The much-awaited American Lighting Association (ALA) Conference – postponed last year due to health concerns over the Zika virus in its Puerto Rico location – was met with widespread approval when it was held in Vancouver, B.C. this week.
There was certainly some apprehension over the months prior to opening day for the 2017 ALA Conference as members – and possibly the organizers themselves – wondered if having that the one-year lapse would result in a downturn in attendance. Making the situation especially challenging were the recent floods in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey and the impending Hurricane Irma poised to hit Florida as both areas have a significant amount of ALA members.
Fortunately the Houston-based membership showed up in force, but there were understandably absences from members – and even scheduled speakers – who live in Florida and neighboring states in the storm’s path. Nevertheless, “the show must go on” and indeed it did with nary a stumble. Attendees with a knowledge base pertinent to those seminar topics volunteered to step in to take the place of the few speakers who could not attend.
According to Cathie Hayes of Nuvo Sales Group, who was the ALA Conference chair, there were 550 attendees in total, of which 22 were new members and 28 were first-time attendees. That number is relatively on par with attendance at prior ALA Conferences.
ALA President Eric Jacobson thanked the audience for transferring their 2016 Conference registrations to this year as doing so helped mitigate the financial losses for the organization. “We are blessed to be in a remarkable industry with remarkable people,” he said.
Over the past year, “the world has become even more connected,” Jacobson remarked. “And the lighting industry did not sit still.” He referenced a statistic from a 2017 CNBC report that stated 130 million smart home products are expected to be sold this year — a 62.5 percent increase over 2016. [Smart home products include Nest thermostats and smoke detectors, August smart locks, Ring video doorbells, Google Home, and Amazon’s Alexa]. The CNBC report called 2017 “the year of the smart home.”
“It is imperative as an industry that we understand these benefits,” Jacobson commented. “These innovations allow you to bring more value to your customers.”
Similarly, the ALA was busy this year providing additional value to its membership. Jacobson noted that there are more educational courses than before and the comprehensive residential lighting manual is being re-written and updated. In addition, the organization is proceeding with a new ceiling fan education series and will be relaunching its Web site.
The ALA completed a Consumer Survey recently to evaluate homeowners’ wants and needs. According to Jacobson, 85 percent of the respondents state that “lighting fixtures are important” with 89 percent agreeing with the statement that “lighting is used to provide design to a space.” When asked to list the most important attributes of lighting, 50 percent cited “design,” 48 percent mentioned “quality,” and 44 percent listed “amount of light.”
“Did you notice what’s missing from that list?” Jacobson asked the audience. “Price.” He then encouraged members to utilize the consumer-oriented videos and blog posts that the ALA makes available to its retail members.
Among the ALA’s governmental triumphs was the removal for discussion of the Border Adjustment Tax. If it had passed, Jacobson estimated that it could have passed a 20 percent increase to the industry. He related that the ALA is still working to remove the sales taxes exemption for Internet sales in an effort to “level the playing field.”
Honors & Awards
The first morning of the Conference kicked off by recognizing all of the effort, expertise, and time that 2017 chairperson Larry King of Capital Lighting spent on the ALA’s behalf. “I can’t say enough about how well the ALA is run,” King said. “Whenever I needed help, I was amazed how engaged the staff is in our industry how fast they’d respond.” He then encouraged attendees to volunteer to participate in the various committees. “Whatever you give comes back to you tenfold,” he noted.
Long-time ALA educator and University of Kentucky associate professor Joe Rey-Barreau was inducted in the organization’s Hall of Fame. Rey-Barreau thanked Dick Upton, the previous ALA President, with giving him the opportunity to serve the association as an educator. “In the beginning, there were approximately 40 to 50 programs a year across the country,” he remarked of the exhausting travel involved. In more recent years, technology allowed Rey-Barreau to conduct more of the ALA training sessions via Webinar. “You guys are amazing,” he stated, thanking each of the ALA staff individually for their support. “I am very honored to receive this award.”
The closing evening gala – which had a Bollywood theme in a nod to Canada’s prominence in the film industry – honored the three Pillars of Industry for all three categories of its membership: Manufacturer, Showroom, and Sales Representative.
Rick Seidman, President of Quoizel, receive the distinction among manufacturers. “I feel so lucky to be a part of the lighting community. I like to think of how proud I am of what we’ve accomplished as an organization.” He thanked the Phillips family – especially Ira and Todd – for their guidance and confidence in his leadership abilities. Seidman observed that through Recessions, numerous regulations, and technological challenges, the residential lighting industry has remained cohesive as a group and has banded together to overcome such difficulties for the greater good.
“Our ALA marketing efforts have brought more consumer awareness to lighting than ever before,” he explained. “We have someone going over every line of proposed legislation to be sure that our interests as an industry are represented. I’ve been in the lighting business for half of my life, and I am so happy and proud to be in this industry.”
Second-generation industry veteran Jon Sayah – President of Fleco Industries, Lights Fantastic, and Texas Fluorescent – was awarded the Pillar of Industry award for the Showroom category. “I think my journey is just beginning. I think we [the industry] are at a crossroads,” he announced from the podium. “This award really goes to the mentors I’ve had in my life, the first of which is my dad, who borrowed $5,000 from his mother to start his business. My father’s first bit of advice to me was to get experience in the industry somewhere else [than with the family business]. I went to Lightolier, where I learned from great men such as Larry Powers, Dan Blitzer, and Ray Renta. You can’t have a better pedigree [than what I’ve been able to have],” he commented. “I decided that my purpose in life was to use lighting to make people’s lives better. We really have this opportunity [thanks to revolutionary technology] to do something great. I look forward to making that dream come true.”
The Pillar of Industry in the Sales Representative category was bestowed on Jon McMahan, owner/partner of KTR Associates in New York. In introducing McMahan to the audience, it was revealed that McMahan personally sponsored several member showrooms to come to the Conference this year — not an inexpensive endeavor.
McMahan credited his father, James (a long-time Schonbek veteran) with getting him into the lighting business. He also cited Neil Rosenbloom as an important mentor. “I focus on everything in my power to anticipate my customers’ needs. My agency has a history of good partners,” he explained. “What constitutes a partnership? It’s seeking what’s new and keeping it exciting. I couldn’t do it without my [business] partner Terence. I’m blessed to have all of you [in the industry]. I pour my heart and soul into everything I do.”
The 2018 ALA Conference will be held at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. from September 24 through September 26.