Andrew Small

As Lumino celebrates its 35th anniversary, arc sits down with founder Andrew Small to discuss how the company reached this milestone, and how the lighting industry has grown over the last 35 years.

How did you get into lighting?

I graduated from Ravensbourne in 1982 with a BA (Hons) in Furniture and Product Design and following that, had a stint in the interior design department at BDP in London. During this time I was approached by two Italian lighting manufacturers I met while travelling in Italy as a student who were looking for a UK partner to introduce their products and build sales. I was looking for the next opportunity and it seemed like an exciting idea. My father left the RAF after the war and started his own electrical contracting business, so the idea of starting my own business wasn’t such a daunting prospect. I’d grown up listening to my father’s stories of how hard it was for him in the early days, so I had an idea of what to expect. Also, I’d grown up tinkering with electrics and so lighting seemed like a fairly logical step for me at the time.

How was Lumino formed?

I decided to go it alone and start Lumino in 1985, but had no idea of how to go about setting up a business. I knew image was a crucial factor because I would be essentially selling to designers. I decided to ask Newell and Sorrell to look at it for me and scraped what little money I had together to put towards a good identity. It proved to be a good decision and our identity for a start-up business won them a design award and got us a huge amount of coverage in the design press. We were a name people knew very quickly because of that. I worked from a borrowed office space when I couldn’t work from home anymore and spent my days knocking on doors and making contacts and my nights working on schemes and quotations for clients. Long days and a lot of hours but in the early years of a establishing a business you have to live and breathe it 24/7.

How did the company look back then compared to now? And how has it grown over the years?

We became very good at helping clients with design and supply packages in the early days. I worked until I couldn’t cope any longer and desperately needed a wing man. I went to my old head of department at Ravensbourne and asked if he new anyone there who was worth looking at. He pointed me in the direction of a student about to graduate. I met him, liked him and realised he had the exact qualities I was looking for. I employed him there and then. That was 26 years ago and he’s still my wing man today, my Design Director Jago Wickers. We have an incredibly strong and trusting relationship and he has a real passion for lighting and more importantly for Lumino.The growth of Lumino has been a slow burn really. We’ve never really been interested in getting rich quick, we enjoy what we do, we drive the business the way we think is right and we work very much as a team. I respect every single person in the business and they all make a great contribution. We’re more like a family these days. We are very lucky in that we are now 20 strong and have a very low turnover of staff. People clearly like it here, so we must be doing something right! 

What would you say was Lumino’s big breakthrough?

Our big breakthrough was very clear to me. It happened after 25 years of being in business. We were always an importer/distributor, selling some excellent brands from manufacturers around the world. We became more and more frustrated over the years that many of the brands we represented didn’t cater well enough for our particular marketplace. They designed product for a global market and sometimes this caused us several issues in getting product specified. So after 25 years we decided to do something very radical. We changed our business model completely to become a manufacturer in our own right. Key members of our team are from a product design background and so it was relatively easy for us. We had a very clear idea of the products we wanted to offer, which was mainly linear products. From the moment we made the decision we’ve never looked back. 

How has the lighting industry changed over the last 35 years?

When Lumino was born the world was all PAR 38 lamps and R7 linear halogens. We were right there at the moment the 50mm dichroic lamp hit the lighting world and it transformed everything. Over the years lighting technology has been consistently refined and improved but in small increments. Then the high output LED hit the world and again everything changed. We have been extremely fortunate that this happened just at the time we decided to become a manufacturer in our own right and so we were there pretty much from the start of the LED revolution. I think there’s never been a better time to be in lighting, with the technological advancement of LED over the last few years, it’s a very exciting business to be in and has paved the way for so many innovative lighting solutions in recent years. 

How do you make sure that you as a company are staying abreast of the current industry trends?

It is hard for a small company like Lumino to compete with the major players in the lighting industry, but this is also our defining strength. We have a great team of three designers in our R&D department who are responsible for all of the products we manufacture. They have free reign to improve and refine our existing product portfolio as well as look at new innovative products. We have an exciting new product development programme at Lumino and luckily we have the financial resources to keep this going through these uncertain times, so we are very excited about the new products we’re currently developing. We have a growth programme that will see us expand our sales in North America. We have been selling in this market for a few years now in a small way, but now we are ready to begin to drive that growth.

What do you think the future holds for the lighting industry?

I am very optimistic for the future of the lighting industry. Since I started Lumino I’ve seen a steady evolution in this industry. It’s a more important ally of the construction industry than it ever has been and it’s generally a very professional and well thought of industry these days, very different to the 80s when Lumino first started. For us we are led by the lighting designers that specify our products and this profession has grown incredibly in the last 30 years. This has had seen a marked development in the way companies like Lumino have evolved and has a huge impact on the products we design. With energy consumption and zero carbon emissions being such an important factor now, I think we’ll see some great innovation in the coming years and the lighting industry’s role in the sustainability of the planet, and the wellbeing of the people who rely on light in their lives has never been so important.

www.lumino.lighting