Hinkley’s Lighting Factory in Arizona is not only a preeminent retailer, but also an extremely busy custom manufacturer with clients all over the country.
Not many lighting stores have been around for over a century; then again, Hinkley’s Lighting Factory is no ordinary showroom. Founded in 1910 by Bill Hinkley before Arizona became the country’s 48th state, the company operates two stores: a 10,000-sq.-ft. building in Phoenix and a design-centric showroom in Scottsdale with a factory in the back that it moved into less than two years ago.
Company owner Michael Jackson started at Hinkley’s Lighting Gallery at age 14, sweeping the floors and working in the warehouse after school. He worked his way up in the business, despite having gotten fired (and rehired) at least three times by Hinkley for breaking lighting fixtures while cleaning them. From warehouse manager to salesman and general manager to vice president, Jackson has experienced nearly every facet of the job.
A Family Affair
Approximately 11 years ago, Jackson bought the business from Hinkley, who decided to retire and step back from the business. Jackson’s wife, Karen, handles the back-end of the business and serves as CFO.
Their two daughters, Jessica and Jennifer, are also employees. Jennifer graduated from Arizona State University with a marketing degree and has become the top salesperson at the company; her younger sister, Jessica, is attending law school while working part-time as a project assistant for the store.
Shannon Ross, Michael Jackson’s niece, came on-board 13 years ago while in high school. A creative thinker with a penchant for trying new things, Ross became interested in designing fixtures. “I wasn’t drawing to scale back then, because I didn’t even know what that meant,” she quips. The first chandelier that Ross ever designed is still hanging in a Sedona hotel. Her uncle saw an innate talent in Ross and encouraged her to study design. Ross took art and design courses at the community school and discovered she really enjoyed the field. “My uncle would also take me on jobs with him. He’d show me what to look for on the job sites and taught me how to read blueprints,” she says. “[Lighting sales] is a knowledge-based job that can be high stress if you don’t sell them the right products for the project. I’m a problem solver, and to survive in this business, you have to be!”
Her talent has not gone unnoticed by the community. Ross was featured in an issue of Phoenix Home & Garden magazine as one of four “young guns” of design who were selected for “charting new territory with their innovative work.” There seems to be only one person who doubts Ross’ ability – and it is herself. “Sometimes I think, ‘Oh clients will think I’m a fraud because I don’t have the proper schooling,’” she admits. Naturally that has never happened.
One design tool Ross has no interest in is CAD drawing. “I’m computer-resistant,” she says of her preference for putting pen to paper. “For what I do, it’s more emotional to see a drawing.” She also enjoys presenting great detail in her drawings through elaborate shading. “I find that as I get carried away with shading in the details, my clients get excited along with me about how beautiful their fixture will look. People have given me deposits on a fixture after they’ve seen the drawing,” Ross states. “I like to create things for people. If someone asks Michael if we can do [a particular style], he will always say yes, knowing that I’ll figure out how.” For one of those instances, Ross researched and taught herself how to do a tole finish for a client – and the result was a resounding success. “Sometimes I’ll even solve a design problem literally in my sleep,” she adds, confiding, “That’s also happened in the shower.”
Ross will go with her cousin, Jennifer, to a job site and do the drawings right there on the spot. “This is my cousin’s legacy,” Ross remarks. “She’ll take over the family business someday. She’s a lighting pupil and takes it very seriously.”
After Ross’ sketches meet the approval of her clients, the next stage in the process is to send them over to the company’s factory, which is adjacent to the Scottsdale showroom. Here, three brothers – who are all trained craftsmen – do all of the metalwork for the custom orders as well as a variety of popular items that the Hinkley’s Lighting Gallery keeps in stock. All of the iron scrolls – no matter how intricate – are hand-hammered. In addition, the store makes its own candles (sold individually as home décor items and for use as candle covers in its fixtures).
Some of the most unusual designs that Ross and the factory have created for customers include belt buckle support straps for a hanging fixture that are made of steel that is 2” wide x ½” thick. The customer then had embossed leather added to fixture. When a client requested a Western theme, but wanted it to be truly unique, Ross found Saguaro ribs for sale on Craigslist and eBay and created a chandelier out of the indigenous material.
Another style hit were lighting fixtures fashioned out of car parts that were bought a Barrett-Jackson auto auction. Ross designed fixtures out of the muffler system as well as the air cleaners, made pendants out of the pistons, and sconces out of shocks. As a finishing touch, she had the fixtures painted by an auto painter for authenticity. What appeals to Ross most about being a designer is that, “I’ll never know each day what I’m going to do next.”
In addition to Jennifer Jackson as a top salesperson, Hinkley’s Lighting Factory has two highly experienced salespeople who are lighting veterans. Interior designer Brandy Levy was the founder of the now defunct ARTS Award-winning lighting showroom Legacy Lighting in Scottsdale and Ann Cantore also owned a successful lighting showroom in California for 20 years before she relocated to Arizona. “I’m the crystal girl, and Ann is the contemporary girl,” Levy jokes about their very different design styles. Both women have a following for their interior design sense among the tony clients of Scottsdale and beyond. “We have a lot of Canadian clients who have summer homes here,” Levy states. The store’s advertisements in Phoenix Home & Garden magazine have also given the company a lot of exposure. “We get calls from all over the country,” Cantore states.
When Levy had to close her store for personal reasons, Jackson reached out to her. “Michael has always been a friend, even though he was my biggest competitor. He approached me about joining him here. I knew I wanted a high-end atmosphere because that’s all I’ve ever done.”
Cantore’s penchant for contemporary lighting has earned her a formidable reputation in the design community. “I’m not a catalog gal; I always think outside of the box,” she explains of her approach to finding just the right look for clients.
Being able to find the unexpected at Hinkley’s Lighting Factory is something that faithful customers appreciate most about the two stores. There are literally hundreds of manufacturers carried by the company, not to mention many one-of-a-kind antique fixtures for sale that Bill Hinkley would find during his regular world travels over the years. Add to that overwhelming assortment a knowledgeable sales staff who love what they do and you have the recipe for success that has helped this store survive through the real estate ups and downs over the past 100 years.