A 94 percent increase in total sales over the past two years isn’t bad for a company that’s just establishing its footprint in the North American market—let alone one that’s about to celebrate 20 years in business. With an ethos pillared by artisan craftsmanship and noble materials, British lighting manufacturer CTO Lighting has garnered the attention of industry players like Barbara Barry, André Balazs and Yabu Pushelberg.
CTO Lighting co-founder Chris Turner describes how early resilience and a sustained demand for quality has helped the company he founded with his wife, Clare Turner, continue to grow.
What did the early days of CTO Lighting look like?
We started CTO out of our bedroom. By day, it was an office. And by night, it was my daughter’s room. It worked quite well, actually. We had a small workshop at the same time in a less lucrative part of London. That kept getting broken into, and we’d fortify it with barbed wire and metal grates over the window. [The thieves] kept nicking all our tools every weekend, and the final straw came when we had barricaded everything up, and they broke in through the roof. At that point, we quit the workshop.
But about that time, we got a large order from a U.K. retailer. We got thousands of lights ordered from that—and that was about 20 years ago, so it got us started. Today, we’ve got our own factory and a core base of U.K.-based suppliers.
Were there any unexpected obstacles you faced in an effort to grow the company?
Twenty years ago, we were retailing modern lighting and there was a choice to be made. Some people decided to go make in China, and some people decided to stay in the U.K.—and we decided to stay in the U.K. and service the luxury industry. That was the best business decision Clare and I ever made. As the Chinese imports came in, they were cheaper, so the retail went that way. And the interior designers and hotels and restaurants wanted something better, so they would buy from CTO Lighting, and that’s evolved to where we are today.
Because I am a designer by nature, the design side is more natural. The business side I need help on. Both myself and my wife get business coaching, and that’s really helped us. I was a bit skeptical about it, but I was talking with one of our good interior design clients here in the U.K. and she had said it made the biggest difference to her business. And we’ve found the same thing.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Always believe in what you’re doing. Go with your gut instinct. Whether it’s a business decision or a design decision, that works for me. And if you make a mistake, it’s your mistake and you learn from it. There’s nothing worse than having someone else’s decision and you think, “Nah, that wasn’t right. My gut feeling didn’t go with that.” So go with your own gut feeling.
What’s next for CTO Lighting?
It’s growing the business from that small to medium size. As we’ve grown out of a small business—we’ve got 10 [people] in our office and a similar number in our factory—it’s about putting structures and systems in place that allow us to expand and get to that next level. We’ve got those in place now, so we’re looking forward to the next couple years of expansion. We’ve expanded 94 percent in sales over the past two years, so we’re doing very well, but we’re just at the start of the process now.