Dyson has grown exponentially from trialing 5127 vacuum cleaner prototypes over a number of years to becoming the go-to choice for office and home appliances. Let’s take a look at Dyson’s remarkable journey.
One of the leading British technology firms, Dyson Limited, offers innovative, modern, and highly functional home and office products, ranging from vacuum cleaners, air purifiers, and heaters to hand dryers, hairdryers, and fans.
Such has been the company's remarkable growth in 3 decades, ever since 1991, that it is now among the crème de la crème in the consumer discretionary products industry. Yes, that’s right!
Here are some stats, highlighting Dyson’s prowess and stature as one of the leading companies in the world:
The ubiquity and reputation of the company's products are such that they are renowned, revered, and demanded around the globe.
Let’s now delve deep into Dyson’s history to understand how it all began with a simple idea and how it continued to climb in the corporate world.
So, without any further ado, let’s get started:
Dyson Limited is the brainchild of James Dyson, who started the company on his own without any formal degree or background in business. His journey from barrows to #60 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a net worth of $26.2 billion leaves little to the imagination.
Before we dive deeper into the company that continues to set the bar higher and leave people awestruck with its futuristic and impressive products, including cordless and bagless vacuum cleaners to bladeless fans, let’s understand the force powering it ahead: James Dyson.
Born in 1947 in the town of Cromer, Norfolk, on the east coast of England to a family of academics and creatives, James Dyson first studied in a boarding school known as Gresham’s School in Holt, where he was immersed in arts and languages.
Then he decided to pursue liberal arts at the Byam Shaw School of Art for a year, followed by the Royal College of Art (RCA), where he studied interior designing and furniture design for four years. Subsequently, he stumbled upon engineering and was fascinated with how it can be leveraged to make things work better.
At RCA, Dyson began working with a British entrepreneur, Jeremy Fry, to build a landing aircraft. This is where he learned to engineer and develop a product from scratch.
Together, they designed and developed Sea Truck – an amphibious high-speed landing craft with a smooth fiberglass hull. Dyson even used the design as his thesis project in 1970, and once he graduated with his degree in interior designing, he was hired to sell Sea Trucks at Rotork Controls Ltd, the company headed by Fry.
The Sea Trucks were undoubtedly a success as they were selling over 200 boats per year, and their customers included Scottish lairds who used them to transport goods and even the Egyptian army, which deployed them in the war with Israel in 1973.
During his sprees at renovating and repairing his three-hundred-year-old farmhouse in the Cotswolds, Dyson found himself spending quite a bit of time with a wheelbarrow. He soon discovered the faults in the equipment and realized how unstable and crummy it was, with its rubber wheel sinking into the ground, puncturing, and leaving marks and the shallow and wide metal trough sloping the contents.
Dyson soon came up with a solution to design a deep molded-plastic trough and replace the barrow with a ball instead of the wheel called Ballbarrow.
It would be an understatement to say that it was a success in the U.K. as, within a year, the Ballbarrow had taken more than half of the wheelbarrow’s market and was selling around 45000 units in a year. However, before he got the chance to enter the much bigger U.S. market, his idea was emulated by someone else – stolen by an ex-employee and shared with a Chicago-based company, according to Dyson.
However, Dyson was not dismayed by his misfortune, and instead of being crushed and starting a litigation war, he moved forward to the idea that put him on the world map: a bagless vacuum cleaner.
Making things work better and solving problems has been at the very heart of Dyson from the beginning. Once Dyson found out the ideal match of design and engineering, he got to work and began solving real-world problems.
He helped design and develop a boat named Sea Truck which was used for transportation and military use. Then he took on the task of redesigning the wheelbarrow as he simply could not ignore the problems he faced while using it. His invention: the “Ballbarrow,” became a huge success and propelled him to fame. But even before he had the chance to capitalize on it, the idea was stolen.
What did Dyson do when crushed with misfortune? He moved forward to the next idea and project.
Dyson’s frustrating experience with malfunctioning and breaking down of his Hoover vacuum cleaner while using it at home made him realize its shortcoming. Being the inquisitive individual that he was, he took it upon himself to find the root of the problem and took it apart, layer by layer. He soon understood the problem: The accumulated dust clogged the pores, making it lose suction power, restricting the airflow and, in turn, reducing the effectiveness of the vacuum.
The idea popped into Dyson’s head when he saw a sawmill that used a 30-foot-high conical centrifuge that could spin and remove dust out of the air. He knew that the same technology could be shrunk down and used in the vacuum cleaner, eliminating the need for bags and ensuring they wouldn’t lose suction.
Hence, he got to work. He learned more about how large industrial cyclones could remove sawdust and applied the concept in a vacuum cleaner. He replaced the bag in his vacuum cleaner with a cardboard cyclone, much to his amazement, as it worked well by gathering more dust and being more resistant to breakdowns.
Over a period of many years, he built over five thousand prototypes to perfect the design. It was a rough period for his family, and they were literally counting pennies. Not only did his wife had to get a job, but he was considered crazy.
However, he kept at it, and with iterative improvements and years of testing and tweaking, he finalized a prototype which he named “DC01” that used “Dual Cyclone” technology.
Building a breakthrough appliance was one thing, but getting it on the market was a different ball game altogether – one for which Dyson wasn’t ready.
Dyson had thought that licensing the idea to form a company would be easy, and manufacturers would happily team up with him. His dreams of a vacuum revolution were cut short as he was rejected time and again by companies who saw his product as a threat to their established businesses.
Starting from domestic companies and failing to get the desired results, he turned to explore opportunities overseas.
Initially, he bagged a deal with Amway, a U.S. based consumer products company, but it backed out at the end and released its own version of a dual-cyclone vacuum cleaner. Hoover, the top vacuum company in the U.K., refused to collaborate unless he gave up his rights to his invention. Electrolux, another well-known name in the consumer electronics industry, told him point-blank that it was not possible to sell vacuum cleaners without bags.
Dejected but unwilling to give up, Dyson kept looking for opportunities.
In the mid-1980’s Dyson was finally able to manufacture and sell his vacuum cleaners by licensing to a Japanese Manufacturer, Apex, which released a pink-colored upright cyclonic vacuum cleaner called the G-Force in Japan, for a staggering price of $2000.
The expensive device became a status symbol in Japan to the point that everyone wanted to get their hands on it. The G-Force also won the 1991 International Design Fair in Japan, proving its worth.
Seeing the success of the G-Force, a Canadian company, Iona introduced the product in Canada with the name of Drytech.
Having had some financial success and realizing that if he really wanted the technology out there, he’d have to steer the ropes himself, Dyson set up Dyson Appliances Limited in the U.K. in 1991. It wasn’t easy as he reportedly took a loan of approximately $850,000 by putting his home as collateral and invested his life savings in order to breathe life into his vision.
Not only did he establish a factory but also a research center as it was important to him, right from the beginning to come up with new ways of building better products.
He launched a vacuum cleaner, the Dual Cyclone DC01, in 1993 that he designed and developed all on his own at a price of $399. While it was no doubt costly to the extent that retailers were hesitant to carry it in their stores, within two years, it was outselling Hoover and began capturing market share rapidly.
Contrary to the opinion of the majority, people were fascinated with this innovative new technology, clear and minimalistic design, and the fact that it allowed them to see how the junk buildup as the vacuum cleaner sucks it.
To attract people towards its unique product and get people talking, Dyson ran an advertising campaign on T.V. highlighting that Dyson’s vacuum cleaners did not require any bags, unlike its competitors. The slogan “Say goodbye to the bag” worked its magic, and Dyson Dual Cyclone quickly became a hot-selling product in the U.K. and even garnered attention worldwide.
In 1999, Hoover U.K launched its own version of a bagless vacuum cleaner. Dyson sued them for patent infringement, forcing them to stop. However, various brands worldwide had by then began producing their own versions of the bagless vacuum cleaner, and Dyson, who could have rightfully sued them, all choose not to do. According to him, it would simply divert his focus and achieve little.
When Dyson experienced firsthand the shortcomings of his Hoover vacuum cleaner, he took it upon himself. He understood the pain points and the reasons behind the poor performance of the vacuum cleaner, and then he got to work.
Over the years, he worked on 5126 prototypes before he finalized the Dyson vacuum. He failed time and again but improved iteratively and persisted—the end result: a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner.
Having built a product, he was rejected by both domestic and foreign companies, but he didn’t give up. He finally partnered up with a Japanese company, Apex, and later on set up his own company as he realized that to really kickstart the vacuum revolution, he has to lead himself. By risking everything he had, he established his own company and captured the market share within years by prioritizing product quality above anything else, marketing smartly, and focusing on what truly matters.
Whilst Dyson focused on the UK, he licensed the vacuum cleaner technology to Fantom technologies in North America from 1996-2001. After that, he decided to handle the reins himself.
At the same time, Dyson decided that running the company consumed the majority of his time, and it would be in the interest of both him and the company that he focuses primarily on design, innovation, and engineering. Thus, he brought Martin McCourt as the CEO and resorted himself to what he was most passionate about making things work better.
McCourt led the successful launch of Dyson in the US and established an efficient manufacturing arm of the company to cater to the growing demand. He helped Dyson gain popularity in the US and managed to strike deals with retailers to sell Dyson's vacuum cleaners.
Best Buy was the first local retailer that came on board, presumably because the manager there tried the vacuum cleaner himself and, upon witnessing its superior functionality and usability, pushed to start selling it. Within a year, Best Buy was selling the vacuum cleaner way ahead of its projects, and customers began loving it. Hence, all the other top retailers, including Target and Home Depot, followed suit and joined hands with Dyson.
Dyson, meanwhile, had gone back to the drawing board in order to enhance the quality of the vacuum cleaner and work on new products. It was only a matter of time before Dyson ventured into other home appliances, starting with the washing machine.
He wanted to develop a washing machine with superior cleaning power. It is said that the engineers at Dyson found out that a traditional washing machine takes 2 hours to remove as much dirt as hand washing can remove in just 15 minutes. That made them ponder that is the washing machine even facilitating people.
It led to a new type of washing machine – the ContraRotator also referred to as the double-drum Dyson washer. It had two drums rotating in opposite directions to simulate hand washing. Not only was the machine more energy-efficient, but it was also more effective as it flexed the fabric of the clothes and expelled the dirt, and could handle larger loads. Plus, the washing machine was adorned with unique and bright colors, making it stand out from the other washing machines.
It was launched in 2000 and priced at $1,300 (£1,000) – double the cost of competitors' products. While it did have positive reviews, it failed to capture the market and become the go-to washing appliance of customers. The Contrarotator was followed up by "Flowcheck" and "Allergy" models.
The Dyson washing machine failed to become a commercial success and was eventually discontinued a few years later.
Dyson considered it an "educative failure" and kept on encouraging his employees to be bold and take risks. Inventing is the key, and that is why Dyson earmarks approximately 15 percent of the company's annual revenue for R&D.
Until 2002, Dyson products were manufactured in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. However, due to a number of reasons, including high costs of production and the limited space in the UK, Dyson transferred production to Malaysia.
The company faced a huge backlash as many people were made redundant in the UK, and labor unions and the government were not happy, but it followed through with the plan.
Having re-located the manufacturing arm to Malaysia, Dyson kept the headquarters in Malmesbury, UK. The cost savings enabled Dyson to invest more in research and development and continue to innovate with new products.
In 2004, Dyson and Meiban Group Ltd formed a joint Meiban-Dyson Laundry Manufacturing Plant in Malaysia. In 2007, Dyson partnered up with VS Industry Bhd (VSI) to boost its supply chain as VSI had expertise in everything, from sourcing and manufacturing to distribution. This helped Dyson supply high-quality finished products to its customers around the globe.
Upon realizing that running the company was consuming most of his time and it was in the interest of everyone that he focuses on innovation, Dyson brought over a CEO, who strengthened the production side of the business and helped expand in the US by partnering up with retailers.
Meanwhile, Dyson did what he does best: solve problems. Upon finding out that washing machines don't do a good enough job of cleaning the clothes, Dyson developed and launched a washing machine – the Contrarotator. While it got glowing reviews, it failed to be a commercial success. The company learned from this failure and did not back down from taking risks.
The company made a strategic decision to relocate the production to Malaysia due to lower costs and unavailability of space. While Dyson received a huge backlash, the company stuck to its strategy and yielded positive results in the form of cost savings.
With an obsessive eye for precise engineering, aesthetic industrial design, and state-of-the-art technology, Dyson has made its mark in a market of top-of-the-line household and business appliances. In the process, it has proved that premium-quality consumer gadgets can make companies money if they do it well.
That's not all. Dyson is shrouded in secrecy. The company is not public, employees are tight-lipped, several projects are undergoing at one time, and one look at Dyson's headquarters where prototypes are shielded, access is extremely limited, and machinery is obscured from view will have you believing that you are in a whole new world.
Dyson has, over the years, released an extensive range of products, including vacuum cleaners, washing machines, fans, heaters, lights, hand dryers, and air purifiers, among others.
Let's now take a look at some of Dyson's products:
In 2006, Dyson put on the market its first-ever cordless vacuum cleaner, the DC16. It had the same cyclone technology and upright styling except that it did not have to be plugged in to use.
This was a bold move by the company as, according to analysts’ predictions, it was going to negatively impact the sales of the company's main product – corded vacuum cleaner – which accounted for the majority of the sales at the time.
Over the course of time, new models were launched, including DC30, DC44, and DC59, among others with more power, better performance, enhanced features for various markets.
Such has been the success of Dyson's cordless vacuum cleaners that the company ended the production of corded vacuum cleaners in 2018 to solely focus on the cordless ones.
While Dyson continued to do well with its core offerings, it kept on innovating to develop new products. One such product was Dyson's first robotic vacuum cleaner, the DC06, which was introduced in 2005.
This unique tech appliance had the ability to 'learn' the room according to Dyson and clean accordingly. From differentiating between objects, such as furniture and walls, and living beings, such as humans and pets, thanks to its sensors and software, the robot vacuum cleaner was set to revolutionize cleaning.
Unfortunately, that plan didn't come into motion as the robotic vacuum cleaner never really could make it commercially and remained an in-house project.
In 2015, however, Dyson 360 Eye™ Robot was launched after years of experimentation. It could clean the house without anyone having to steer it. Yes, that's right!
Dyson's Airblade Hand Dryer launched in 2006 was a success and helped Dyson gain a strong foothold in the commercial appliance market. Gone were the days of traditional hand dryers doing a lackluster job as soon as the sleek and elegant Dyson Airblade made its way in the market.
Built to be installed in workplaces and public washrooms, the Airblade used Dyson's digital motor to power a stream of air at rapid speed to dry the hands within 10-14 seconds. Plus, it used a HEPA filter to eliminate bacteria from the air, cleaning the hands hygienically. Moreover, it costs less to run and is eco-friendly.
It was acknowledged and accredited as the first-ever hygienic hand dryer. Newer versions of the Airblade have continued to roll in and perform exceedingly well in the marketplace.
In 2009, the Dyson Air Multiplier – an electric fan with no blades – was announced, and it soon garnered attention worldwide. After all, people had had enough of the visible blades and grilles that accumulated nothing but dust.
Not only was the Dyson Air Multiplier safe, stable, and sturdy, but also easy to clean, offering precise control and smooth oscillation to provide uninterrupted airflow.
Ever since the original release of Air Multiplier, Dyson has kept on improving the product and added new features. From cooling fans to the electrical heater and infrared control to Jet Focus offering different streams of air, Dyson Air Multiplier has seen numerous upgrades.
Building on the same Air Multiplier technology and augmenting its offerings, Dyson announced Dyson Hot fan heater in 2011, Air Multiplier Humidifier in 2015, and Dyson Pure Cool air purifier in 2016.
Continuing to diversify its product line, Dyson launched LED lamps named "CSYS" in 2015 with heat pipe technology. The goal was to end problems caused by poor lighting, such as eyestrain and headaches, and decreased productivity, while enhancing the ambiance with optimal lighting.
In 2018, Dyson launched the "Lightcycle" with enhanced smart capabilities that enabled Bluetooth connectivity and provided users with the freedom to adjust the lighting however they want.
In addition to the LED lamps, a.k.a task lights, suspended lights, Dyson Cu-beam, were also added to the portfolio.
Dyson entered the beauty and haircare market in 2016 as it released a high-end hair dryer, Dyson Supersonic handheld hairdryer. Even though it was priced high, it managed to become the best-selling hairdryer in the UK in 2017.
Other models, including the Airwrap styler, which can style wet hair, and Corrale a cordless hair straightener, were also launched in 2018 and 2020, respectively.
Safe to say, Dyson is not standing still. It is ever-evolving and continuing to invest heavily in R&D and looking into innovative new technologies such as battery technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to keep on creating new products that can thrive in new markets.
Even though Dyson’s vacuum cleaners were doing extremely well and the company was leading in the market, Dyson kept on investing in improving its main product: vacuum cleaners.
Launching the cordless vacuum cleaner even though it was going to negatively impact its main product - corded vacuum cleaner - is an example of Dyson staying ahead of the curve without being afraid of the consequences. Similarly, the years-long robotic vacuum cleaner project, which did not work out well initially, helped Dyson prepare for a future in which smart appliances were going to rule.
Similarly, Dyson continued to diversify by launching more premium-quality household and business appliances. From the dryers and fans to the lighting and haircare, all helped the company to grow.
Defying conventional wisdom and against all odds, the company has managed to carve out its own market and established its brand by breathing new life into the home and office appliance market with cutting-edge technological devices that are near perfect.
Dyson firmly believes that it takes real ingenuity to find a better way of doing things and solving real-world problems. Hence, it puts its money where its mouth is by continuing to heavily invest in research. It is estimated that Dyson invests around 15-20% of its annual revenue in R&D.
From establishing and running research and development labs to its extensive team of scientists, engineers, and specialists across the UK, Singapore, and the US pioneering new technologies, Dyson goes the extra mile to constantly find ways of making things work better and push boundaries.
The company is committed to refining and improving products, making them smarter, stronger, quieter, long-lasting, and eco-friendly.
Currently, Dyson has around 6000 granted and pending patents as well as registered designs. Let this sink in for a moment.
Patenting aggressively is essential for Dyson’s success. After all, you can’t expect a company to invest billions of dollars as well as time and energy in R&D only to later find out that its invention is copied by someone else.
Dyson considers patenting to be crucial as it encouraging innovation and brings forward more genuinely unique and creative ideas.
Following are a few of the many patent infringement lawsuits involving Dyson:
There’s one thing that Dyson never compromises upon the product quality. At Dyson, engineering leads the design; functionality and usability are at the forefront. The company goes to extreme lengths to make sure it offers unique products of the highest quality that add value to people’s daily lives.
From inventing new technologies such as Dyson Digital Motor and Root Cyclone Technology to deliver the best end-product that’s not only sleek and elegant but also highly functional and user-friendly, Dyson stands out and hooks customers.
Dyson’s products don’t come cheap. Everyone knows that and still buys them. Since the beginning, even when Dyson’s competitors were engaged in price wars and selling cheap products in large volumes, Dyson priced its products highly.
While the price point shocked many, it did work well for the company. Customers were willing to pay a high amount because they felt Dyson’s products offered high value and justified the price point.
Dyson has stuck to its guns throughout its 30 years in business. It invests a significant part of its annual revenue in R&D. Then, it patents any inventions to safeguard itself and never hesitates to go after those who go against it.
Dyson prioritizes producing the best quality of products that stand out not only due to its features and functionality but also design and usability. It doesn’t shy away from charging a premium and avoid engaging in price wars. By doing what it does best, Dyson has carved out a name for itself and created brand affinity due to which customers know that they will be provided high value.
The Dyson we know today has been a work in progress for the best part of 3 decades. It hasn't stayed still and always seems to be on the go. Starting from the UK in the 1990s, Dyson expanded its business operations to Malaysia at the turn of the century. In 2013, Dyson launched a production plant in Singapore and invested heavily in it.
In 2017, Dyson expanded to Chicago and established the US headquarters there. In 2017, Dyson expanded within the UK, and finally, in 2019, Dyson moved the company headquarters to Singapore as Asia was the fastest-growing market and accounted for almost 50% of the company sales. Plus, Dyson wanted to be in the heat of the battle and be proactive.
Being led by one of the world's leading entrepreneurs, Dyson never strays away from taking challenges head-on and raising the bar. In 2017, the company announced that it has been working on a battery-powered electric car, which will be launched in 2021.
Dyson set up a budget of around $3 billion for the project, but later on, in 2019, it scraped the project after incurring heavy losses, saying that the electric cars were not commercially viable. However, it still continued to work on the battery technology and was quite hopeful that it will play an integral part in upcoming projects.
2020 was a year unlike another. Dyson had to let go of 600 people within the UK and 300 overseas as the Covid-19 pandemic led to a restructuring of the company. With consumer habits rapidly changing and the world going into lockdown, Dyson had to adapt to how it engaged with customers and catered to their demands. It did just that. Dyson depicted exceptional operational agility, leadership, innovation, and commitment to society when it joined forces with Cambridge-based science engineers TTP to produce ventilators in order to support the healthcare system.
Dyson invested around $24 million of its own money, and around 450 of its employees worked tirelessly around the clock to design and develop the ventilator – CoVent – in just 30 days as the UK government had placed an urgent order of 10,000 ventilators from the company. Given the supply disruptions and uncertainty during the height of the pandemic, Dyson's efforts were commendable.
Although the ventilators were later no longer required, it highlighted the company's willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to serve people. Dyson even looked into making the ventilators available to other countries, but legal and regulatory hurdles meant that it could not do that.
At the same time, Dyson also launched the air purifier – Dyson Pure Humidify+Cool – in the US. It was engineered to purify the air indoors and ensure health and hygiene.
From the Uk to Malaysia, Singapore, and the US, Dyson re-located and established its presence wherever needed. Moving the headquarters of the company to Asia was not easy, but Dyson did what was necessary. It understood the importance of being in Asia, where the majority of its customers were and which was fastly evolving and adopting technology.
In the quest to continuously innovate, Dyson took on the challenging task of making electric vehicles but had to later scrap the project after incurring heavy losses. However, all was not lost as the company developed its battery technology which will give it a competitive advantage in the future.
In 2020, when the company faced impending doom, and the government came calling for help, Dyson stepped forward and left no stone unturned. By developing ventilators on short notice, it depicted its resolve and ability to do things that it has never done before by moving quickly, failing, learning on the go, and in turn, solving problems.
Countries Operating In
Following are the five key strategic takeaways from the 3 decade long journey of Dyson:
Be it the wheelbarrows that sunk in the ground and left marks or the vacuum with bags that got clogged and failed to do the one purpose it was made for - suck and store debris - Dyson figured out the problems first and then worked on a solution.
By addressing the pain points of people and coming with an effective solution that catered to the issues just like the Dyson vacuum did, Dyson proved that if you provide value to customers, they'll pay you a premium.
Whoever you are, whatever you do, and wherever you are located, you are bound to face challenges. From being rejected by numerous companies who didn't agree to partner up with Dyson to competitors trying to steal the technology and discredit him, Dyson faced an array of challenges. But he kept at it. Dyson persevered and achieved success because it wasn't the end result that it was after, but the process it lay emphasis on.
Dyson truly understands how essential it is to prepare for the future. Be it establishing research centers, investing billions of dollars in R&D, hiring skilled people, or encouraging people to be creative, Dyson has done it all in its quest to innovate.
The company realizes that without innovation, it cannot survive, let alone thrive. Hence, it goes the extra mile to continuously develop new products and find better ways of doing things.
Diversifying the products portfolio, expanding to newer markets, and experimenting and exploring new options to provide more value to customers are some of the things that Dyson continuously does.
Dyson failed 5126 times to be exact, before finalizing a vacuum cleaner prototype. The washing machine had to be discontinued. The robotic vacuum cleaner project didn't really pay off. The electric car project had to be scrapped. The ventilators the company produced amounted to nothing.
These are just a few of the failures, but they could have easily dismantled any other company. Dyson learns from failures and makes progress by deriving valuable lessons from them. It highlights the importance of taking risks, being bold, and not afraid of failing. After all, it's just another opportunity to make things better.
Hire amazing people, invest, patent, produce quality products, charge a premium - repeat. Dyson works in a specific way, and that's why it has remained consistent in delighting its customers. Regardless of the distractions, Dyson remains focused on its mission of making things work better, and it has paid off for the company handsomely.