David May has taken a unique path in the lighting industry: working for a major manufacturer, then managing two ARTS Award-winning lighting showrooms, and now a turn as a factory rep.
Growing up on a farm in Iowa, David May was used to working hard. “I was always interested in having money so I could buy stuff,” he recalls. May talked his way into his first job at age 11, cleaning cars at a gas station. While cars were in for service, May would quickly wipe down the interior dashboards and wash the windows. “I got paid $1 a day,” he states. The job, however, was short-lived. “Things got tough, economically, for the gas station owner and he told me, ‘I just can’t afford the $1 a day anymore,’” he remarks.
Undaunted, May set his sights on another endeavor. “I saw some guys loading cattle into a truck [to go to the stockyards ] and thought, ‘I want to do that!’ so I approached them about a job,” he says. Not so fast, they said. First, he’d have to prove himself as a hard worker. The boss asked the 12-year-old, “Can you drive a tractor?” May assured him that he could. He was then offered the job of shoveling the manure in the horse barn, loading it into the spreader, and then driving the tractor to spread it over the fields. The job would take one week and at the end of the task, May would earn $20. Challenge accepted and accomplished. May exceeded expectations and was rewarded with a job on the cattle drive team.
At age 18, May enlisted in the Air Force and worked on a base in California, where he met his wife. They moved to Iowa for a few years, but ultimately decided to go back to the Golden State, even though they’d be relocating without employment. May’s father offered the couple the opportunity to live with him for two weeks while they found work. May says he sent out countless resumes to no avail. Finally, just as their temporary stay was coming to an end, May got a phone call from Michael Alford at the lighting manufacturer Fredrick Ramond.
“Michael told me that my resume stood out from the pile of resumes on his desk that had been submitted for the Customer Service Manager position,” May recalls. “He said, ‘Can you make it down here for an interview in 30 minutes?’ I knew I lived at least 40 minutes away, but I said, ‘Yes’ and floored it down the freeway as fast as I could. I even had a cop pull up and motion for me to slow down.”
May made it to the interview on time and impressed the company owner and designer, the late Fred Glassman, so much that he was offered the job on the spot, starting the very next day.
Over the next seven years at Fredrick Ramond, May excelled in developing and implementing systems that helped the customer service team become even more organized and efficient. Honing the communication skills he perfected in the Air Force, May was selected as the Western regional sales manager. One of the accounts he called on regularly, Albuquerque Lighting in New Mexico, appreciated May’s assistance in setting up their displays and helping with merchandising so much that they wooed him away from the manufacturer to become their marketing manager.
“I loved my job at Fredrick Ramond and being a part of such a vibrant company,” May explains, but it was a rough time to be living in California due to financial unsteadiness in the real estate market in the 1980s. Relocating to New Mexico – which was rumored to be on the cusp of tremendous growth due to Intel moving to Albuquerque plus had grand plans for infrastructure – seemed like the perfect antidote.
For the next seven years, May expanded his lighting knowledge by experiencing the industry from the retailer’s point of view. While he was marketing manager, Albuquerque Lighting won the ARTS Award for best lighting showroom in the Midwest/Southwest twice.
Intel did open a factory in Albuquerque, but has had to battle a lot of community opposition stemming from suspicions of pollution and environmental concerns. In addition, the infrastructure improvements were slow in coming. The city’s growth began to plateau.
Through the grapevine, May heard that another customer from his Fredrick Ramond days – Hacienda Lighting in Arizona – was planning to expand and seeking professional guidance. May stepped up to the plate, relocated his family to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, and for seven years served as the general manager for the booming showroom, which had outgrown three prior locations and now occupies nearly 10,000 square feet in Scottsdale. While May was at Hacienda Lighting, the store also won the ARTS Award for best showroom twice.
Last year, another business opportunity knocked – a position as a designated factory rep in the region for The Minka Group’s lines, which include Minka-Aire®, George Kovacs®, Metropolitan®, and Minka-Lavery®.
In this new endeavor, May is able to partner with retailers in a special way: after all, he’s been in their shoes. He also uniquely understands the ins and outs of manufacturing first-hand. As a rep, May enjoys sharing his talent for sales training with his many showroom clients as well as giving product seminars.
“I always like to have a focus for each day,” he states. “In retail, it might have been to re-arrange a certain section of the showroom or creating a new display.” Calling upon his wealth of retail knowledge, May collaborates with his showroom clients to showcase each store’s individual strengths.
While it might have been awkward to have a former competitor now servings as their rep, the area showrooms have been very accepting and welcoming of May’s job change and embrace his enthusiasm for helping them all succeed. “The lighting industry is filled with great people,” May observes.