John Bullock writes: I’ve been following the progress of Footfall Lighting for the past few years. Its probably my romantic notion that UK SMEs are the great champions of industry – we’re just hopelessly misunderstood. So I welcomed the opportunity to sit down with John Haynes, the man behind this new enterprise.
JB: John, we both started out in the industrial heart of the West Midlands. How did your journey take you from the Black Country to making handrails in a village in Somerset?
Well, where do I begin? I was offered a Graduate Mechanical Engineering Apprenticeship in the West Midlands by Chubb Locks. At the time Chubb was the world’s largest security company, as you know – now, sadly, no longer with us. In those days steel was the dominant material with fascias, architraves, safe deposit boxes, grab rails and the like on every high street. It was here that I learned to weld, cut, form, machine and polish stainless steel to the highest quality. After the company was broken-up in the Thatcher years, I decided to go back to university before spending 5 years travelling the world looking for manufacturing opportunities.
Eventually, I found myself back I started, in the West Midlands. I manufactured aluminium castings, mainly for the automotive and aerospace industries. And, as you can imagine, all to the highest quality. I was also making components for a local GKN subsidiary that specialised in handrails and industrial walkways and that led to me starting my own business in partnership with one of their senior engineers. So my interest in steel goes all the way back to the 1970s.
After selling that company, I ran my own foundry in Northern France before being appointed MD of, perhaps, the largest stainless-steel casting foundry in Europe, where we worked with many grades of stainless-steel. However, my passion lay with the idea of handrail and stainless-steel fabrication and that brought me back to the UK. And with a growing demand for LED lighting in handrails, it seemed inevitable to tap into this very niche market. There are many opportunities out there.
JB: And that led to the start of Footfall Lighting?
Yes, I made the decision to focus on LED handrails as this combines my knowledge of stainless-steel fabrication with LED module inserts. I believe that there is no company in the world to match us for quality of service.
For the past 20 years l had thought our handrail lights were the ‘jewel in the crown’ and deserved serious attention, rather than being an optional extra to our architectural metal work. So, in 2015, we moved all our tooling into a new factory in Somerset and began a programme of intense development into what has become Footfall Lighting. It was an exciting move – and very challenging! It meant investing in a dedicated stainless-steel fabrication and assembly facility for the handrails, as well as the manufacture of a new range of inset light modules.
We set ourselves the ambition that all our products should conform to the highest quality standards and we are now accredited with UKAS ISO 9001- 2015. Everything that we do is supported by top-quality CAD design, solid modelling and computer simulation to interpret our clients’ ideas. We’re proud to have a complete in-house facility.
JB: Where is Footfall Lighting now?
Footfall Lighting does take up all my time. By its nature, every handrail design is bespoke and has to comply with differing clients’ specifications and standards. To ensure perfection in manufacture – and there’s very little tolerance allowed when you’re designing handrails to follow the twists and turns of a building – we operate strictly to UKAS ISO 9001-2015 Quality Standard; that means that all our products are independently tested to meet the most demanding quality and performance standards.
JB: What do you think is the secret of the company’s success?
It’s about the people within the company. My emphasis has always been to have people who share the same vision and objectives as me; highly competent administrators; skilled machinists capable of operating the very latest CNC machines; designers working with the best and most relevant CAD programmes and, critically, highly trained and site-qualified installation engineers. Put those together and I believe we have the complete package at Footfall.
JB: You’re in a very competitive area of the lighting market. How do you approach that?
Like all good manufacturers, we go to considerable pains to understand our market, and to watch carefully where the competition is coming from, especially that from low-cost countries. We’re confident that, due to the skills of our UK toolmakers, the fact that we use the very latest production machinery, and source only from the best, our prices will not be beaten. Lean manufacture is a challenge l find especially interesting. And because we believe in the quality of what we produce, we know that our handrails will stand the test of time – and that makes for a very cost-efficient solution for our clients.
JB: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I believe in making an everyday product better to live with. A handrail is a handrail. A handrail with light is completely transformed; it lights the way, putting light exactly where it’s needed, with no light pollution. I believe that we help to create a sense of wellbeing and a positive visual environment and, just as importantly, we provide greater safety for the users.
Our handrail lights are unique to us. Their beauty lies in the way that they fit seamlessly into the handrail. We’re offering individual spotlights for accent lighting as well as linear modules for general illumination. And general illumination can be provided either by using individual modules of varying lengths, or via continuous light modules; whatever our customer is looking for. And all with the very latest LED technology and controls.
JB: And how do you see the future for Footfall Lighting?
This will be about keeping abreast of new technology and design trends, all backed up with quality control in all areas of our activity. That must be the bedrock of our business. I want our lights to always have the very latest LED technology; we work alongside one of the UKs leading LED players to make sure of that.
We want to be able to respond to our clients’ visions for their handrail lighting and, if required, to incorporate smart control into our systems. After all, a handrail can relay a whole range of critical information, so let’s make the best use of it.
We are about to open a London office/showroom with our London sales operation, Footfall-Solaris. I’m happy to say that we’re actively looking for suitably qualified graduate engineers to work with us alongside our London installation manager and sales staff. That’s a sign of our commitment to the business.
I can’t conclude without mentioning our environmental concerns and obligations. Our Somerset base is in a beautiful location and it’s a constant reminder of our responsibilities towards the environment. We all live locally, our car park has more bikes than cars, our modern factory is thermally efficient, and we’re on constant watch for material solutions to non-degradable products. And, of course, it’s worth noting that handrail lighting causes minimum light pollution in our towns and cities.
Thank you, John Haynes.
You can contact Footfall Lighting HERE.