We’re enjoying an extremely civilised lunch in Docklands – and also a ‘very British summer’ sight.
We’re dining high above Canada Square with FUTURE Designs’ Managing Director David Clements, while below us office workers are fleeing in all directions as their own alfresco lunch is rudely interrupted by a violent (albeit forecasted) storm.
We have to say (and no offence meant to those soaked individuals below) that this couldn’t have worked out better. As the storm intensifies and the skies become increasingly darker, Docklands begins to light up. David smiles as he points out all the FUTURE Designs lighting schemes visible from our lofty position. Now this is what we call a showspace!
We’ve known David for a good couple of years now. A generous, genuine man, he is always great company – and we can’t for the life of us work out why it has taken us so long to talk to him ‘on record’.
FUTURE Designs builds and provides top quality luminaires and bespoke lighting solutions, and boasts a proud heritage of meeting the exacting demands of diverse clients from the commercial sector, education, healthcare authorities, financial institutions and retail groups.
The company commits to deliver the very best lighting solutions, from concept through to installation, supported by a carefully managed programme of research and development, after sales service and support.
Our opening question is a relatively straightforward one: how does David describe what he and FUTURE Designs do? ‘I’m in the construction industry – I make lights,’ he grins. ‘FUTURE Designs is one of the Top 5 privately owned UK manufacturers of commercial lighting – I hope that explains who we are, where we are, where we manufacture – we’re very proud to be British.
We ask David to tell us a little about both his own background and the conception of his business. ‘I was born in Croydon – I was the fourth of five children,’ David tells us. ‘My father was an entrepreneur – he was a property developer, owned several garages and a mail order businesses. He was extremely successful but died at 49 and there was no-one to really take his business on unfortunately. I was only 15.
‘I eventually decided I really needed a car and I got a job selling photocopiers. That was my grounding not just for salesmanship, but also being able to react to people’s needs, to react to anybody who is a potential client. I started doing that at 20 – and was very successful at it for many years.
‘Then I went to work for my brother, who was involved in a business that produced emergency lighting – which was extremely big business at that time. I worked there for many years and eventually, in 1991, started FUTURE Designs. I started it from scratch – I begged and borrowed to get the first factory open, then we opened another factory in Mitcham and then I bought Edenbridge – where our HQ is now.
‘I eventually decided I really needed a car and I got a job selling photocopiers. That was my grounding not just for salesmanship…’
‘The dynamic of the business has remained extremely similar. We’ve remained very client focused. FUTURE Designs has of course changed enormously because it’s has grown from being a small company to, like I said, one of the Top 5 privately owned now. We still don’t lose sight of the fact that the customer is king though – and you need to provide the highest levels of service for those customers.’
We ask David what it was that drove him to start the business back in 1991. ‘We were in the middle of the worst recession we could remember and I had a house that had a mortgage that was probably twice the size of its value! I thought I had to do something that I could see myself being successful at. I’ve almost always been driven by success rather than money. From the age of 23 or 24 – and money was king then – I realised that financial security is a by-product of success. If your driver is money then you’ll always compromise what you do. I wanted to be proud of what we do – and we are massively proud of what FUTURE Designs does. My driver is to see FUTURE Designs as the company of choice out there – people who choose us will get good product, good back-up and they’ll get us!
From chatting with David, it’s clear to us that he and the FUTURE team are extremely passionate about what they do best – producing innovative solutions for the biggest and best commercial firms on the planet. ‘I’d like to think that we always give our absolute best –’ he considers. ‘Being a part of these amazing projects, working with incredible businesses gives me as much pride as winning major orders. Of course the major orders pay the wages – but being the preferred supplier for a major blue-chip puts a big smile on my face. There is a real buzz about that for me. That is how I measure success.’
We move on to talk about the products and the lighting industry. ‘It was certainly a job to start with,’ David admits. ‘I’m largely self-taught, but it has certainly become a passion. I’d say I’m certainly more passionate about FUTURE Designs now than I was 23 years ago – partly because it terrified me then! I think that passion has increased because of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained and also because of the team of people I have around me. It really does excite me. Our European success has grown across Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany, this year we opened our showroom and office in Dubai and have already secured projects within the UAE so these are hugely exciting times for the business.
‘Just look out there,’ David points outside into the gloom. ‘Bank of America’s ours, Shell is ours, FCA (formerly FSA), Thomson Reuters and we’ve done a massive amount of work with Barclays and we built over 22,000 fixtures for their tower – and that’s only a few. One of the reasons I quite like coming out here is all the lights!
‘Seriously though, back when we started we were far too small to be allowed onto this hallowed turf! But we’ve gone on to work on all these amazing projects, including the tower here – replacing all the lighting in the entrance area, which involves some 400 fixtures. We almost halved their energy bill by taking that to LED. It took us nine months to get there – but we didn’t give up. Canary Wharf as an organisation really bought into it. They did the right thing –they invested the capital cost and focused on their social responsibility and reducing their energy consumption.’
Speaking of LED technology, we ask David about innovations in lighting. ‘LED is the biggest leap in lighting since the advent of fluorescent lamps,’ he tells us. ‘This is a quantum leap. There will not be another leap in my lifetime like this. There are organic LED’s out there now, but that is a variation and it is sometime before they become fully viable. LED is now the obvious product of choice. We can prove that in lifecycle costing.
‘LED is the biggest leap in lighting since the advent of fluorescent lamps…’
‘We’re only really as good as what we consider to be the three world leaders of LED components – Osram, Philips and Tridonic – we’re only as good as the components they release, and these companies don’t release products unless they are absolutely sure.
‘Of course these leading companies are working on the next source or the next generation, but there has to be areas of stability in order for them to get their return on their investment – and rightly so. There has to be these periods of stability otherwise everyone will keep waiting for the next big thing.
‘It is still cheaper to use fluorescent – and that will stay that way for some time. I think it has to. There is no need for LED to become cheaper because then the quality will start to suffer. We can still prove – and have done to major banks out here – that they will see a return in just three years.
‘If you go back two years, LED probably accounted for 8% of our business. Last year it was 28-30% and this year it will be over 40%. You have to remember that we are talking about high end, quality projects – and that is the driver in a lot of the projects we work on. These clients will invest in the absolute best they can get. This isn’t the case everywhere
We’ve attempted to refrain from using the line ‘The FUTURE’s bright’ in this article, however David’s enthusiasm and business philosophy make it almost impossible to do so. ‘FUTURE Designs has no debt – we’re cash rich – and we also don’t have any hire purchase, Everything we have we own’ David reveals, ‘and that’s because it terrifies me. I lived and worked through the 90’s when interest rates went to 17%!
‘That period taught me a great deal; don’t have debt, don’t’ owe money, don’t let people owe you money. I’ve lived my life by this – I think I have my own very strict guidelines because I know when I was younger I could have gone completely off the rails financially had I not disciplined myself.’
Now there’s a lesson for any would-be start-up entrepreneurs. Passion, focus and discipline – about as brilliant a trio as any LED.