INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
Anglepoise: The Transformation of a Design Icon

For design-led businesses, innovation is about more than simply bringing new or different products to market. Simon Terry, Innovation Director at Anglepoise, tells Stacey Sheppard how he radically overhauled the business and repositioned the brand in order to secure the future of one of Britain’s most iconic companies.

In 2009, Royal Mail released a limited edition stamp collection that featured a selection of ten of the most iconic and enduring examples of British design. One of the design classics was the Anglepoise lamp, designed by mechanical engineer George Carwardine back in the 1930s. Carwardine specialised in vehicle suspension systems and it was whilst experimenting that he developed a theoretical concept for balancing weights using springs, cranks and levers.

He quickly realised that his invention could have applications in other areas and applying his theory to the light bulb, Carwardine created an innovative new task lamp that could direct light exactly where needed. As interest and demand grew, Carwardine established a licensing agreement with Herbert Terry & Sons who were to manufacture his design. The Anglepoise lamp went on to become one of the most iconic lighting designs in Britain.

However, by the 1990s Anglepoise had come under increasing pressure from low-cost, low-price operations and its market share was decreasing whilst its margins were being squeezed. It was at this point that Simon Terry – the great, great grandson of Herbert Terry and the fifth generation of the Terry family to work at the company – realised that something drastic had to happen to safeguard the survival of the company.

“The writing had been on the wall for a long time,” says Terry. “The company had done the same thing year after year and was showing little growth potential. It was competing on price dependant markets and channels, and should have reduced its costs by outsourcing products to a more suitable supply chain. Competition was growing in the market place with many of the customers sourcing products themselves and by-passing the established lighting companies.”

Terry had only been at the company for six months when his father was taken ill leaving him to become Managing Director, not an easy role considering the state of the business. Terry says: “After the first meeting with the company accountants, I remember being told that the company was losing money, had no value, and I should liquidate it immediately. After some fairly blunt words back to them on my part, and digging my heals in, I asked them to leave.”

Luckily Terry knew the importance of branding and overhauling the brand was to become the focus of Terry’s fight to ensure the survival of Anglepoise. “I made the decision that what we had to do was develop new higher-end products selling to new higher-end customers,” he explains. “I wanted to send out a clear message that we could compete in this area of the market.”

But in order to save his family’s company, Terry had to make some extremely difficult decisions, which involved not only rebranding, but reinventing and relocating the business. “At the time it was a decision based on survival,” he admits. “It is painful to make anyone redundant, but the new direction of the company meant that it was no longer fit for purpose, so we scaled right down to the core and started building a new team.”

It was a risky decision as Terry lost his experienced and skilled workforce, some of which had been with the company for over 30 years. However, the business could no longer survive operating from its manufacturing site in Redditch, so Terry decided to move the company to Portsmouth. “We lost everyone in the business and the only things I brought with me to the new location were a couple of test machines and the computer server. To all intents and purposes we were a new start-up.”

Being Innovation Director, Terry wanted to do more than simply overhaul the business side of the company. Once the future of Anglepoise had been secured, he turned his focus to the product line. Bringing in new design talent would enable Terry to completely revitalise the product offering and expand into new markets.

In 2003, when looking through the company archive, Terry came across a quote by celebrated industrial designer Kenneth Grange in the Guardian newspaper from 1983. Speaking about his favourite design of all time, Grange had said: “The Anglepoise is a minor miracle of balance... Balance is a quality in life that we do not value as we should”. The quote got Terry thinking. “It was one of those magical moments, as this quote made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I knew I had to meet him. Words like that could only come from someone who fundamentally understood what the product and the brand were all about.”

Within a couple of weeks Terry met Grange at the Design Council and they hit it off immediately. “My gut told me that not only could I work with him, and he would certainly be able to deliver the quality of designs we needed to lift the brand, but also he could become a superb brand ambassador,” says Terry. “I could think of no one better to seamlessly update the Anglepoise Lamp.”

Grange was appointed Design Director and brought the success that Terry had been hoping for. “Kenneth is an industrial designer who carries the flag of ‘modernism’ and he brought this knowledge of form and function to the new generation of products. Our market share began to rise and we have been growing ever since,” says Terry.

The story of Anglepoise’s transformation is an inspiring one to say the least. Taking a company from the brink of collapse, stripping it right back to its foundations and starting practically from scratch is a bold move. But what advice would Terry offer to companies that find themselves in a similar position? “I believe people should stick to their core competences, so if you are really good at designing, spend all your time designing, and if you are good at making, then do that. It is when the boundaries are blurred that people can become quite ineffective, and it is very rare that a great business can be built this way,” he says.

“Over the years I have realised just how much a top designer, who has an open, sharing attitude like Kenneth, can bring to the table. It creates a passion for moving beyond mediocrity and the understanding that you can make something better and create a product that is a pleasure to use. And this drives you forwards. There is, however, one way to go in my mind, and that is to have a total focus on building a brand, remembering that this does not mean a logo or a letter head. Deeply understand what the essence of your brand is now, or is going to be, and passionately communicate that to everyone inside and outside of the company.”