Although Butler is the family name behind a multi store lighting business, it also aptly describes the company’s creed
With showrooms in the High Point, Greensboro, and Lewisville, N.C. area, Butler Lighting pretty much has this portion of the Piedmont Triad covered. In fact, the High Point store – the largest of the trio at 10,000 square feet – is located approximately 15 minutes from the High Point Market complex. On the day I visited, several market attendees (still wearing their badges) strode in through the front doors. Over the past 50+ years, scores of interior designers from all over the country have stopped in to source fixtures for their clients. Offering vintage sconces and antique chandeliers along with brand new and modern styles, Butler Lighting holds a long-standing reputation for excellence in the area as well as the industry.
“We’re right in the sweet spot of the country,” explains company president Carlos Butler. “North Carolina has one of the highest growing populations in the nation; people are relocating here from everywhere else. We get customers from every direction. Years ago, our customers were comprised of people who were moving up vertically to their next home, but now it’s been newcomers to the area.”
Unlike many who start out in the lighting business, Carlos’ father, James Preston Butler, wasn’t an electrician. “He was a tobacco farmer,” Butler explains. “He didn’t know the difference between a light bulb and a wire nut when he started out in 1948 selling supplies, but he hired an electrician and learned the business.” Back in 1950, the store was housed in a small building in Fayetteville.
Carlos’ mother, Marie, helped out where she could. “My father intentionally kept the business small,” Butler recounts. “That said, he wanted to have family in every location and, at one time, we had four stores when he was alive.” Later, Butler Lighting showrooms have popped up in Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, Fayetteville, High Point, and Greensboro and all are run by family members.
“My dad gave me and my brothers a stake in the business,” Carlos remarks. “We were given the opportunity and he gave us enough to get us going, but then we had to [make a go of it ourselves]. My dad died in 1995, but he was retired a long time before that. I would love to have the opportunity to have him here to talk about what’s going on in the industry today,” he comments.
According to Carlos, his father was among the first in the area to sell decorative accessories. “He would drive up to New York or down to Florida on the weekends and come back with a trailer full of antiques and accessories,” he states.
“I grew up in the business,” Butler recalls. “In 1950, Rick Wiedemer’s grandfather opened my dad up with Hinkley,” he says. The lighting industry was like family. I bought my first car – a Corvette – from lighting rep Lars Bostrom, and when I got married, half the people there were from the lighting industry.”
Butler went to college to study electrical engineering and business, and found his calling merging both of his majors in running the stores. In addition to the High Point showroom, which totals 28,000 square feet including warehouse space, he expanded his business to include Greensboro and Lewisville locations. Customers range from local homeowners and builders to interior designers from all over the country who fly in to shop the High Point Market for their clients. “We’ve done houses in probably every state on the East Coast, as well as some bed & breakfasts,” Butler affirms. In addition, there have been sizable residential projects in California and Colorado. “One customer has done six to seven houses with us, and there are too many to count who have done multiple houses.”
Butler Lighting also enjoys a lot of business from referrals by furniture salespeople in the area, such as Furnitureland South, which has a lot of out-of-state customers who drive to the Triad to get a deal. “Some customers come to High Point to buy furniture and will come here for their lighting,” he says.
Naturally the bust of the housing bubble hit Butler Lighting hard, along with most businesses. “You used to have a builder base you could count on,” Butler recalls. “Not that long ago, we used to ship out eight houses a day. The consistency that used to be in the market isn’t there today. Now you don’t know what you’ll bring in each month,” he comments. “I think we hit bottom in the last quarter of 2010. Our business dropped 80 percent from our highest point to our lowest.” Still, Butler made it a point to not lay off any employees and has worked hard to maintain the status quo in tough times. “People think that because you have your own business that it’s a cake walk, and that’s simply not true,” he comments. “If you run a small business, you have to work hard. It’s a lot of responsibility.”
Butler is optimistic about the year ahead. “I predict a 30 percent increase over 2011,” he states. “I’m hoping that housing starts will be up 10 percent this year. So far, we have one builder who has nine homes started.” Butler Lighting actively participates in events such as several Parade of Homes plus advertises through the local builders association.
One of his best and most treasured assets is his employees. “I’ve always had good people working here. Some have been with me since we opened this location in August 1991,” he says. If Butler’s own three young sons express an interest in following in his footsteps when they grow older, he is more than willing to offer his children the same opportunity that he was given. “I love to work and I enjoy a challenge and making things happen,” he comments.
If Butler has his wish, the family legacy will continue on through many more generations.