How did you enter the lighting industry?
In 1975, I interviewed at Angelo Brothers Co. (now Westinghouse) and was hired as a sales representative. My primary customers were lamp shops, lighting showrooms, and small regional chain stores. I made many dear friends, however, who stands out most in my heart are Mr. and Mrs. Kalb & Mr. and Mrs. Jaffe, who were savvy business owners. And yes, I still think of them often. They were extremely helpful in teaching me the industry and treated me like family. Within three years, I had the opportunity to represent Puritan Lighting as an independent lighting representative thanks to Mr. Jaffe and Mr. Kalb’s recommendations. That signaled the beginning of my becoming an independent lighting sales agency. I believe having deep appreciation for the past is the highway to the future.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Lighting showrooms have evolved to become more creative and stronger merchandisers of lighting and décor. When I started out, there was very little retailing of lighting fixtures and accessories in the [St. Louis] region. Fixtures were hung on the ceiling in a straight line and there were very few lamps – if any – and virtually no décor. When the energy crunch hit in the 1970s, lighting showrooms had the opportunity to sell energy-saving ceiling fans.
From that point on, the retailing of lighting fixtures started to move forward. We became enthused with merchandising and started to remodel and design new lighting showrooms in our territory.
In approximately 1985, the AHLI (a trade organization that has evolved into the American Lighting Association) opened its doors to independent lighting reps; this was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet showroom owners throughout the country as well as other reps to help shape my own business.
The Dallas Market and the ALA have played a big part in educating distributors. For many years, the ALA and myself organized regional educational seminars for lighting showrooms that were held in hotels. The ALA now educates through online Webinars, thus giving more opportunity for members to earn the designation of CLC (Certified Lighting Consultant), putting them above the competition.
What has been the key to your success?
I don’t measure success only in dollars, I measure it by having honesty, integrity, character and – most of all – giving back to our industry. Putting customers first has always been the hallmark of our agency, along with having a fully staffed office providing excellence in customer service. It has always been our philosophy to represent factories with excellent reputations, innovative products, and that are capable of handling our customers’ needs in a prompt manner.
What do you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Time passes as quickly as turning off your light switch. When you’re in your mid-20s and just getting your business started, who thinks of getting old? I wish I could have spent more personal time with the many amazing people I have been fortunate enough to meet in my business journey.
I also wish I could have been there for my son’s first step on his own and the first word from his lips, but when you’re driving 25,000 miles a year visiting customers and you’re not home every day, these are some of the precious things you miss.
What do you envision the lighting sales agency of the future to be like?
People will still want to buy from people. No matter how the future changes our industry, the sales agency will still have to bear the responsibility of being honest, having integrity, and character. If one has that, customers will prefer to deal with an agency that they like, respect, and trust.
Staying on top of technology will be essential, and hands on training for both retail and wholesale salespeople to expand their knowledge of high-tech products will continue to be a high priority. Lighting agencies should search out new innovative products that can help develop their customers’ business and most of all, participate in the ALA to continue the growth of our industry.