CYBEX’s Luke Burns Talks Innovative Products and Fatherhood

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

With over 20 years of experience in the baby product industry, CYBEX’s Luke Burns should be well-prepared for his maiden voyage into fatherhood. 

After joining the industry at the tender age of 18, Luke’s impressive career highlights include working for international brands such as Chicco, Boori and Britax, and spending 3-years as Chairman of the Baby Products Association (BPA).

Following the arrival of his son Zachary last year, 41 year-old Luke has embarked on a journey into territory he probably knows better than anyone, but is finally getting to experience first-hand.

Currently General Manager at the ground-breaking brand, CYBEX – who develop safe, innovative and lifestyle-led infant and child products for parents – we caught up with the new dad to discuss his unique experiences of the industry, fatherhood so far and CYBEX’s revolutionary approach to luxury travel.

You’ve been a fairly permanent fixture in the industry, but has there been a defining role?

I would say being chairman of the Baby Products Association (BPA) for 3 years, ending in June 2014. I’m still an executive director on that board and have been for the last 8 years. It’s been an amazing time and one that I’m proud of; we’ve managed to keep the organisation focused on its core goals, which is the safety of children. Although we are a not-for-profit organisation, we still need to generate profit in reserves to be held for all the good work that we do and under my leadership, we even managed to improve our bank balance!

For those unfamiliar amongst our readership, what are the key responsibilities of the BPA?

The Baby Products Association (BPA) was established in 1945 with the objective of promoting the baby and nursery products sector in both the UK and Europe. Today, we play an active role in the development of product standards and provide an umbrella of support and specialist services to our membership. Where no standards exist, we will work to develop and produce a BPA Code of Practice. We are the voice of the industry in the UK and it’s our aim to provide our members with the comfort and assurance that we are there battling for them and the industry in general. When I was nominated for chairman, I felt it was really important – after 20 years in the industry – to give something back in terms of supporting the good work that the BPA does.

You’re now part of the CYBEX family. Could you tell us a little bit about the brand’s identity?

The core values when it comes to products revolve around our D.S.F. principle: Design, Safety and Functionality. We at CYBEX believe that there is no reason a product can’t be safe and at the same time, trendy and stylish. We develop products for parents as an extension of their lifestyle, as opposed to just for the child.

Are CYBEX bringing anything unique to the UK market?

The Cloud Q is a revolutionary seat in the UK right now, it has the ability to give your child a near flat position in the car and with the touch of a button, a lie-flat experience when on a travel system out of the car. It operates very much like the BA Club bed seat [laughs], not only reclining, but extending to give a really comfortable lie-flat position, which is crucial for newborn babies whose bones are forming in those early months. We also stand out in terms of design, colour and fashion. One of our colours, Autumn Gold, has really captured the imagination of the UK. In fact, before we introduced it, as much as 80% of the car seat market was black, so we’ve actually proven that consumers want colour in their lives!

CYBEX’s innovative Cloud Q allows for a near lie-flat position in the car and full lie-flat position when on a travel system out of the car.

Talk to us about the PRIAM?

The PRIAM is CYBEX’s first venture into the luxury travel-systems market, which is a huge part of the UK industry. Again, this product is both an extension of parent’s lifestyle and a fashion statement. Inspired by the ingenious simplicity, functionality and beauty of American design couple Ray and Charles Eames, we asked ourselves: “How would Ray and Charles Eames create a pushchair if they were alive today?” When you look at the product itself and the details, like the spokes on the wheels of the PRIAM, you can see parts of the base of their famous lounge chair, and the chrome legs are clearly derivative of the legs on the Eames rocking chair.

How have CYBEX balanced style with functionality?

Charles and Ray Eames once said “If it’s not functional, it’s not beautiful”. Not only is the PRIAM beautiful, but it’s very functional – it ticks a lot of boxes. In terms of lifestyle, you’ve got a choice of 3 wheels; all terrain, trekking or city-light wheels. We even have skis for the colder countries! The whole system is also modular, meaning the customer can choose the type of seat they want (lux seat, 2-in-1 seat, carry cot or car seat) with the type of wheels they want. So pretty much whatever your lifestyle, there is an option within the PRIAM to suit. We’ve also got a vast array of colours and seven beautiful fabrics that are very fashionable right now.

The PRIAM offers different seat units to suit your individual lifestyle.

With Californian Modernism being a hallmark of this design, how do you think it will translate across to the UK market?

If you look at the work of Charles and Ray Eames, there’s been an absolute resurgence of 1950s style in the home – it’s very, very popular at the moment. Out of all the European markets, the UK has been the quickest to follow suit.

Is there anything unique about targeting UK parents?

I think there’s ultimately a universal need when it comes to parenting. Of course, there are nuances – in America, nobody walks and there’s obviously more public transport in London than out in the country, but the basic need to transport your child in safety and style, that’s pretty much prevalent across the world.

Talking of parents, I’m guessing life has recently been quite a rollercoaster experience?

Yes! Zachary George was born in April last year. Obviously, it’s all the amazing feelings that you would normally have about entering parenthood, but at the same time, it’s been an eye-opening experience in terms of marketing and commercialising nursery products for the last 20 years, without actually using them in day-to-day life. To finally get your hands on them and see what parents see, I have to say, I think the industry has done a fabulous job providing parents with the tools they need to balance work/life. Balancing work and life is hard enough when you don’t have children and it just doubles in intensity when they arrive.

So, would you consider yourself a natural?

I come from a family of 6, of which I was the youngest. With having so many nephews and nieces, I’ve been in that environment for quite a while, so I think fatherhood has come quite naturally to me, and my fiancée, Jayne, often says how relaxed I am considering it’s my first child. But, at the same time, Jayne’s amazingly supportive and she manages the large share of the workload. So, I pitch in whenever I can!

In many ways, has your experience in the nursery industry shaped your ideas on fatherhood?

I’m just grateful that I have the experience of being in the market to help me make choices and understand all the different products out there, taking away that uncertainty in terms of what is the right thing to buy. You can look at the consumer test awards – we at CYBEX are very lucky in that we are one the most awarded brands, by organisations such as Which? – but my experience has helped me see the wood for the trees, because there are just so many products that you have to buy!

Any pearls of wisdom for dads when looking to buy products?

Just do your research! The internet is an amazing thing, but go and see specialist retailers as well, they’ve got a big part to play and a wealth of experience. They can guide you through the process and help you make the right choices and buy the right things at the right times. Technology is moving quickly, so there’s no point in buying everything for your baby from 1-4 years. Buy what you need now and as you go through parenthood, you can add to your portfolio of baby goods.

Do you find you get more inspiration in your line of work now that you have kids?

I’m probably becoming a pain in the proverbial with the management team [laughs] in that everything I do with Zachary, I’m reporting back. Thankfully, the CYBEX team seems to have got it right, but I’m always looking for improvements.

And even higher expectations for ideas?

Definitely, I think that was pretty par for the course. Everyone was thinking, “wait for it, here it comes…”

Do you have any CYBEX products at home?

Right now, Zachary is in the Aton Q. It’s a fantastic product for usability; the adjustable headrest and not having to re-tread the harness, plus the linear side protection means he’s protected in every way. He’ll move from an Aton Q into a Sirona, and of course, I’m using the PRIAM!

 The Sirona can be used as an extended rearward-facing car seat or forward-facing car seat with a safety cushion.

The industry is constantly evolving, so do you see any major changes on the horizon?

For travel systems, I truly believe (I’ve sold a lot of wheeled products in my time, and it may come across as biased but…) that the PRIAM is the next big thing in terms of luxury travel, so watch this space in 2015. We will also continue to see the market educated in travelling rearward-facing for longer being the right thing to do. Take the Sirona for example, this will take your baby from birth to 18kg (approx. 4 years) rearward-facing. Traveling backwards isn’t new, but is certainly gaining momentum as parents learn that it is 80% safer to do so – it greatly reduces any forces your child would experience if they were forward-facing.

What about in terms of technology?

I think we will also see an education piece within the UK market that raises awareness of the benefits of a safety cushion when rearward-facing isn’t an option, a technology that CYBEX adopts in their car seats. This is something that will be coming through more and more, and already has in mainland Europe. When I started, it was all about fixing seats to the vehicle seat with a seatbelt, then the child to the car seat with a harness. Now, the cushion technology utilises the vehicle belt and holds the child and the child seat in place with one action, which gives you ease of use in terms of installation. We know that misuse is the biggest cause of child fatalities, so anything we can do to avoid misuse has to be a good thing. For me, cushion in conjunction with Isofix just makes life simpler all round!