Lightyears began life as family-owned business Horn Belysning, growing to become Denmark’s second largest lighting company in the 1980s. During this period the company boasted an annual turnover of around 100 million kroner (€13.5 million). Their product line at the time was a mix of the company’s own models and generic lamps manufactured in China, these lamps were imported and sold in bulk to clients including German retail chains and IKEA.
“The problem with that business concept was that it was very simple to copy. It was far too easy for the customers to make the trip to China themselves and cut out the middleman”
The loss of crucial customers resulted in a decline in the company’s fortunes over a number of years, and saw their turnover drop by two thirds – a fresh approach was needed.
How design helped
In 2004 Lars Østergaard Olsen took over as Managing Director, he knew right away that a transformation was needed in order to save the company and create sustainable growth.
To kickstart this process, Lars hired a product and development manager with extensive design experience – Rasmus Markholt. Together they began a journey to transform the ailing firm into an internationally competitive business with a compelling product line of its own.
Their analysis identified a gap in the market: there was no shortage of cheap low quality lamps, and lots of expensive high-quality lamps, but what if you could sell high quality lamps cheaper than the competition? To do this, they defined and implemented a new design-led strategy and a complete rebrand.
They began by renaming the Danish company Lightyears, a brand more suited to the international market, and one that helped communicate the company’s shift from selling generic lamps to designing high quality lighting.
With a new brand in place and a clear strategy, Lightyears reached out to leading designers to help create their new range. The company couldn’t offer large pay cheques, but instead offered the designers royalties from each lamp sold. The designers had to be prepared to take a chance, but many were, and this resulted in some unique collaborations.
Working with top designers like Cecilie Manz and Jørn Utzon, the company were able to introduce 10 new products to market for their relaunch as Lightyears.
“With a design product, the competition simply can’t outmanoeuvre you with lower prices. Our designs allow us to stand out in this huge crowd – it’s not like there’s any shortage of lamps in the world.”
60 international markets reached
2x projected turnover in the first year
70% products now sold overseas
The results of Lightyears’ design strategy has been overwhelmingly positive, turnover in the first year was double what they had projected as the company’s product line became dramatically more competitive.
Their unique lighting range included the Caravaggio by Cecilie Manz and the Concert by Jørn Utzon which are now stocked by retailers in over 50 countries worldwide. The designer’s names and the quality of the product opened doors to new markets and rapidly became bestsellers. Lightyears lamps now hang in the Sydney Opera House and have become a huge hit with customers worldwide.
2014 marks the third year in a row that Lightyears has qualified as a “gazelle company” meaning it experienced continuous growth over the preceding four years, more than doubling its revenue or gross profit in that time.
At the heart of Lightyears’ success was the focus that their design strategy gave them – allowing them to shelve the products that were not benefitting the company and build an international reputation for quality.
“It’s great to sell a product that you can really vouch for. That said, like any company, we want to be profitable. If there was no money in using design we wouldn’t be doing it.”