I was introduced to Stanley by Michael-George Hemus, the founder of Plumen; so unsurprisingly they sit in a similar industry, in that they both work in lighting and design. However, Stanley's is a very different story, with his company Factorylux being responsible for the popularity and success of industrial lighting in design; and his having taken some interesting sabbatical opportunities along his journey to further ancillary interests of his own.
We caught up with him to find out more about his journey to date....
Tell us about what you’re doing now and how you got here...
I've worked in lighting since I left school. I began in an event lighting company delivering rock and roll and theatre concepts and now I work in manufacturing and architectural lighting, with my own company Factorylux. The first sabbatical I took involved me leaving work and forming a band with my childhood best friends when I was 29.
I lived in Amsterdam and worked in Dubai at the time. The economy of Dubai was really taking off and I was working in the event lighting scene. I lived in Amsterdam with two guys who had been my best friends at school and we all felt that despite success we had gained in other areas, being in a pop band felt like an unfulfilled part of our lives.
So we jacked in our jobs and formed 'Summer Holiday'! It was really, really spectacularly unsuccessful. We became known for a few things though - we used to play on the roof of a car around London. There was one summer in 2006 where we played several times across the capital, so there were thousands of people who saw us! Sharon Osbourne also asked us to be the house band on her TV show. There was a moment when we were meeting with her people and it transpired that we weren't going to get paid and so we turned it down. We were so cocky - a real attitude of "do you know who we are and what you're missing"?
It's a fairly common point of view that you learn more in failure than you do in success. One thing with the band was that it gave me the confidence to go balls out for something that had any chance of success. Before we came to London to 'launch' ourselves to the world we rented a mill in Bradford to rehearse, write songs and live in. There was original lighting in the mill and we used to supplement our income by sticking it on eBay to sell.
After the bands demise, we ended up back in London, but none of us really felt like we fitted into a company structure. Once you've led life as a penniless 'rock and roll superstar' it's hard to get back on the corporate ladder. I thought back to the half assed nature of us basically nicking these lights and putting them on eBay and went back to the owner of the mill and offered to buy the whole lot, structuring it as a venture rather than a hobby.
My employer at the time was really sympathetic to what I was doing. As the lighting business took off, there were huge boxes of products being delivered for me to work. A couple of people that I've employed have gone on to set up companies, and there's a wonderful reciprocal emotion when people come to you, often looking quite stressed, and tell you that they want to do their own thing. I've always taken great pleasure in reminding people that that's exactly how I started out. We've always had arrangements with people where we've let them work part time and to take time off to further their own ideas', as I was so grateful to my employer for that attitude.
The business continued to grow alongside my job. My partner and I had gone to America on holiday, and it was Obama's inauguration. We'd driven down there and the atmosphere of being there made us realise that when we got back to work we had to stop mucking about with the part-time approach and really go for it.
We came back, and did just that. Within a matter of weeks I realised that the future was not going to be in re-claimed lighting. Clambering around old buildings was brilliant and exciting when we first did it, but then it actually becomes quite unpleasant. My background in lighting had always been about long-term relationship building, which is also quite hard to do with an unstable supply of product.
We realised that we needed to get into manufacturing, but to exactly the same specifications as these original lights. Our lights were indistinguishable from the originals. It led to us working with big brands like Levi's and on films for Martin Sorcese, big flagship projects. We were very fortunate, because we were the first to do it and there's a kudos that comes with that. We've got 40,000 customers now and a big group of followers that have helped to keep the business on track.
I'm now in a slightly unusual position in that when I founded the company it was 100% mine, 100% my energy. At a certain point I split the company in half with my partner and we took on a couple of freelancers. When the industrial lighting look that we'd initiated took off, it happened quickly and we had to take on a lot of people. The company is now employee co-owned, so I'm actually not the majority shareholder anymore and I tread the line between carrying more gravity, simply because I'm the guy who's been here since the start, and having less gravity because there are other people involved who have a significant stake in the business.
2015 was our biggest year since we started, but the trajectory of industrial lighting that we've ridden is starting to coming to an end. A lot of the design motif's that we were responsible for initiating you can get in John Lewis now, and they are things that my mum and dad are quite comfortable with.
We're constantly innovating. Recently we launched a concept that's a bit like Nike i-D, called 'Made for You'. You choose the different textures and materials, colour and size of your lighting and if you order before 11 o'clock, we make it and deliver it the next day. It's on demand manufacturing. The factory is a really interesting place. It's recognisably old-fashioned but really futuristic at the same time. Seeing it in action is amazing.
We've also partnered up with Silicon valley company, called Xicato, who are solving the very real problems of LED lighting and have got a patent pending approach for the technological side, which is way more complicated that industrial lighting. We did some research with them last year, and we're getting ready to re-launch the company in 2016. We're hoping that it will be as significant a revolution in lighting as when we originally started back in the day. It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out! Whereas the original invention was mine, this reinvention has the participation of the stakeholders in the business and I'm almost the facilitator.
You said you'd taken a few sabbaticals over time - what other things have you done?
In the run up to the first gulf war there was a huge public sentiment against what was happening. I worked with the Iraqi football association to make the Iraqi football shirt available online to people who wanted to wear it as a statement. In many ways theirs is a second state like ours, with a lot of similarities. They love football and they play football. It was something that allowed me to consolidate the creative and the political dimension of my life into one, and that was amazing.
The most recent break was more about our family. In the first years of work we were so insanely busy that we made all kinds of concessions. Once we'd built a team of people who had the talent and resources to run the business, my partner and I decided to take a step back, to spend more time with our kids; and we bought a semi-derelict, slightly weird house in Herne Bay to renovate. We had cash and incredible access to people who make things because of the manufacturing side of the business. We've ended up with the house of our dreams.
We got married and did all of the stuff that we had at the back of our minds and kept shelving because of the business. We took 6 months away from work to do it all.
What are your roles now in the company?
We're turning it completely on its head. When our children were younger, I worked at the factory in Yorkshire 2 days every week. Sophie worked there 2 days every fortnight. There was a compelling case for having manufacturers in Yorkshire, and it was necessary to do that.
When we started the business we spent a lot of time meeting with designers and architects as it was a new concept and was really exciting. We've really missed that over the years as a company, and we've felt a bit removed from that part of the process. In 2016 we're going to indulge ourselves a bit more. We've designed and commissioned a bespoke truck for us to operate out of - and work in London 3 days a week. It will be a moveable office / showroom / shop / bar on wheels. We used to have these amazing parties, and we like doing things like running bars. It therefore incorporates small areas of all the things we've been successful at and enjoyed in our lives.
This new partnership with the company in LA is really complicated. It takes a huge amount of explanation to get designers and architects to understand it, but it's amazing. Getting that over the line with all of these people will require a lot of conversations, it's not something you can stick in a leaflet or on a website, not in a meaningful and complex way. This vehicle gives the opportunity to have that conversation, to have meetings with people across London, and it's a great story in it's own right. We're going to see it goes. It's a new concept, we've risked a lot, and we're just going to have to wait and see! That's how the company has always developed.
When you first launched Factorylux, how long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress?
It was a very short amount of time. We loved the authenticity and integrity that came from the original industrial lighting movement, but we're very modern and we behave in that way. From the very beginning we offered next day delivery for example. We had an immediate grasp of new software that would help the business, we were ahead of the curve on that, and it helped us achieve scale.
We got a really big contract with M&S and initially we were worried about the credibility side, but actually they were looking for the same quality, and a sophisticated response to a design machine. We got over our concerns quite quickly and we've never looked back.
We've had a forwards and sideways journey with the business. For example, we acquired a load of print assets with these things called 'linotype' machines, which underpin a thread of books and newspapers throughout the world. When the technology changed, nearly all of them were destroyed and we decided to rescue the UK's largest collection of those machines. We've turned that round into a pretty successful notebook brand called Prelogram. On the website you can write a sentence that is then embossed on the cover of the notebook. It's a process that can only be done by those machines. It was a way of extracting the single unique thing that only those machines can do.
Do you ever get the 'fear' about the business?
We are so incredibly copied. We did have this market all to ourselves and we were racing ahead. Once you're in it though, the barrier to entry for other people is much lower and the number of companies who've copied our products is almost hilarious. There are examples where people have taken our pictures, and text even and used them on their own website and there have been moments where that's worrying.
However, we've never been a fashion business where it's just about what the product looks like, and the back end of our product is very hard to copy because there has been so much investment in it to get to where we are.
Ultimately we have 40,000 customers who get who we are, what we do, and we've always stayed close to our customers and a lot of them are designers and architects. By staying close to them we've always felt secure and felt that we've been delivering what they've asked us to do for them. It's the same with our new venture, there has been a groundswell of opinion that LED lighting is where it's all going and that there needs to be a player who drives that forward, and they're looking to us to do that.
That probably sounds over-confident, but anyone looking at the lighting world can see that LED is the next big innovation, and so we're piling in. We're working with the best LED pioneer in the world to do it. I'd invest in that.
You've obviously worked for a long time with your partner on the business. What is it like working with someone you also have a relationship with?
It's very subjective and it's hard to step out of how it happened personally, there isn't a control where I understand it in any other way. I can't imagine not being part of a relationship where your design, intellectual and career expression are pooled as one. There have obviously been frictions and you have to work out your respective roles.
When we got married, we had a big party and it was an acknowledgement of where we were in our lives. There are so many people who have been part of our story - clients, family, friends who have all been roped in to help. Our wedding party was an opportunity for all of those people to let their hair down from the madness and intensity of that journey.
You've clearly got a lot of irons in the fire with the factory, new inventions, the truck, the stationary business...What do you find difficult about managing all of those aspects?
You can easily get caught in a feedback loop where you live under the mistaken belief that you are able to do everything better than everyone else. You can't do that if you're scaling up a business.
The reality is that along the way there are lots of things that have screwed up and we have to remind ourselves of all of those things as well as the success along the way - and you have to afford others with that same opportunity. It's like having kids. You might be on their case some of the time, but you can't (or don't want to) be on their case all of the time.
What’s the best compliment you’ve been given?
There are people who started to interact with us on eBay who are still our customers today, 8 years later. They still want the original, and that's a great compliment - it's implicit, but that's amazing. I'd like to think they wouldn't have a bad word to say about us, because I feel like we've always operated with a strong level of integrity.
Where would you like the business to get to?
You constantly have to be thinking about where things are going to be in five years time - looking at culture, manufacturing and design trends - to be significantly ahead of the curve when the market shifts - it's about being in the right place, right time and not getting complacent.
How do you start your day?
I drink a lot of coffee! I sort the kids out and if the workload is high, I get up before the kids, at 4 or 5am to start work, so that when they're up I can focus on their needs. I have an email with a to-do list that knock into some sort of order, always ending up with more than is humanly possible to achieve in a day.
I recently read Alan Mcgee's (Oasis record label owner) biography. He talks about his to do list and that however insanely unsophisticated it is, it probably underpins the business success of people like Bill Gates.
I try and remember not to get too sucked in to the laptop lifestyle. I schedule breaks, go swimming and deal with 'life laundry'. It's essentially a series of tasks that you break into more manageable tasks and work out what can be delegated, and when it is delegated, making sure that chain is continued in some way.
I don't spend as much time at the factory now because we've got an amazing board of directors in place who run things. That's been a task in itself, making sure that board has the right mix of skills, personalities and culture to drive things forward.
What's the biggest thing that your way of working has changed about your life?
Remembering that it's all about customers and colleagues. You could focus on it being about making money, but the thing that is really important is getting relationships right and then everything else falls into place.
What other idea's or businesses do you admire?
Look Mum No Hands, the cycle cafe. We met them years ago when they'd just got the contract from Camden Council and didn't have any money. We sensed something really great about them and helped them with their lighting. What they did with cycling, which at the time was a very small group of people, they really had a vision for it - and what's happened with cycling in the last 10 years has been incredible.
I actually admire a company like M&S - to have stayed on top after all of this time, and to have seen some of the transitions they have gone through. When I think about how challenging it is to keep part of our 30 strong organisation to keep moving forward and retain our staff's hopes and desires - when you apply that to the scale of M&S, it's unbelievable. There's often a disregard for corporates, and this juxtaposition against the successful small businesses, but there is a degree of scale that is critical for manufacturing in certain industries.
John Lewis and their employee-owned model really paved the way for what we're doing, and again that's unbelievable in terms of their scale as well.
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
It's completely essential and non-negotiable to be happy and to aspire to be that and to understand that's a psychological relationship with yourself and the world around you. It's not about money, I've been penniless at various times in my life, but the continuum of whether I've been happy has been fairly constant. I think it's important to explore, and to realise that there is an impact that you have on people around you and there is a myriad of relationships that you have to invest in and revere and treat as a special thing. That's what will make you happy and successful. Focus on making sure that you have a lot of integrity, that you're truthful and that the relationships you have with others are never taken for granted.
To find out more about factorylux check out their website at http://www.factorylux.com or follow them on twitter @factorylux . To check out their side line in embossed notebooks, go to http://www.prelogram.com
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