Craft / November 2017

Words of Wisdom: Robert Ettinger

Robert Ettinger, the Chairman and Chief Executive of the eponymous luxury leather goods brand, tells The Rake how, despite changing times in the industry, he continues to build on his father’s founding legacy.

The idea of the family business is an evocative notion, and one that holds plenty of kudos in the luxury goods industry. Hefty price tags imply that handiwork and great care has gone into a product’s creation, yet this is not necessarily the case with large corporations who may boast prestigious names yet proffer mass- produced wares that rarely live up to customers’ expectations. Family- run businesses tend to be the antithesis of this. In the best ones, the focus is often less on the bottom line and more on quality and integrity. And then there’s the romance of the family business, how the company is passed through the generations, each time evolving subtly when a more youthful member steps in. Ettinger is one such brand, and, well into its eighth decade, continues to set the benchmark for handcrafted, meticulously detailed leather goods.

Founded in 1934 by a charismatic man of the world, Gerry Ettinger, his eponymous brand would quickly become a byword for quality. It has sourced, tanned and manufactured each of its products in Britain. Although based in London, Gerry had spent years travelling the world and had built up an exhaustive list of contacts that would serve him well in the early years of the brand. It was, though, his eldest son, Robert, who ensured Ettinger received an illustrious seal of approval. Fifty years after its founding, Robert Ettinger stumbled on an article in a newspaper discussing the process companies have to navigate in order to receive a royal warrant. Like a man possessed he worked on attaining one for the firm his father founded, and in 1996 his wish was granted by the Prince of Wales, thus permanently cementing the quality and excellence the brand had become known for. Today, Ettinger are evolving further, focusing much of their attention on their rapidly growing online business, which has allowed them to reach younger customers in more places. The Rake discusses with Robert how this most quintessential of British heritage brands stays relevant in the ever-changing sphere of luxury...

It was about seven years ago when we thought we’ve got to start selling online. We could see it was happening and we built our first website. It wasn’t at the beginning of online luxury selling, but it was pretty near. Today we have our own photographic studio and a full-time photographer, taking pictures of everything — we’ve decided to do it as well as it can be done, and it’s working really well for us. We get orders every day from people all over the world, countries we haven’t even heard of. We don’t know how they see us. I think people trust the brand, and having a royal warrant helps, they buy because of that and they’re happy to spend a lot of money on a product without ever seeing it.

You need to interact much more with people, particularly online. You’ve got to make it feel like you’re in the Ettinger world. It’s quite exciting, we have lots of new people in the company in their twenties, they’re much more savvy, they bring energy, they’re quick to learn. I understand it, but to me it’s amazing — it’s only been 21 years since online commerce first became a thing, apparently. It isn’t that long ago when Amazon started and sold only videos and books, and look at it now.

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Charlie Thomas

Charlie Thomas is a former staffer at The Rake.