to medieval times when tradesmen competed for royal favor.

"It makes a statement about that business that it has achieved a certain level of quality," said Richard Peck, secretary of the Royal Warrant Holders Association.

At Gieves and Hawkes, a tailor on London's Savile Row, their earliest warrant hangs on the wall, an elaborate parchment detailing King George III's request for velvet caps.

Since 1912 Gieves and Hawkes have been fashioning the red and gold uniforms of the Royal Bodyguard. Each one takes over 110 hours to intricately stitch together, said Matthew Crocker, who manages production of the military outfits.

Gieves and Hawkes said they were proud to remain holders of the warrant.

"It is a beautiful thing to have," said Andrew Gomez, Gieves and Hawkes' longest serving employee who estimated that he had made 11,000 jackets during his 41 years on Savile Row, where people from around the world come for a hand-crafted suit.

Davide Taub, Gieves and Hawkes' head bespoke cutter, said the royal warrant's value is in showing regular customers that they get the same quality as Britain's royals. "There is no hierarchy," Taub said.

"MORE OF A BUSINESS AGENDA"

Manager Kaya Ueno is seen reflected in a mirror in Prestat chocolatiers in central London, Britain, August 19, 2015.Toby Melville

The Royal Warrant Holders Association is putting more emphasis on helping small and medium enterprises to collaborate and trade internationally, Peck said.

"Our focus going forward is to try and put more of a business agenda onto the sheet."

The royal warrant can boost a small business's sales by up to 5 percent, said Robert Haigh, marketing director at Brand Finance.

A 2015 report from the consultancy estimated that the warrants, which today are granted for five years after which businesses must apply to renew them, provide 4.2 billion pounds to the British economy.

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There are some brands, including mint chocolate makers After Eight, that have given up the warrant. Haigh said that for brands seeking to appeal to a mass market, the royal symbol may not project quite the right image.

But for many others, the warrant is a branding no-brainer.

Cheesemonger Paxton and Whitfield has done business with the royals since Queen Victoria first sniffed them out in the 19th century. Manager Hero Hirsh said their shop was increasingly popular with visitors from Japan and the United States, where cheese culture is on the rise and the British royal family exerts a powerful draw.

Once a week the queen's own selection is carted over to her residence at Buckingham Palace, said Dan Bliss, the affineur or "cheese whisperer" who looks after the 218-year-old company's stock.

Gieves and Hawkes have also used their royal blessing to break into foreign markets, having opened up over 100 stores in China where it is often called the "Three Crowns," in reference to the three warrants the tailor holds.

"There is no doubt that in the export market the warrant is regarded highly, in particular in the Far East (and) in North America," Peck said.

"In any country like China that has had some form of dynasty, they recognize what that warrant stands for."

Editing by Estelle Shirbon

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