The recent ALA Conference in Asheville, N.C. delivered thought-provoking educational sessions as well as valuable networking opportunities. Here is a sampling of what went on.
Noting that the American Lighting Association’s Conference in Asheville was held just one week after the Carolinas had been hit hard by Hurricane Florence – with Conference attendance affected by the natural disaster – ALA President & CEO Eric Jacobson encouraged the 517 ALA members who came to the annual gathering to donate to the American Red Cross for disaster relief.
“Many ALA members are family-owned businesses in retail, manufacturing, and rep firms, and we have stood together [in the face of adversity] in the past,” Jacobson said, adding that the industry has had a significant impact on those families.
These days there is more than Mother Nature causing difficulties. “Like most industries, our industry is changing,” Jacobson noted. As showrooms face challenges from online retailing, it is essential that “our showrooms be that guiding force in educating customers about LED technology. Today, there are opportunities happening in the ‘connected world’ that we never could have imagined 10 years ago. Our membership has the ability to [take control] over this growing market. Innovation is critical for growth,” he affirmed.
The ALA’s emphasis on emerging technology is one of the reasons many renew their membership each year. The organization recently unveiled its newly revised, comprehensive Residential Lighting Training Manual as well as the Residential Lighting Recommended Practice Guide for Interior and Exterior Residential Environments (RP-11) in collaboration with the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Another aspect of the ALA that helps retain members is its proven commitment to standing up for the residential lighting community in the face of impending government legislation. “The ALA has been in support of tax reform,” Jacobson recounted. “Despite my testimony and the testimony of others [on Capitol Hill] regarding the implementation of tariffs, lighting was not removed [as an affected category] from the list. The ALA implores the government to move away from tariffs,” he remarked, suggesting some other means for bolstering domestic manufacturing be found. The ALA has fought for retail lighting showroom members in this regard, and Jacobson said it will continue to do so. “The ALA filed two briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court concerning Sales Tax Fairness. [The ruling in June] was an important victory and the ALA appreciates the Court’s decision.”
Jacobson also outlined additional benefits of ALA membership, including updated content on its website that can be utilized by lighting showrooms for their own website blogs. This year’s gathering in Asheville welcomed 111 first-time ALA Conference attendees, some of which are new members. The 2019 ALA Conference is set for September 15-17 at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge hotel in Phoenix, Arizona.
Pete DeSteiger of Ray Lighting Centers, a third-generation lighting family member, took the podium as the newly elected Chairman of the Board. Noting his first Conference was in 1977 when the organization was under the Home Lighting Association name, DeSteiger recalled the past challenges that the industry had to overcome — first from the proliferation of home centers, then with the age of the internet, and more recently with legislative issues. “Because of all of those, we’ve had to change our business models a little bit,” DeSteiger said. “We’re not going to stand idly by and let [roadblocks] happen to us. Research shows that customers still enjoy personal attention during the shopping experience. We have great opportunities ahead of us,” he commented. “By updating our showrooms, we can go beyond [what can be achieved by showing customers an image of a fixture on the internet]. Many of our showrooms have e-commerce capabilities and members are successfully using ALA content on their social media platforms to engage customers. I’m honored and humbled to serve as your Chair this year and I’m committed to keeping our industry strong.”