Bob Rosenzweig, founder of AAMSCO, sits down with enLIGHTenment Magazine to discuss how his business grew from a bulb importer to a manufacturer of proprietary backlit mirrors, luminaires, specialty bulbs, and architectural lighting solutions over the past 40 years.
enLIGHTenment Magazine: 2015 marks AAMSCO’s 40th anniversary, how did you get your start in the industry?
Bob Rosenzweig: After graduating college, I worked for General Electric and Commercial Lighting. Back in 1975, Philips Lighting (then known as Norelco) was looking for companies to work with them. They were an unknown in the U.S. 40 years ago and we started importing Philips specialty lamps for them.
When I started AAMSCO I was the importer for Crompton-Parkinson Lighting in the U.K. AAMSCO stood for Anglo-American Sales Company. Since I was just getting started in my own business, my printer suggested we abbreviate the name to AAMSCO to save some money on the typesetting charges.
EM: What do you think sets AAMSCO apart?
BR: Today it seems that everyone is in the LED business. We try to avoid Chinese products as much as possible, which is very difficult to do in the 21st Century. We manufacture our own backlit mirrors and linear LED products. In addition, we have teamed up with quality manufacturers in Europe and import their products plus we do the wiring here to conform with UL and ETL.
We carry the most comprehensive range of European lamps in the U.S. and offer the latest in LED lighting. It has been our goal to carry popular, competitive brands and deliver from stock. Our range extends from miniature lamps to special fluorescents of all sizes and our collection of light bulbs includes medical, commercial, and industrial. We also feature our own line of Ferrowatt antique reproduction lamps that pay homage to the pioneers of lighting such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. We craft them to be exactly like the originals by using carbon filaments and modern tungsten filaments.
EM: What are some of the challenges?
BR: Dealing with the Chinese and some of their cultural differences, such as [what it means to give] exclusives on their products. The word “exclusive” seems to lose something in translation from Mandarin to English. The quality from China fluctuates from shipment to shipment; it all depends on whether the products were made by workers who had been there for a few months or just a few days.
EM: What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
BR: Never ever have one customer that gives you more than 20 percent of your total business, and never be obsessed with trying to grow the business so large that you lose the real purpose of being in business: High profit margins, NOT market share!
EM: How have your customers changed?
BR: We used to deal with European customers and their North American branches requesting Philips merchandise that they were unable to buy in the States. We continue to [do business] with the Europeans, but with the Euro-Dollar fluctuation not so much.
In addition, we began manufacturing fixtures back in 1981. We still make some of our fixtures here, but with the Chinese setting the benchmark pricing in this country it has become more difficult to offer a quality product at a consumer-friendly price. With so much competition coming from China and many new companies entering the lighting business – thanks to LEDs – people have become very price-conscious and not so much quality-conscious!
EM: What do you think the future holds?
BR: We are working with our European partners to offer a “quality” product. We know that there are people out there who want quality and can afford it. Since we are a small company with low overhead (operating in South Carolina after relocating in 2001 from New York) and no loans or debts to anyone, we can concentrate on the upscale market and let all the others fight over the bottom feeders with their Chinese products.