March 3 2015 Latest news:
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Emergency lighting can be a life saver – yet is often given scant priority by architects, builders and regulators. That’s the verdict of Peter Warner, founder of the P4 family business, which equips flagship projects from its Fakenham premises.
“If you look around Norwich, you’ll find that 60pc of the buildings and car parks to which the public has access do not have adequate emergency lighting,” he claimed.
Regulations introduced in 2005 set new standards for testing emergency lighting, requiring a functional test each month and full battery discharge annually.
“The enforcement seems to fall between the fire brigade and the health and safety authorities,” said Mr Warner, now chief executive officer. “Even the case when a large Hertfordshire shopping complex was fined more than £90,000 for ignoring official warnings does not seem to have had any major impact.”
P4 set out to make it easier and, in the end, cheaper to maintain compliant emergency lighting. They pioneered automatic, self-testing technology, which avoids the need for manual testing, saving maintenance staff in a large installation many hours of work every year.
They estimate that the higher cost of their emergency lighting is recouped in operational savings, usually within the first two years.
Their research has now developed remote, off-site monitoring and control. This checks the correct functioning of even the largest installations on- or off-site, displaying any faults and e-mailing details to maintenance staff. Another new development is mains LED lighting, which can considerably reduce energy consumption.
In the 23 years since the first P4 installations – 50 emergency lights for Terminal One at Heathrow Airport and a succession of Little Chef restaurants – the company has grown to a £3m turnover which represents around 20pc of the UK self-test market.
In 2009, the firm relocated from Bedfordshire to Fakenham Industrial Estate, closer to the area with family connections. Mr Warner’s grandfather was a well-respected trader with a range of shops in Heacham. All except two of the employees moved with the company and today there is a 30-strong workforce.
“This is a nicer, more relaxed and tolerant environment to work in,” says Mr Warner. “But it did take us time to find good local suppliers, such as couriers.”
His wife Maureen is the financial director, and 17 years ago their son Rob joined them after working in the car contract hire business.
They stress the importance of this initial experience outside P4. Rob’s first role was helping to reorganise the purchasing and manufacturing side of the business, which forms part of his role today as managing director.
There are two others on the board – technical director Alan Daniels and sales director John Williams. Almost from the start there has always been an independent chairman, with Roger Mills fulfilling this role until 2011 and since then Ian Brown.
“We’ve always had monthly board meetings and an independent chairman helping us to maintain focus. More and more, we’ve seen the value of an independent opinion – this particularly helps for instance in resolving complex issues,” said Peter Warner. “Even when my wife and I are away from the business, we still take part in the board meetings, using Skype.”
They like to involve all the workforce in decision-making. Recently introduced are external meeting groups covering sales, development, quality, production and finance, which take place before the board meetings and where in-depth discussions take place. This has partly been driven by P4’s Investors In People accreditation.
Much of the work is in the public sector, particularly in education and health – and, even with the cutback in government spending, they look ahead with optimism with major projects, including the new American Express UK headquarters at Brighton.
The company invests heavily in R&D each year to ensure a continuous stream of innovative products is available, keeping the company at the forefront of the industry.
With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.