Rental businesses rely on wise investment. Stocking the right equipment is the basis of everything it does – from how well it serves its customers, to the breadth of markets it can cover, to the management of its own personnel and logistics and, ultimately, the bottom line. Ambersphere takes a look inside the operation of leading UK rental company and long-term customer, TSL Ltd…
Thriving in the lighting rental business for 15 years – even surviving the cliff-drop disaster of the pandemic – Basingstoke-based TSL knows about navigating the ways of rental.
Headed by founder Sam Tamplin and backed up by the lengthy production industry experience of directors Loz Wilcox and Dom Sheerman, TSL now employs around 65 full-time staff and remains among the UK production industry’s best-known rental houses. Alongside lighting, it provides the essential kit and expertise to go with it – including control, rigging, distro, effects and cable. With this offering, they serve a diverse range of production markets and customers, large and small.
“In the last couple of months, we’ve done everything from enormous outdoor trails with 2,500 lights, through to sporting events in arenas, to touring concerts on an arena scale, to touring theatre, to technology conferences, to broadcasts being streamed live,” says Tamplin. “It’s a real variety.”
But, as Wilcox explains, clients are key. “Rather than trying to position ourselves within a certain market, we prefer to position ourselves alongside a certain type of people.”
That ‘certain type’, it becomes clear, are clients committed to doing the best job possible.
As Wilcox says, “We’re really fortunate in being able to work with people who care more about the quality of the work over the cost. I’m not saying we’re uncompetitive, I’m saying that I think, for our customers, their priority is to do it the right way.”
When it comes to investment decisions – choosing which kit to buy, how much of it, and from whom – a combination of long experience, gut feel, and common sense steers the decisions. Tamplin says, “We look for things that we can get really high utilization from, that fit across our markets. More recently, the last 18 months or so, some of that choice is IP65-related, or at least waterproof. It gives us an even more extended market and utilisation.”
He adds, “LED is definitely something we look for – we’re not buying tungsten or discharge fixtures anymore. We look for something that will have years’ worth of usage – maybe a really practical, almost generic fixture.”
On the face of it, when you’re looking for a product to meet a specific need, the options are endless. Product features, IP65 included, are a priority, but there are other, equally important considerations: tech support, training, maintenance, price-point, reliability and trust are weighed in the balance too.
For TSL, that balance is exampled by the Ayrton Perseo, the compact, multi-function moving head.
“When we looked at the Perseo originally, it was because it was IP-rated,” says Tamplin. “That was a definite step forward for that type of product. But as we became more familiar with it, we saw the IP rating as just an added bonus. It’s not only a light for use outdoors – it’s a great light which happens to be available for us to use outdoors, too.”
On top of that, the LED light source and sealed, fan-less design saves on maintenance. Similar advantages come from the Astera range of LED products – including Titan Tubes, AX3 LightDrops and HydraPanels. Astera, like the tried-and-tested Ayrton range, is represented in the UK market by Ambersphere Solutions. “We love Astera,” says Tamplin. “The build quality is brilliant. They’re clever, they’re smart, they’re quite unique. Our customers love them.”
Longevity of product life is of course a major factor in ROI: another brand represented by Ambersphere, MA Lighting, is a good example. TSL recently upgraded all its MA Lighting control stock to MA3. “We have 16 MA3 consoles now, and will probably get more,” says Tamplin. “MA is a rock-solid platform and a rock-solid investment. And we know the product lifecycle will be 8-10 years. So while it’s a large investment per console, the rate of return is excellent because the utilisation is high, and the lifetime is so long.”
Maximum utilisation is also key to TSL’s choice of OXO Pixyline LED battens – but in this case it was an ‘untried’ manufacturer. “We weren’t familiar with OXO as a brand, but obviously we were familiar with Ambersphere, and we trust them: they’re not going to put their name to a product which isn’t going to perform in the marketplace. And again, it’s at a price point that works for that particular fixture.” TSL now stocks 400 Pixylines.
Support is also a key consideration.
“Clients will often take a product and push the boundaries of its use, of what it was actually designed for,” says Wilcox. “They say, ‘Okay, that’s great, but can I use it like this?’ or ‘Will it work if I do this?’ We need a close relationship with the manufacturer’s representative in those situations.”
Discussing ROI, Wilcox says, “We find that smaller and medium-sized fixtures generally have a much higher ROI in the longer term. The larger fixtures, you need to be renting out every week on a large-scale show. We know what customers are prepared to pay per week for a particular type of light, so the price point has to be right. We know there’s a fixed bracket that we have to work within.”
TSL, says Wilcox, chooses to work with Ambersphere because it recognises those realities, and takes a long-term view. Its team of experts provides TSL with staff training, onsite support whenever needed, and a support hotline for any urgent technical questions that arise. “This is not a transaction for them,” Wilcox emphasises, “it’s an ongoing relationship for the life of the product. Knowing that you’ve got that to call on when you need it is invaluable.”
Tamplin confirms, “We know Ambersphere is a well-run company that’s always going to support the product. It’s very much a partnership – and Ambersphere have a good understanding of that. They understand that the whole point of this is to have an end product that works for our clients – not just a sale of something cheap that we can rent out for a quick buck!”