Celebrated disruptor of the international household appliance industry
The story of Dyson fulfils every Hollywood cliché of success there is: an unconventional idea that nobody would take on; a garage start-up; thousands of failed attempts; David vs Goliath/Hoover; and ultimately global dominance.
These days Dyson is often referred to as Britain’s Apple, which might seem odd if you still think of Dyson as a vacuum cleaner brand – albeit one driven by a centrifugal force and with a distinctive transparent dust-container.
It is true that Dyson’s £2.5bn turnover is built on consumer devices that essentially move air around. Dyson is the largest selling vacuum brand in the US, grows at 20% a year across developed markets, and enjoys soaring popularity across Asia, which accounts for almost three-quarters of its sales. (Most of Dyson’s manufacturing is also based in Asia.)
All of which is easily enough to qualify as ‘world-class’ in its chosen markets.
But it is the company’s ambition that really puts it in another league. Dyson currently spends around 18% of its revenues on R&D. It has invested heavily in robotics and battery technologies. However, he pulled the plug - literally - on a much-touted electric car project after two years of work because it was not commercially viable. Instead, the money will go into initiatives such as the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology.
This is a company that spent £50m developing a hair dryer. It turns out that conventional hairdryers get so hot they irreparably damage hair. Dyson's Supersonic measures the exit flow temperature 20 times per second to prevent that. That is world-class fastidiousness.
The company is in the process of enlarging its R&D facilities ten-fold and moving from its headquarters in the Cotswolds to a new base in Wiltshire.
It's latest cleaner is the Dyson Cyclone V10, an absolute cord-free machine, with 20% more suction than its predecessor and up to 60 minutes battery life, which can clean the entire house, carpets, hard floors, the car, the curtains, furniture, stairs... And then there's the Dyson Pure Cool purifying fan, which, you know, cools and cleans the air.
There is no question that Dyson has permanently disrupted the market for drying hands and hair, cooling offices and cleaning carpets. Whether it can stretch its innovation potential to other technology sectors is the billion-dollar question.
The company’s founder, James Dyson, is a vocal (if not uncritical) supporter of British engineering. In September 2017, he opened the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology and also sponsors the Dyson School of Engineering at Imperial College London. Dyson has filed nearly 9,000 patents to-date.
The company remains fully owned by James Dyson, a prominent supporter of Britain leaving the EU. He is one of the country’s richest men.