Most high-end retailers have had a tough year, but not Dyson: entrepreneur and inventor Sir James Dyson’s technology empire has just racked up record sales of £770m – a 23% jump on the previous year. Admittedly much of this growth has come overseas, where his bagless vacuum cleaners, hand driers and bladeless desk-fans have been going down a storm. But it’s good for the UK, since Sir James apparently plans to take on another 350 R&D staff here. And it also demonstrates an important truth: innovative products that look good and work well will always sell, no matter what the prevailing climate.
We’re unashamed fans of Dyson’s products here at MT – there are few greater pleasures in life than slowly withdrawing your hands from one of his Airblade hand driers (do we need to get out more?). And it seems we’re not alone: sales were up by almost a quarter in 2009 as it exported products to 49 countries, while operating profits more than doubled to £190m. Demand from overseas was strong, but chief exec Martin McCourt said the UK also performed strongly, with the Dyson Ball and the Airblade both continuing to sell well.
What’s more, the future looks pretty bright: new handheld vacuums have already boosted sales in the first months of 2010, while its next big thing may be the new bladeless desk fan called the Air Multiplier (watch this for a very cool demonstration of how it works); since its launch in Australia, it’s already swiped a remarkable 64% share of the market, so Dyson naturally has high hopes for the Europe and the US. McCourt also says that its R&D people have an ‘unbelievable bank of ideas’ for future products - apparently Dyson now files more patent applications than anyone in the UK (except Rolls-Royce).
And that’s the great thing about Dyson’s success: it’s achieved it by investing heavily in R&D. After scaling back slightly last year, it plans to ramp up its spending again this year – as part of which it's doubling its UK team of engineers and scientists to 700. Better still, its people keep coming up with these whizzy new products that not only do something different but also look good. So it’s not surprising they keep selling. It’s a model that other UK manufacturers, particularly in the high-tech space, would do well to follow.
In today's bulletin:
BT unions demand inflation-busting pay rise - or they'll strike
Game on for Ballmer as Microsoft launches management shake-up
Sales in a vacuum: Dyson gadgets a cost worth paying
The Parent Project: Planes, trains and queue-jumping
Employees fess up to fiddling expenses