Lights4fun’s Amy Mason on creating magical moments through innovative lighting

Amy Mason, Director of Product at Lights4fun, sheds light on the development process behind the firm’s new Shaun the Sheep launch.

Amy, thanks for taking time out to chat. To kick us off, for anyone new to Lights4Fun, tell us about the company and how it got started?
Sure! It all started as a family business around the kitchen table back in 2003, when our founders decided that they’d had enough of poor-quality Christmas lights and wanted to bring something better to the market.

Almost 20 years later, Lights4fun has helped millions of customers across the UK, Europe and the USA create magical moments with decorative lighting. Our product selection now ranges from simple fairy lights to full families of LED Christmas reindeer, and everything that lights up in between!

In 2020, Lights4fun transitioned from a family-run business to becoming private-equity backed. Even with this change, our family values and commitment to high quality products that our customers love are still at the forefront of everything that we do.

Great. I imagine this sector is competitive. How do you make sure you stand out from the crowd?
We work incredibly hard to create unique, high-quality products that stand out in an increasingly competitive market. A large amount of our competition are well known home décor brands, whose knowledge is spread across a significant number of product categories. In comparison, we’re experts in what we do.

We have spent many years understanding what makes a great decorative light, what our customers want and most importantly, how we can translate both of those into products that stand out from the crowd. This – alongside our first-class customer service and two-year guarantee across our entire range – has helped us to build a strong base of very loyal customers.

Talk us through the design process behind your ranges. What kicks things off?
Our product and design teams work in close collaboration to create new products, designing as much of the final item as possible so that it is unique to us. A good example of this would be our LED Christmas reindeer… Our design journey on these products starts by visiting our local deer parks to take inspiration from real deer, which we then use to create the frames from scratch.

Wherever possible we avoid buying ‘off the shelf’ products, and even when our ability to influence a product’s design is limited ­– for example, on a simple string of fairy lights – we make sure to include extra functionality that we know is important to customers, like timers or remote controls.

It’s this attention to detail, and consistent focus on our customers’ needs, that ensures our products are distinctive and enables us to stay ahead of the competition.

Amy Mason, Lights4fun

How important are trends to your industry?
Well, we look to many different resources for trend insights. Our product development journey starts with a significant amount of analysis in this area – from published seasonal trend forecasts and market reports, to press and media insights, as well as our own commercial and customer data trends. All of this information then helps to inform not only our product strategy for the coming season, but our campaign strategy too, and the stories that we tell to our customers about our products.

Most importantly, we continue to keep abreast of all of this information throughout the product development process, so that we can respond to changes in direction when necessary.

You recently launched some Shaun the Sheep lights. Why did you decide to move into licensing?
Our main focus when it comes to product development is creating unique, own-design items that you’ll only find at Lights4fun. Licensing offers us a huge opportunity to broaden our exclusive product ranges with brands and characters that are known and loved by customers, many of whom may never have come across Lights4fun before.

We’ve noticed in recent years that our market has become even more competitive, and by incorporating licensing into our product strategy we’re able to ensure that we cut through the noise of our competitors.

This winter we’ve launched our first Shaun the Sheep light, which has already received an amazing response. We’re incredibly excited for the product launches that we have planned for early 2023.

Amy Mason, Lights4fun

From a design point of view, how have you had to adjust things to accommodate someone else’s IP?
The product development, design and sign off process has definitely been a change to what we’re used to. Accommodating someone else’s IP does restrict the creativity to an extent, as you aren’t starting the design process with a blank sheet of paper. There have also naturally been obstacles to overcome when trying to incorporate our technology and production capabilities into the final product, whilst staying within the brand and character guidelines.

However, we’ve had fantastic support from the team at Aardman Animations, and they’ve trusted us to make design decisions in our area of expertise. This has meant the final product is one that is both true to the character, while also being exactly what we want a Lights4fun product to be.

Amy Mason, Lights4fun

What advice would you give to a company trying to break into licensing for the first time?
Take the time to research the licences that are best suited to your brand and customers, and avoid selecting based on your own preferences and awareness. It’s also incredibly important to understand the financial details of a licensing programme, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s right for your business. The best way to do this is to find ways to speak to the brands themselves – attending an event like BLE is a great place to start.

Finally, be realistic about the product that you’re able to create, rather than trying to secure a brand on the premise of producing a something that’s outside of your existing design and production capabilities.

Great advice. Thinking about design, what advice would you give to a designer who is looking to work in the lighting industry?
My main piece of advice would be to pay attention to the details that make the difference when it comes to product quality. Customers are increasingly concerned with durability and longevity rather than just price, and the components and designs that you choose are crucial to this.

Finally where do you hope Lights4fun is as a business in five years’ time?
Our target in that timeframe is to achieve revenues of £100m and we have a clear strategic focus to support this growth – attracting new customers in all of our markets, increasing the value of our existing customer base and strengthening our position as market leaders through continued product innovation.

Our licensing strategy will play a key part in supporting each of these areas. We hope to become a household name… A destination for customers looking to transform their everyday spaces, recognised for our innovative, high-quality products, as well as the first-class service that we offer.

Amy, thanks again for this – and good luck with Shaun the Sheep!

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