Approximately five years ago, I drove to the mall in search of a decent set of dinnerware for an upcoming dinner party I was hosting. I came home with 12 place settings of Pottery Barn’s "Sausalito" dinnerware in natural. A friend had received a similar set as a wedding gift and I had loved the simple modern style. I was sure the heavy earthenware was durable and would last for years. It cost more than I normally would have spent, but it was Pottery Barn so the quality had to be good. I soon added a gravy bowl, 3-piece serving bowl set and a serving platter to my collection.
Unfortunately, this set has brought me nothing but problems. During my five years of ownership, I’ve replaced cracked dinner plates so frequently my local Pottery Barn store suggested I upgrade to their porcelain dinnerware and use the Sausalito plates for display purposes only. One plate cracked, making an explosive popping sound, during a dinner party while a guest was serving himself a plate of food. Also, recent plate replacements are so abnormally large I am no longer able to close the cupboard door tightly. Prior to the recent holiday season, I attempted once again to replace a cracked dinner plate only to discover Pottery Barn has discontinued making the Sausalito dinnerware in “natural” my color. After scouring the countryside, I was able to locate eleven plates in Miami, but ended up ordering only one. I have had enough; the next time a plate cracks I am replacing the entire set with a standard size durable set of dinnerware.
What I don’t understand is if Pottery Barn’s Sausalito dinnerware is so fragile why do customers continue purchasing it?
For $139.00, Pottery Barn offers their Sausalito dinnerware setting for 4. Yes, Pottery Barn’s pottery has become vastly popular, due to an aggressive, well-funded marketing campaign, but what is the actual value of the end product that shoppers receive? Though colorful, their dinnerware, serving ware, etc. is a mass-produced, made in Asia product. It feels machine-made, and frankly, doesn’t strike me as a cut above the place settings you might find at K-Mart for 1/3 of the price. My feeling would be that Pottery Barn can set a value like the above on their products because their advertising has created a mystique or buzz about their brand name. But the Martha Stewart products Kmart stocks, also mass-produced, have been slated as being for folks who live on a budget, because, after all, they are being sold at Kmart. Perhaps Pottery Barn consumers feel that they are spending their earnings on the finer things in life, because the corporation is slating themselves as such.
Yet, in the end, Pottery Barn customers are purchasing fast-food-quality pieces for their home, at a high price tag. This isn’t Blue Willow China. They won’t be passing it onto their grandchildren. Economists call us a throw-away culture and I’d say both the items manufactured by Pottery Barn and Martha Stewart’s factories in Asia fall into this category.
How was Pottery Barn able to create this mystique or buzz about their brand name?
In an old Reveries Magazine Hillary Billings Pottery Barn’s former vice president of product design and development says:
In the early nineties, nobody in the specialty retail world was addressing home furnishings. The only consumer choices were to go to mass-market retailers, like department stores or to an Ethan Allen, most of which weren't providing stylish furniture. They were presenting assortments that were very mainstream and weren't very interesting. Or you had to hire an interior designer and spend exorbitant amounts to enter the stylish arena of home furnishings.
There was nothing for the consumer who didn't want to hire an interior designer or didn't have the money to, but had an interest in style that was more sophisticated than what the department stores were selling. It offered a clear path for Pottery Barn to build a business.
So how was I duped?
I have mentioned previously I am decorating challenged, plus when I bought my dinnerware I was in a hurry looking for a quick purchase. Pottery Barn made shopping for dinnerware easy. They didn’t have numerous styles and patterns to choose from and the Sausalito with its hand glazing and visible brush strokes looked so sophisticated; little did I know it was mass-produced in Asia. Also, I didn’t realize buying good dinnerware isn’t as simple as just walking into a store and picking out the first set of dishes that catches my eye. There is actually a lot to consider. Instead of purchasing a quality set of dinnerware, I was purchasing the great “Pottery Barn name.
How about you, have you ever been duped by an aggressive marketing campaign?