Anil Anand, Founder of Inspired Lighting, reflects on 24 years in his industry, the differences between doing business in the UK and the UAE, and how the sector is changing
What has been the biggest change to shake up the lighting industry over the past couple of decades?
The development of LED. When it became more mainstream, that’s what really turned the lighting industry upside down and gave it the biggest shakeup of the past 40 years, at least that is what I can remember! This used to be a steady kind of industry, there weren’t many big developments, beyond moving from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs.
But then LED came along and gave the industry a much required shake up. Beyond the obvious improvement in energy efficiency, exciting new designs and development became possible because of LED technology. There was a period when it was predicted that traditional decorative light fittings, especially crystal lighting, would be phased out. Thankfully, a solution was found and filament LED lamps that resemble traditional incandescent lamps, have been successfully developed. This has meant that not only do we have the vast choice of new LED based designs but also can still utilise fixtures we have grown up seeing.
Because of the way LED works —being lower voltage, lower current, lower consumption — it brought the electronics market closer to the lighting market. Prior to LED, electronics and lighting were completely different industries. LED has been the bridge between them.
Whilst LEDs were always used in a smaller scale in electronics — computers, TV displays and panels – they became easier to integrate, and that’s where smart home and IoT came in. Because all the devices controlling these lights are in the electronics space, you’ve got global companies such as Amazon and Google as well as others that are making a lot of the IoT smartphone equipment. These accompanies aren’t, historically speaking, lighting companies but are providing gateways for everyone to be able to control their lighting in a much sophisticated, yet convenient manner to a traditional flick switch..
Lighting – its customisation and control – is hugely important in a smart home, and we do sell everything from smart IoT-connected bulbs to complete, sophisticated home automation. Before a smart home system we had home automation, which requires everything to be hardwired and you have expensive control systems, you need qualified technicians to do the installation and programming, something the end user can never really control.
It can be a complicated system, requiring sophisticated installation and a lot of equipment. With that comes higher cost which can still be the right solution for commercial projects or your larger villas. Obviously anything hard wired has a greater stability and reliability. I am sure we have all experienced the difference in internet speed and connectivity when you can plug your laptop or computer into an ethernet socket in the wall compared to a wifi connection with numerous other devices fighting for the same.
Smart homes predominantly rely on Wi-Fi and ultimately a lower cost of installation. It also allows the integration of different brands. This opens the market up in the sense that you can buy a smart lamp from one brand, a smart appliance from another, and maybe a smart light fixture from a third – and they can all work on the same system. Previously, with home automation, you had to go down a specific route or brand. Now, everything’s on the same system.
Lighting is only a small part of IoT but it is exciting to see and be part of the developments and see how lighting is playing an important role. As lighting is everywhere it is proving to be one of the best mediums to incorporate sensors and devices to provide a network for recording data. When we talk about IoT, we’re talking about Smart cities, Smart buildings, Smart retail and the most important for me, Smart homes, well that is where the heart is.
In your seven years of operation here in Dubai, who have your typical customers been and how have their demands changed?
In the UK, we are a completely B2B supplier. It’s a bit different there, in the sense that you still have a tiered structure. There is the importer acting as the main distributor, followed by a reseller – either a retailer or a trade distributor such as electrical or lighting wholesaler – and then you have the consumer or contractor.
Here in the UAE, a lot of people cut out the middle person and want to be the importer themselves. Many retailers or resellers are also an importer. We have still maintained our BtoB business model, our customer base consists of trade people, resellers, lighting consultants and contractors — anybody who has a lighting requirement and isn’t the end consumer.
Over the years that’s changed a bit. Now, because we have one of the most extensive showrooms, it attracts more end users and decorative lighting ultimately is chosen by the end user. Because we have our own brands in decorative, commercial and contract lighting we can see that on the decorative side, even if we are selling to a trade customer, the consumer will pick a product based on what they like.
Meanwhile, spotlights, LED strip lights, ambient or functional lighting are proposed either by the lighting consultant or in the lighting design and accepted by the end client.
In terms of how demands have changed, everybody wants everything quicker, cheaper and better quality! Delivery was always relatively faster in the UAE – it’s a smaller country than the UK so you can get from one end to the other fairly quickly. In the UK, if you’re based in the south and want to get something delivered to the north, it’s a minimum ten-hour drive, so doing that kind of same-day delivery is less feasible and smaller deliveries it isn’t cost effective, so you’d use a courier service which then has its own related costs and delays. Here, couriers are used but not to be the same extent and for smaller deliveries you have the guys on motorbikes provided a quick and cost effective solution..
Like in every industry now, whether a customer is buying one lamp or involved in a huge project they push for more discount. The internet has provided the biggest pricelist in the world and a search for any product will provide a vast array of prices. Customers will always focus on the lowest price they find, which most often is from a seller in another country. Every day we have customer questioning why they have to pay a higher price here – but they don’t always understand the quality of a product cannot be guaranteed from a perfect image or enticing descriptions, the logistics cost and import duty involved in bringing the product and ultimately how a problem would be resolved should the product fail. Unfortunately it is a lesson we see many customers experience and I often have to say “Don’t forget, the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”
The dawn of the internet era also saw an influx of new businesses without any real knowledge or expertise entering the market, and prices beginning to freefall. As a result fourteen years ago I had to decide — do I stick it out as an electrical wholesaler, or design, develop and market my own brands of product? I went with the latter and have never looked back. Today with eight key brands, Inspired Lighting stocks and distribute over 12,000 lighting products with endless more in development.