Competing By Design, Specialization and Customization: Manufacturing Locks in the West Midlands (UK)

John Bryson, Michael Taylor, R Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

42 Citations (Scopus)


The past thirty years have seen major shifts and improvements in manufacturing productivity, bringing greater output but fewer jobs. As a result, manufacturing is now less visible in "post-industrial" societies. Nevertheless, manufacturing still matters in developed market economies but our understanding of manufacturing has failed to evolve with developments in the management and organization of production processes. This paper explores the lock industry in the West Midlands (UK), a traditional low-tech manufacturing sector. West Midlands lock companies that produced standardized, mass-produced products have experienced intensive competition from low-cost producers. Many of these firms have downsized their operations in the UK. Nevertheless, this is only one response to intensified competition. Lock firms located in the West Midlands are unable to compete on price and have shifted away from the production of mass-produced locks to concentrate on high value-added niche markets. The firms have developed inimitability strategies based around design, expertise, specialization, customization and nearness to market that assist them in maintaining their revenue and profit streams. Niche manufacturers have been far less susceptible and relatively immune to foreign competition and they continue to diversify product ranges by targeting specialist end-users. The emphasis is on producing high-quality locks in small batches that can be produced just-in-time to meet customers' requirements. The continued survival of these lock firms is based upon a strategy that includes the development of product-based competitive advantage combined with locational advantage and supported by efficient, responsive and customer-focused manufacturing processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-186
Number of pages14
JournalGeografiska Annaler. Series B. Human Geography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2008


  • locks
  • high value-added manufacturing
  • competitiveness
  • customization
  • inimitability strategies
  • design


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