Diversification is the key to this New Jersey-based OEM business that services the lighting industry and is bringing back the Stiffel brand.
It wasn’t all that long ago that lighting components as well as finished lamps, chandeliers, and furniture were made domestically. There were enough companies that a group of U.S.-made suppliers even had their own designated show-within-a-show during the Dallas Market. Cutting Edge Castings is one of the few exhibitors from those days that is not only still surviving, but literally thriving even through a recession. The secret is maintaining a stronghold in a variety of diverse business segments – from supplying the funeral/cremation industry to creating custom awards and trophies, souvenirs as highly recognized as the Empire State Building and the Jefferson Memorial, plus an eclectic range of giftware.
Company president Steven Filler relies on his finance and entrepreneur background to fine-tune his business’ strengths in metal casting, polishing, painting, finishing, welding, milling and machining, wire bending, UL wiring, model and mold-making, laser engraving, fixture fabrication, and computer drafting and design. All the while, he continually searches out new opportunities. For example, when fellow New Jersey shade manufacturer Lite Tops was seeking a buyer three years ago, Filler saw a good fit – and room to grow. Lite Tops had previously only made lampshades, but with Cutting Edge’s wiring and metal fabrication facilities, Filler expanded the shade company’s repertoire to include pendant lighting fixtures. The hanging drums – which can be custom-made in any size or shape – quickly became a hit with the hospitality market. “We have more than 100 stock shade fabrics plus wood veneers and can also use customers’ own materials,” he remarks. “Lite Tops is now carried by approximately 220 showrooms and growing.”
Most recently, Filler announced plans to revive and relaunch one of the most famous brands in the lighting industry: Stiffel. While the iconic brand remains memorable to an older consumer demographic, Filler has updated and modernized the styles to appeal to a younger generation yet remain true to the brand’s signature look.
“We have just introduced 30 new styles in all metal with plated finishes and better-grade shades – all made in America,” Filler explains. By the end of the summer, the number of Stiffel SKUs is estimated to reach 100. Filler has hired two sales forces for the line; one to target lighting showrooms and the other to call on furniture stores. “Retailers definitely remember the name,” he states. “The reception has been phenomenal. We want to return the brand to where it once was. I think the timing is good because people are more receptive to buying American-made goods and with wholesale prices of $109-$129, the new Stiffel line is competitively priced.”
As other domestic component parts factories closed down over the past few decades, Filler has scooped up many of those molds to add to his factory’s library. With more than 10,000 molds on-hand, there are thousands of products that can be developed inside Cutting Edge’s 40,000- sq.-ft. facility in Linden, New Jersey.
Thanks to such a diverse product line, when the economy began to falter, Filler was able to keep his 50+ skilled craftspeople and artisans employed without missing a beat. When lighting showroom business began to slow down, Filler put an emphasis on the hospitality market. “Our hospitality business is up. We can make the smaller quantities [that segment needs] and remain pretty competitive,” he adds. The rising cost of freight and labor occurring with overseas sources has leveled the playing field.
Attached to the factory is a 5,000-sq.-ft. lighting showroom that is open to the public, but primarily serves as a showcase of the company’s capabilities for private label clients, such as upscale furniture chain Ethan Allen.
“I see a lot of opportunity out there for American manufacturing,” Filler says. “I think the demand for domestically made goods is coming back. People really care about buying American now.”
Cutting Edge also supplies Made in the USA literature for lighting showrooms to distribute to consumers as well as signage and graphics that emphasize where the products are made. “Our Lite Tops business has been growing approximately 20-30 percent per year and I have the same – or better – hopes for the Stiffel line,” he affirms.