Luminary – Manufacturer category: Kellee Hollenback, Littman Group
How did you get started in the lighting industry?
My fashion sense led me to lighting. In my 20s I got into retail, starting at the Gap. By 2000, I was the General Manager of the number two Ann Taylor store in the country. Karen Miller, who was the Eastern Regional Manager at Fine Art Lamps, worked for me part-time for the 40-percent discount and – long story short – she was promoted to Marketing Manager and needed to find her replacement. I had not had a Christmas vacation in 10 years, so after 9 interviews in 6 months, I was hired as the Eastern Regional Manager of Fine Art Lamps – and the rest is history!
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
The biggest changes I have seen over the years are in technology and the way that sales managers travel. While I think that the evolving technology is great – and there are many exciting things that can help you connect with customers and showroom salespeople as well as explore what is new and exciting within our companies – I have seen many companies decrease the amount of time that they spend on the road face to face with customers. Our industry is always going to be a relationship-based industry and you cannot replace the face to face interaction and the relationships that are formed from them.
What is the greatest challenge?
I believe one of the biggest challenges today is how we, as manufacturers, differentiate ourselves from each other. I am proud that our companies look to the world as a whole for inspiration, and that we have some of the best practices both in and out of the lighting industry. We are a team of creative, hardworking businesspeople with multiple strengths and talents. We each try and bring a unique perspective to what we do every day.
Starting from the top down, I have never worked with people who are so passionate and proud of what they do. So for me as a salesperson representing these brands on the road, I just try to convey that passion for our industry and for our companies’ products to everyone I interact with on a daily basis and supply the tools they need to be successful.
What has been the key to your success?
The key to my success has really been my faith in God and a similar piece of advice given to me early on by two very successful customers who are now really great friends of mine: John Ingato of Capitol Lighting and Gary Fitterman of Lighting By Jared, Inc. At different times when I was first beginning my career, they both told me something like…”There are always going to be people in this industry who know more than you do, have been around this industry longer than you, and who have better relationships than you do – so the one thing that can separate you is your integrity. Decide who you want to be and what you are going to stand for and never compromise and you will have a long, successful career.”
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to keep my personal life separate from my business life. I am so blessed to have a husband who is my biggest fan and supporter. He helps me put displays together locally, helps me host events, works the booth, and plays golf and the piano at the ALA and ART Conferences and people “sometimes” like him more than me. He has only added to my success and my reputation and I spent way too many years trying to keep him separated and thinking I had to do it all myself.
What do you think the future holds?
I think this industry is only going to continue to thrive. The lighting industry is a lot like America. It is an industry of hard-working people who have had to work hard every day to build their businesses for generations. We are strong and resilient, we will continue to grow, learn and adapt to new technologies, embrace new business models, and anything else that comes our way. We will carry on and be successful for the next generations to come, because that is what we do!