Bring to light

06 Nov, 13

John Fearon, MD of Queen’s Enterprise Award-winning company Astro Lighting, says bathroom illumination has been key to its success in sales

Established by managing director John Fearon and design director James Bassant in 1997, Astro Lighting has been one of the biggest success stories in the bathroom industry.Having taken the decision, 16 years ago, to manufacture and supply contemporary lighting, with a focus on bathroom fittings, Astro Lighting has achieved average growth of 23% year-on-year, each year of trading. And it’s popularity is not only in the UK, Astro Lighting exports to 34 countries, which accounts for more than half its sales. And reflecting its success over the past couple of years, the company has recently been honoured with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

John Fearon explains why Astro Lighting has been so successful, saying: “I suppose we are unusual in so far as for a British lighting company, we are very high on design and we have always put a lot of store by that. The other thing that has been a real driver is very early on we focused on bathroom lighting.”


Blossoming bathroom fittings

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Astro Lighting has a 680-strong portfolio featuring 280 bathroom lights. John Fearon adds: “We now claim we’re number one in bathroom lighting in the world and it’s a ridiculously pretentious-sounding thing to say about a little company in Harlow.” But he continues: “You won’t find a company which has a bigger range of bathroom lighting than we have.”

The year before last, the company grew by 31%. Last year we grew by just under 14% and we were all really glum and disappointed. This year, we are back up to over 20% and we think we will do 25% growth this year. It is our intention to carry on growing at this kind of rate.” And to cater for the sales growth, Astro Lighting recently acquired a second warehouse. “We’ve got probably seven months stock at any one time and we do have 96-97% stock availability.”


Serving showrooms and online

It’s hard to believe Astro Lighting started life with Habitat as its only customer for the first year of trading. Now it counts John Lewis as its largest customer, sells to more than 500 bathroom and kitchen showrooms and a tranche of lighting specialists, including internet retailers. Serving the high-end residential market and hotel market, the company expects growth across both sectors, but it is the latter which Fearon believes will see the biggest element of growth. “I think hotels will probably grow at a faster percentage than 25%”, says Fearon as he hopes to expand lighting sales worldwide, particularly in America.


Leading to LEDs

The requirement to forecast technology changes seems to be at the fore of the business,. Fearon says: “The advent of LED is equivalent to the digital explosion. We had low power LEDs, then high power LEDs and at the beginning of last year mid power LEDs became available. A big problem is knowing where technology will go.”

It suggests he needs to be courageous in your business and product design decisions but Fearon  says he is actually restrained in business: “I think if I was less risk averse we might have grown a lot quicker. We don’t have any borrowings. Some people might say that’s a poor return on capital. I’m sure we could have driven the business harder and faster if we had been more gung ho.” It’s hard to see how Astro Lighting could further improve its business and there certainly has been no reason to drive it harder or faster. But, just imagine what would happen if it did go up another gear…