How much does a company's location matter? Is it central to attracting good recruits? And is it crucial for a robust brand heritage? John Porter studies his maps Location, location, location has long been a retail cliché. But does location determine the success of a business? Could it be that a small town base means small town ideas? Or, put more positively, does a thriving, prosperous, and appealing location make for a constant flow of creative juices? The answer, according to at least some Kellogg watchers, is yes. Despite today's world of teleworking and cyber-conferencing, location does matter. Dr John Kellogg invented the Corn Flake as an aid to digestion. Had he been around today he might well have prescribed a bowl as a remedy for the bout of hiccups recently experienced by the world's leading cereal manufacturer. When Kellogg recently announced it would be producing a range of own brand cereals for Aldi in Germany, some analysts suggested the company's base might have contributed to the fact its global sales haven't had quite their usual snap, crackle and pop. Kellogg's association with the Midwest town goes back to 1894. Dr John was physician-in-charge of the sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan, when an experimental recipe involving boiled wheat was interrupted. The resulting dried flakes proved a hit with the patients. John Kellogg's brother Will later set up the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, renamed the Kellogg Company, in 1922. While Battle Creek might be keen on Kellogg's ­ there's even a visitor attraction, Cereal City, dedicated to manufacture, marketing and nutrition ­ cynics suggest Kellogg's home town might not be the first port of call for the marketing whiz kids necessary to drive the business forward. Location does play a huge part in attracting top brains to a company, and not every potential employer is on the a-list. Many are faced with difficult decisions when they find the package on offer will not attract the calibre of recruit they want. Manufacturers, particularly, face problems when their marketing department's location has more to do with industrial history than the realities of doing business in the 21st century. Many companies want to attract international candidates, but find that an industrial town in England "can feel to somebody from overseas like the middle of nowhere" according to Jill Ader, head of global consumer and retail practice at recruitment specialist Egon Zehnder International. The closer to London, the easier it is to persuade potential recruits, says Ader: "We never have any trouble recruiting within the M25. The limiting factor if you have a client which doesn't have a Home Counties or London location, is that 20% to 30% of the people you approach won't even come to the table and talk because of the location. It narrows the market." Operating satellite' offices is an option but goes against current thinking on good practice. "If you do operate separate offices, your internal functions don't integrate. The whole business of trying to get lateral cohesion is a huge issue for fmcg companies. The category management approach in the industry absolutely demands you have that lateral glue as well as the vertical. Functions need to work together." Sustaining that cohesion can be tricky when a company is moving out of its traditional heartland. Take Asda which is making a play for the south of England. With its graduate training programme, Talent Store, Asda has had no problem attracting talented recruits, it insists. The fact that its market share is on the ascendant and the interest surrounding the takeover by Wal-Mart have also helped since "people want to be where its all happening". Asda believes its ethos of keeping senior managers out in the field as much as possible rather than being locked into head office helps its expansion plans. The store opening process includes sending experienced staff into new stores to work with local recruitment consultants, with the aim of building up a strong local store management team over time. Senior staff move more freely between stores and head office than in many other companies. However, times are changing. Mark Cook of Druid IT Management Consultancy points out that where access to raw materials and logistics once determined location, "more and more it doesn't really matter where you are". "Increasingly, we're talking about centres of gravity of business ­ that can mean geographically or by the weight of orders." It's not so much that the internet makes location less important, but that the criteria that affect the decision making process are changing. Gavin George of management consultant Management Horizons Europe sees location as only one element in the mix: "I don't think anyone would argue that recruiting the right quality staff isn't a problem. It's a big issue. But I don't know whether location is as important as some other factors. If you're a good company, people are going to travel." George sees competition from "more sexy" market sectors such as the start up operators who are currently poaching senior staff from retail and fmcg companies as a bigger threat than location. However, as Jill Ader at Egon Zehnder points out, these companies also have the luxury of being able to pick their location. "The dot-coms are typically offering pacy jobs, and equity in the company, as well as a manageable location." That's a hell of a challenge for old economy companies particularly those in the underloved food and drink sector. But for all the world is changing, a company's location can still be intricately tied into its brand heritage. Geography can be an important part of a brand's values. Where would Ambrosia custard be without its Devon links? In fact, while the factory is in the heart of the West Country, Bestfoods UK's marketing operation is in a more convenient location in Surrey. Scotland has proven to be a more complex brand proposition. AJ Barr recently announced that its latest drive to persuade soft Sassenach pallets to accept Irn-Bru would not be repeating the Made in Scotland from Girders' strapline, which apparently scared off consumers south of the border. More traditional products are another matter. A tartan livery does nothing to harm sales of a spring water, and one of the best known shortbread brands, Walkers, displays its Celtic heritage with pride. The company has vigorously resisted any temptation to shift its operations from the highland village of Aberlour. Md Jim Walker is used to the often posed location question. "Most people show some surprise we've been able to develop a worthwhile, substantial company working from such a remote location. Many wonder how we can do it with the transport costs and many disadvantages of the roads and infrastructure. "We think the Highlands of Scotland is the natural place to make the definitive shortbread. The location is an asset rather than a handicap. Despite international success, Walker says he can't see having another base in the foreseeable future either in the south of England or overseas. "The whole ethos is that the company has been built on Aberlour." Walkers is an integral part of the local community, and the relationship works both ways. "It's a small village. The commitment the community has given to our company means there's now a strong social interdependency. The village needs us and we need the village." When it comes to disciplines such as marketing, Walker says: "What we sometimes lack in expertise, we make up for in enthusiasm. We can hire specialists if we need them, but generally we're fortunate in getting such a small turnover in workforce. "Most of the people have been with us so long we get a high level of commitment. We're dedicated to hiring from within. We never go outside the company if there's someone capable of doing the job within. We have 16 managers and 11 have been with us since they left school. "A vital component is the amiability of a good workforce. That's a huge contributory factor in the success of our company." The UK has its share of communities which are legacies of both industrial and social history, from Street in Somerset where the Clark's shoe family built its workers a village, to Port Sunlight on the Mersey. Cadbury's Bournville base is the result of Quaker brothers George and Richard Cadbury's wish to create housing and community facilities that would provide a workforce for their factory without forcing people to live in the unsanitary and overcrowded slums of Victorian cities. Billsborough says the image of Bournville is still an important part of the overall brand proposition. "There are a number of elements in the Cadbury mix that people have come to know and expect, such as the glass and a half, the colour purple, and the curly C, and one of the important facets is that Cadbury has a long history of social welfare, and still seen as very community minded, and Bournville is living proof of that." The prospect of a stint at Bournville does not create recruitment problems, Tony Billsborough, media relations manager says. "A blue chip name like Cadbury is always attractive to somebody's CV, and we have never encountered any problems with attracting the very brightest to the company. Modern communications being what they are, people are willing to travel around the world to work." "You'll find that many of the young marketers here, who have no background in the area coming from other parts of the country and even other parts of the world, will move into mentoring in local schools, or act as the link with local organisations. "Playing a part in the community is not an old fashioned idea. It is very much part of the company ethos, and we are proud of that." He understands why it might be thought that the location could potentially leave the company seeming isolated, but points out that "our roots are here, but the brand's expansion has taken us right across the world. It's now just one element of what is a very large company." But as the world goes global, those traditional associations, while not breaking down, are expanding. What a product means to a consumer in one place will not necessarily be the same around the world. On the face of it, Guinness has that strong connection between location and product. In the UK, US and Ireland, Guinness is a brand tightly linked in consumers' minds to its Irish origin. It's a not insignificant marketing tool, either. But Guinness, brewed today in 51 countries with the addition of Ethiopia last year, has more than one home in global consumers' minds. In Africa Guinness is as much an African beer as it is Irish to the Dubliner. Its third largest market is in Nigeria where it has four breweries. {{COVER FEATURE }}