Nelo Neves has moved from South Africa to take the reins as Head of Trade Sales in the UK and Ireland for LEDVANCE. Electrical Review catches up with him to get his thoughts on the future of the lighting market.
- Have you settled into your new role at LEDVANCE?
I wouldn’t say I have fully settled in yet, but I’m settling in more and more every day. I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity at LEDVANCE, and the fact that I knew the company well before the move has made the transition a lot easier. I already understand the internal mechanics and vision of LEDVANCE, so I’m just ensuring I’m steering everything in the right direction.
- What have been the biggest challenges in transitioning to a different part of LEDVANCE?
The hardest part for me so far has been the change in portfolios. In South Africa, we are more of a lamps market because people prefer to retrofit a tube straight into the existing fitting rather than replace it with a panel, whereas the UK is a predominantly luminaire market. I was used to a ratio of 70% lamps and 30% luminaires, whereas here I’ve found the exact opposite. This was a big surprise for me, but a good surprise, as the luminaire makes far more purchasing sense for our customers and enables them to benefit from total consumption savings. Another challenge of transitioning to the UK has of course been getting used to the weather! I believe you call this summer, but in South Africa the winter temperatures are higher than this.
- With your experience in both countries, how does the South African lighting market differ from that of the UK?
I’ve already mentioned a difference in the lamps/luminaires market, even on the B2C side of the business. Another thing I’ve noticed is that although there are many LED importers in South Africa, people prefer the old tried and tested brand names they know, whereas in the UK price is the main driving factor. I’ve come across examples here where customers will switch away from internationally-recognised brands for just a penny or two. It’s a ‘Race to the Bottom’ and something we need to address, as all it does is force certain suppliers to cut corners.
A light bulb is an electrical appliance and is therefore a potential fire and safety hazard – the regulations around its design and manufacture reflect that. Also, a good LED bulb can last five years or more: a cheap bulb might not, creating extra cost in terms of buying and installing a replacement, and extra environmental issues in terms of increased waste. I’ve seen lighting products shipped with spelling mistakes on the packaging – that doesn’t inspire confidence in the quality of the product within.
- In your opinion, what has been the main impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the UK lighting industry?
This is very difficult for me to answer as I arrived here bang in the middle of the pandemic with limited knowledge of the situation beforehand. What I can say is that the situation has made it very difficult for me to meet our loyal clients and partners here in the UK. I would have dearly loved to do a three-month roadshow and personally meet all the people that we supply or work with here in the UK, but this has not been possible.
- What trends do you predict for the future?
The big one is the impact of the IoT on the way in which we think about lighting. We are seeing consumers and businesses turn their attention to connected living, which includes lighting. I predict a future where our lighting systems are as smart as our phones and optimised to a person’s specific lifestyle needs, as well as being conscious of our general energy consumption. Lighting needs to find the perfect balance of performance and conservation. LEDVANCE has the most comprehensive smart portfolio in Europe, and now we are very well placed to address these needs with our Human Centric Lighting systems linked to VIVARES. With this smart lighting solution, lighting installations can be fully managed and controlled remotely. We’ve done a lot of work on simplifying installations – now all the installer needs to do is scan a QR code.
- What do you hope to achieve in your new role at LEDVANCE UK?
When people buy into LEDVANCE, they are buying into OSRAM’s heritage of 100 years at the forefront of the lighting industry. I would like LEDVANCE to become just as much of a household name. With LEDVANCE, customers are fully protected by legislation, which we regard as a minimum rather than a maximum standard for safety, efficiency and quality. We often do more testing and more conformance work than the standards require. That also means when rules are extended or tightened, we often find that we (and hence our customers) are already compliant with the new rules. LEDVANCE is often on the standards bodies drafting the rules.
- How have things changed over the last five years – what are the main differences, any surprises?
Something I noticed in South Africa was a monumental shift from old traditional lamps to LED technology. With Africa always being very slow to adopt new technology, I was surprised how quickly people made the change. We were helped tremendously by the South African government not being able to provide energy to all the population, forcing people to look at generators and solar power, which obviously meant they had to switch to lower consuming items such as LED lamps. Although the UK grid is currently fit for purpose, grid capacity may become an issue here too.
- What has been the biggest impact/change in the industry?
Brexit has created a lot of complexity. With all the new legislation coming through, it has become almost impossible to plan further than 3 months ahead, which is a problem in lighting where lead times are long. For example, shipping goods from our French warehouse to the UK is harder. We now need a CA mark with a UK flag alongside the CE mark on our products, but the EU does not seem to be accepting dual-labelled products. In addition, goods for the Irish market routed through the UK need the same CE mark even though they are simply in transit. These issues can be resolved given time, but the speed of the change and lack of transition has made things very difficult in the short term.
- What do you see happening in the next five years?
I believe a consolidation of brands is on the cards. As lighting integrates more and more with smart home and office technology around us, we will see some old traditional names fall away. Already, we can see businesses changing their models to be more flexible and able to change from hardware suppliers to solution sellers.
Increasingly, lighting will become a service rather than a piece of hardware that is fitted once and then left. The vendor will take responsibility for ensuring that the right level of light is available in the right areas at the right times, shouldering the full burden of maintaining the lights, as well as ensuring compliance with the growing body of environmental, workplace and safety regulations that are in force.
This only makes sense if lighting is integrated with other building services like heating, ventilation and air quality. LEDVANCE is well ahead of the curve. For example, we have partnered with Honle UV Technology group to launch a range of air purifiers. We also have our range of UVC sterilisation items that are already being used in applications as diverse as manufacturing locations, showrooms and water purification systems. As one of the fastest growing luminaire manufacturers in the world, we are agile enough to react to market conditions and adapt immediately.