Porcelain house Meissen takes on luxury titans
By Madeline Chambers
MEISSEN, Germany (Reuters) - After 300 years crafting baroque porcelain for French kings and Russian tsars, Germany's Meissen has launched an in-house revolution to weather the economic downturn.
Under an energetic new manager, 39-year-old Christian Kurtzke, Europe's oldest porcelain manufacturer is pursuing a new strategy to position itself as a luxury brand to rival Louis Vuitton and Bulgari.
Europe's china and porcelain industry has suffered in recent decades as firms have failed to adapt to young tastes which rarely favor display cabinets or large dinner services.
The problems were highlighted earlier this month when Irish china maker Waterford Wedgwood called in receivers, prompting its German unit Rosenthal to file for insolvency.
"For 300 years Meissen has stood for the art of luxury. Now we want to be the world's leading German luxury brand," said Kurtzke, a former manager at the Boston Consulting Group who took over as head of state-owned Meissen four months ago.
He wants to reposition Meissen, which is based in the eastern state of Saxony, by cornering the market for young professionals and offering services for meals such as pasta or sushi rather than Germanic feasts of pork and venison.
Kurtzke knows he's in for a bumpy ride. Bernstein Research in London expects the global luxury market to shrink by 10 percent or more in 2009. Like its rivals, Meissen's revenues fell in the last quarter -- by about 15 percent.
"We will be hit by the economic crisis. But our aim is to compensate for that with new initiatives to boost revenues," an animated Kurtzke, whose fashionable suit and mauve tie strike an incongruous note at traditional Meissen, told Reuters. Continued...