Turnstyle Designs started from humble beginnings of one man, Steve Roberts, feeling the need to design a new style of handle due to there not being enough choices on the market. Thus the company was born, drawn from the necessity for innovation, excellent design, and desire for a bespoke style in the sector.
Founded in North Devon, 1992, Turnstyle Designs is now one of the largest companies of the region and employs many skilled and talented craftsmen and engineers, all of whom help to create and maintain the company’s well-deserved image of luxury and quality. It is no wonder Turnstyle Designs were granted the prestigious Queens Award for Export, as they now export over 75% to business partners in over 30 countries around the world.
Turnstyle’s fearless design and continued innovation remain at the heart of their business, when they will test and try any new material on the market. Their first slogan, being tongue and cheek “Bored of Brass” and serves to reinforce them as cutting-edge industry leaders, Their attention to detail is just as important,
“A handle is like a button on a coat, it can make or break a great room or piece of furniture and it has to function as well as it looks.”
Turnstyle Designs work extensively to have a stead-fast and meaningful approach to sustainability. They are committed to reducing their carbon footprint. In every aspect of the business they hold to the ethos of minimising waste output. This is evidenced by removing 99% of single use plastics from packaging and opting for biodegradable alternatives. The carbon emissions are being reduced by committing to schemes such as ‘Bike to Work’ and cutting down on air travel for meetings. Their offices have been double insulated, they use solar energy, and cut wasted energy as a policy, to ensure they are as energy efficient as possible. Turnstyle use materials such as vegetable dye, organic cotton, and their trademarked Amalfine uses bi products such as marble-dust, meaning Turnstyle hold to their innate value of being environmentally conscious. They are members of 1% For The Planet, and they are able to conclude, as a company, they are carbon negative, which is no mean feat.
Turnstyle Designs have been a part of the ACID community since the very beginning. They understand how important IP is for their business and do everything they can to protect their valuable intellectual property. Turnstyle have lodged hundreds of designs to the ACID IP Databank, ensuring they have that all important 3rd party evidence of their designs. They also use the ACID logo on their homepage, which links to the ACID website, as a strong form of deterrence against copyists.
We put the following questions to Steve Roberts:
Design, quality, and service have been the hallmarks of Turnstyle Design’s in your impressive history delivering luxury door hardware for high-end residential, commercial and yacht projects for many years. Can you tell me a little more about how the company started?
“Thank you, I started the business back in 1992, I was newly married, and we had decided to start a new life in North Devon, mainly to be near the sea (I am a bit of a surf addict). Prior to moving down I had renovated a Victorian house in London and whilst doing that had tried to find some unusual door handles. Back in 1990 there really was only brass, glass and iron door hardware, none of which I liked, so I made some of my own door knobs using cement fondue. A few friends liked them and asked me to make some for them, which I did, but it didn’t go any further until a couple of years later we moved to Devon and after failing to make a living as an artist I revisited the door handle idea and launched Turnstyle Designs, with a range of whimsical door knobs make in a composite. It started as a mail order company, but I soon started to wholesale to homeware and gift shops, with my big break coming from John Lewis. We pulled away from traditional retail some years ago and now just serve B2B high end designers, architects, and specialist door hardware dealers.
IP protection has been at the heart of your proactive business strategy for quite some time with regular registrations and numerous lodgements on our IP Databank. It’s clear you take your intellectual property very seriously ensuring that there is evidence from concept to marketplace. Have you ever been copied and if so, how do you discover and deal with infringements?
Unfortunately we get copied quite often, around 75% of our sales are export and we see copies cropping up all over the world. We have learnt to chose which battles to fight, and have a fund put aside for blatant copies, going after those where we know we can win. Now we have a difficult case in China with a company who is not only copying our designs, but advertising them as Turnstyle products, even copying our display boards.
What do you think are the ingredients for your success in this highly competitive sector?
We pride ourselves on excellent customer service, there is no point having a great product if you don’t have the staff to back it up, this ensures that we retain our customers to keep specifying us on new projects. Our huge breadth of range is also a big factor, it gives the customer enormous choice of design, material and finish and makes it very difficult for our competitors to emulate. We currently have a product range of over 30,000 skus if you take all our finish combinations into account. We also offer custom design.
Reading your fascinating blog “Who are the true creators behind our Designs, it is clear you are rightly proud of what you created in North Devon some 30 years ago. As one of the largest employers in North Devon, you say, you are constantly pushing the boundaries of design and innovation. Can you briefly expand on this?
One of the things that really motivates me personally from a design perspective is working with new materials and looking at new processes, we were pioneers with using leather for door and cabinet hardware, we have developed our own composite, Amalfine ™ that has been at the cornerstone of a lot of our design. We are now looking at working with recycled materials as well as other sustainable materials such as cork. We are looking at ways of replacing some of the less sustainable processes such as Chrome with alternatives and driving our whole production to be completely sustainable.
As a design/skill led company, what is your message about the copy culture that pervades some of this sector with cheap lookalikes by riding rough shod over the law?
The reality now is that with so much product being produced in China which offers no IP protection, copying is going to keep happening. The best line of defence is to produce designs that are difficult to copy en mass and to keep producing new designs to keep ahead of copyists.
Do you think that IP ethics, compliance and respect for intellectual property should be the cornerstone of the industry, in terms of declared Corporate Social Responsibility? And if so, how could this sector achieve this?
Yes, I do, it is extremely disheartening and damaging for any design led company in any sector to see their hard-fought design work devalued and copied by larger competitors. For this to be reduced or prevented we really need those that we sell to be more vigilant about what they purchase and to tied down specifications tighter. Not an easy thing to ask for in such a diverse and international playground.
You take a pride in your workforce and invest in your people by helping them to develop skills, technology, and craftsmanship. How important do you think this is for the future of Turnstyle Designs?
We are and always will be a British manufacturer, we employ talented craftspeople and engineers across a wide range of skills. If we come up with a new process or finish, then we will often need to work out how to produce this in house and train staff up in a completely new craft. Our future is only as good as our talent base, finding new staff who want to learn new skills and work with their hands is becoming harder and harder. So I believe schools have their roles to play in this, in encouraging the next generation that working with their hands is something to be proud of.
We now have an IP Act which will mean not only criminal provisions for intentional Registered Design infringement but also for individual directors. Do you believe that if this is extended to Unregistered Designs infringement, it will become more of a deterrent? Government thinks it would be chilling for innovation and lead to business uncertainty. We don’t agree, do you?
It is very difficult and expensive, especially for young companies to officially register every design and process, so to extend the law to Unregistered Designs would be hugely beneficial. We need strong leadership in this area and the UK should be leading from the front. If anything this will lead to more certainty and more innovation rather than the opposite.
Can you give us a steer on what you feel ACID’s achievements have been and what we could do in the future to raise further awareness about IP theft?
I have been an ACID member from the start (our registration number is 11), we have been proud to fly the flag at every exhibition and on all our sales and marketing literature, knowing that it is an organisation that has teeth and that is taken seriously. Relentless campaigning and engagement has led to some fantastic results and has kept the relevance and importance of design IP at the forefront of industry and government. Naming and shaming those that steal IP is a strong deterrent, but it probably needs more publicity, perhaps using social media would be a useful tool. Companies do not like getting negative PR, and social media can spread the word very fast.
As you know ACID is the main Policy and Government campaigning body for Design & IP reform. What are your 3 recommendations to Government to stem the tide of blatant design theft to support this sector and broader furniture sector?
- Some sort of certified process that prevents contractors from passing off copied designs. Perhaps some accountability from the designers/ architects to ensure that what they specify is what is bought.
- Extend Unregistered Design right to 25 years. It often takes 3-5 years for a design to take hold, so 10 years is not long enough.
- Intergovernmental support to enable litigation and action over international borders.