Switched on: Celebrating five generations of British lighting

When Woolworths closed its doors for the last time in November 2008, it was a very sad day for us at The MBS Group. Woolworths was our very first client outside of fashion and luxury in the early nineties, and was the company that really helped make us who we are today: a broad consumer and retail specialist, covering private equity, digital, fashion, luxury, travel and leisure.

Woolies taught us about big-box, out of town retailing and concepts such as ‘everyday low price’ (EDLP) and ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’ (WIGIG) – and got us reading books like ‘Balanced Sourcing’ by Timothy Laseter. We did a really good job for them, so much so that we then worked in all of their operating companies – and then, importantly for us, at a group level under one of the all time greats, Sir Geoff Mulcahy. We needed to get up to speed quickly on new categories – in Comet, Superdrug, B&Q, Screwfix Direct and Woolies. This work was what enabled us to go on to partner with one of the biggest grocers in the UK, which we still work with today.

BHS was never a client, but it was always on our radar – especially the lighting department, which was world-class in its day in an industry that is today worth £72bn globally. There was a time when they were the leading sellers of lighting in the UK, in a market currently full of 1,700 companies and worth £2.3bn, and they had excellent trading directors there – including Mike France and Rob Cissell, who eventually played a key role at Kingfisher.

So with the demise of Woolworths and now BHS, what better time to celebrate a UK lighting brand that was established in 1932 and is now stronger than ever? Anglepoise, whose iconic British two-armed lamp was featured on a postage stamp in 2009, was originally based in Redditch and is now headquartered in Portsmouth. With parent company Herbert Terry & Sons tracing its roots back over 150 years, it is truly a British heritage brand.

In 1931, automotive engineer George Carwardine developed a concept for balancing weights using springs, cranks and levers, and using special springs with a ‘constant tension’ quality developed by Terry’s, he created a task lamp that combined ultimate flexibility with perfect balance. He filed for a patent and, in 1933, the first four-spring Anglepoise lamp was launched. This first model was thought to be too industrial for the domestic market so in 1935, Carwardine, together with the designers at Terry’s, developed a three-spring version. This design, known as the Anglepoise Original 1227, has been refined over the years but is generally considered the archetypal Anglepoise lamp.

Anglepoise collaborated with Paul Smith
Anglepoise collaborated with Paul Smith for a small series of table lamps

I chatted with brand and innovation director Simon Terry, who is the fifth generation in the business. He took over from his father in 2002 because the company had reached a plateau and had not innovated for over a decade. When Simon arrived, he found that the lamps were cheap and sold mostly to electrical wholesalers, and the brand name could easily have disappeared.

Being creative, Simon dived straight into the archives and found an article on Kenneth Grange, a brilliant industrial designer whose works include the London Taxi and the Kenwood food processor. Kenneth was a fan of Anglepoise and Simon promptly hired him. The Anglepoise Type 3 was designed and with that success has rolled on. Simon says: ‘We are the original spring lamp. We invented it. What we have gone on to do is to keep the DNA of what made us great in the first place – the spring mechanism – we call it the engine, that’s where the magic happens. It’s balance and utilitarian form. The product is designed to function and it just delivers – it gives light in any position, is easily moved and stays put.’

‘What we have gone on to do is to keep the DNA of what made us great in the first place … that’s where the magic happens’ – Simon Terry, co-owner and innovation and brand director, Anglepoise

With his new team, Simon has kept Anglepoise moving forward and although it has kept exactly the same design and mechanisim, it has been updated and stayed relevant and current through innovations in colour, texture and size (including the Giant). The company has also launched several collaborations, such as those with two other very successful British brands: Paul Smith and Margaret Howell. Although traditionally a B2B business, Anglepoise has been forward thinking in building a great B2C transactional website. Customers can browse and buy online, playing with colours, styles and sizes. Stockists also appear on the site, and businesses are able to locate distributors around the world.

Brands that keep moving forward, stay ahead and innovate are the ones that seem to stand the test of time. Good leadership at the top, a world-class team, a strong heritage and a keen eye towards the future is a winning combination and I have a feeling that Anglepoise will be one to watch for the foreseeable future.