Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Duped by Pottery Barn's aggressive marketing campaign

I like to think of myself as a smart consumer, but I believe I was duped by an aggressive marketing campaign when I purchased Pottery Barn’s "Sausalito" dinnerware:

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?

I think the answer can be found on the Solas Web Design blog where they write:

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?


  1. Now I don't feel so bad about my plain white Target dishes purchased 5 years ago. I love them.

    I am sure I've been duped many times over, I just can't think of an example or I don't know I am being duped yet =)

  2. We've all fallen at least once for the mass marketing - and I did it in the china department, too.

    Six years ago I decided to bite the bullet and buy "holiday china". I spent months choosing. Didn't want it to be "too Santa", "too cute", "too holiday", too anything! But I did want something to use for the Thanksgiving to New Years time period that would help make the season festive. I finally chose Williamsburg Boxwood and Pine by Lenox. Sold in Colonial Williamsburg, and not at the Lenox outlet, because - they told me - it was "special". So I bought two place settings that year.

    The following year Mother was coming for Christmas, so I bought a third place setting and a couple of extra pieces. The third year I wanted the fourth place setting and - drumroll here, of course - it had been discontinued!! Ah yes, two years and three place settings - how useful!

    I scrambled around and found all but one mug/cup for the fourth place and then turned to (you do know them, don't you?) and got the final cup last month. So now I can have a lovely winter party for... four, which is actually what we usually do, but my dream of a lovely table for a quiet little dinner party ain't gonna happen!

    I do feel duped. Hey, Lenox! You discontinued this pattern in less than 10 years. What's that all about?

    Let's hope for better buying habits in the Happy New Year!

  3. Ann,
    I am glad you love your Target dishes; my next set will most likely come from there. I've been told I should be able to purchase a middle of the road set at Target for a third of what I paid at Pottery Barn.

    Thanks for sharing your story. While reading up on dinnerware for this post, I read this suggestion ~ never buy a "Set", if you do break a piece it is almost impossible to replace. You give another great reason for not buying a set ~ your pattern is discontinued before you finish purchasing the complete set. Urgh! I feel your frustration.

  4. Anonymous3:47 PM

    so, I guess I'm thrilled to death. Just got home from my local Goodwill, where I purchased ten of the over-sized Sausalito dinner plates for $1.99 each. But, my all-time favorite dinner plates are a fruit-pattern from the Dollar Tree. Never had one break in 8 years and have even bought a couple of replacement plates at Goodwill spending over $l.00 (just in case). Don't know how often I will be using the new plates, as I feel like I will need a crane to life them from cupboard to table....

  5. Anon,
    1st, it is interesting to see the sausalito plates have made it to Goodwill. I guess someone elso thought plates to large for a cupboard that crack when you use them are not a good idea.
    2nd, shopping at Goodwill and the Dollar Store for plates is a great idea. Wish I had thought of it. Enjoy your new plates. They do look nice.

  6. I really really like this post. I have never purchased "nice dishes" I do plan to one day but had not considered how to go about making that purchase. Now I know some research may be in order.

    I really like walking through pottery barn. I don't think I've ever mad a purchase as it is outside of my budget. I call pottery barn the idea store. I walk through for ideas then go to a store in my budget and implement the ideas.

    Thanks for linking up for #FlashbackFriday.

  7. Anonymous7:54 AM

    Ladies, I picked up an 8 piece set of Sausalito (green) curbside on a Sunday in January when visiting a friend. Looked like leftovers from a yard sale- I couldn't resist a huge box of discarded treasure. The box has been in the back of my car for months until a friend's daughter struggled to bring it to my door yesterday- needing to have full access to my sport utility rear cargo area. I had forgotten all about the box and hadn't fully vetted its contents. What a beast!The plates are ginormous. Where have we come?!- remember those awesome Corell numbers that stacked for days and never broke. Bigger also encourages us to put more on our plate. I see it says made in China on back. Pottery Barn is all imports- they can't afford their locations without astronomical mark-ups. I've had my missteps too, don't get me wrong- Picked up a beautiful set of Lenox that I thought I would use for everyday luxury- 8 full place settings later- with all the serving extras- Oops! not safe for dishwasher or micro.What have I done! Oh, I tried to use just my plates and cups in above - glaze cracked, etc. Someone told me, like fashion- just buy basic quality, simple- then adorn with less expensive fashionable and seasonal accessories. Foremost,I guess it serves us to remember not to be showy, friends are just looking for us to be a gracious hosts- full of kindness and comfort.

  8. Anonymous9:47 AM

    I agree. I have the Pottery Barn Sausalito dishware in 10 piece place settings, serving ware and other accessories and they all chip so easily and have slight cracks and this is all from only using them during the holiday season