Made in Britain: Why sales are racing at Norton

The label ‘Made in Britain’ has credibility around the world, not least in the engineering and manufacturing industries.

The label ‘Made in Britain’ has credibility around the world, not least in the engineering and manufacturing industries. Although observers argue that the glory days of Britain’s automotive industry are gone, many British brands across the sector are as strong as ever.

We take a look at one UK business who is waving the flag for Brand Britain.  After a hiatus of nearly 20 years, premium motorbike manufacturer Norton, was rekindled in 2009 by current CEO Stuart Garner. The name is now world famous, a fact that Stuart is keen to capitalise on.

“When we came back and got a bike featured in the global press, 1,000 dealers in 50 countries contacted us by phone and email to ask if they could have a Norton dealership. It’s a revered historic brand but even we were surprised at its strength, having been dormant for nearly two decades.

“We are tightly associated with the Brand Britain label and we have just placed our Dominator SS model in the Spectre Bond film – Bond being one of the most potent British brands of the lot.

“Demand has been so great in the last three years that we have needed to be careful about overstretching ourselves. We have focused on the low-hanging fruit, reinvesting in our infrastructure and satisfying one territory before setting up in the next.”

It’s all in the provenance

Stuart draws a parallel between a British-made motorbike and a Swiss-made watch or an Italian suit – the country of origin is a mark of distinction in each case.

Demand is high worldwide for Norton products but it is particularly evident in Britain’s former colonies. Between 30% and 40% of Norton’s market is North America, followed by Europe (including the UK) with about 30% of sales, while 20% of bikes head to Asia.

The latter figure is set for a boost next year with a distribution deal in China that could send sales soaring. “The country’s emerging middle classes have an appetite for aspirational British goods. And even smaller markets such as the Middle East are growing rapidly” says Stuart.

A subtle sales pitch 

For Norton, the link with Britain is unavoidable because the brand is synonymous with the country’s heritage. So there is no need to over-do the ‘country of origin’ aspect of the machines. A few little pointers will do.

“We don’t wrap our products in the flag but we don’t undersell our Britishness either. Every one of our bikes is assembled at our Donington Hall headquarters [a 30-acre site, the centrepiece of which is a grand stately home].”

“We do all of our launches either at Donington, in our 3,000 square-foot oak-panelled library, or at a British motorcycle show. But not at EICMA in Italy, which is where a lot of brands release new models because it is the biggest show in the world.”

Santander and the stately home

Norton purchased Donington Hall in 2013 with finance provided by Santander. The impressive and imposing building is a draw for tourists and potential partners alike. Stuart describes the scenes when coaches of visitors pull up to view the building with “smoke coming out of their cameras,” such is the rate of picture taking.

According to Stuart, Brand Britain took a backseat in the 1970s and 80s but today it is back with a vengeance. In more recent years it has been boosted by a successful Olympic Games and the increasing popularity of younger members of the royal family.

But Britain has always been known as a place where people and businesses care about the quality of the products they produce. Norton is just one of hundreds of such organisations who wear the ‘Made in Britain’ label with pride but back it up with desirable products that are built to last.



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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK