The Fellner family has the industry covered — from repping to retail.
No doubt about it, the lighting industry can be a family affair. Many companies have been in business for decades, continuously passing the torch to younger generations. Among those leading the charge are the married team of Lori and Scott Fellner, a showroom manager and lighting rep, respectively, whose children have also dedicated their lives to lighting.
The Fellners opened Light & Day in Frederick, Maryland in 2008 and became infatuated with the industry. Lori, who’s always had a flair for design, discovered the showroom floor was the perfect platform for expressing her creativity. As she dove into merchandising and building vignettes, Scott was intrigued by the allure of the road and began learning the rep side of things. Despite the initial business thrills, however, times were extremely tough. The young couple did what they could to survive as the country began to recover from the Recession.
“I hold training meetings once or twice a week to show how to use the internet as an effective sales tool.”
— Blake Fellner
“Luckily, I grew up knowing what it’s like to work seven days a week,” says Lori Fellner, who spent most of her youth helping her father run his greeting card and gift shop. “While other kids played with toys, I enjoyed rearranging the candy displays and pushing the buttons on the register. When I was older, I helped my father whenever I could. I saw the dedication and hard work that’s needed to run a business, and the reward that comes from the blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve always known I wanted to follow in his footsteps and what it would mean.”
As the economy slowly leveled out, the business became more successful, offering 20 major lines and a dozen designer brands. There was a geographic advantage as well since the 2,600-sq.-ft. showroom was the only one of its kind within a 30-mile radius. When business continued to boom, Lori and Scott’s children, Blake and Tyler, helped out in the store after school.
“It was a special time for our family,” Scott Fellner recalls.
Ultimately, Blake pursued other interests after graduating college with a dual degree in Marketing and Business, easily landing a full-time position at a renowned search engine optimization company in Baltimore. She enjoyed her work, but her skillset grew in tandem with an undeniable feeling of discontent. “I was miserable,” she reveals. “I hated staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day.”
Much like her father, life on the road beckoned — and so did the industry. Blake enrolled in Kichler’s extensive rep training program and moved to the company’s headquarters in Cleveland. She spent weeks in each department – design, customer service, defects – learning every aspect of what it means to bring a product to market. After seven months, she was officially a rep for one of the industry’s largest manufacturers.
Blake moved to Florida in 2015 to cover Kichler’s southern territories, and last November opened her own agency, adding several designer lines (such as Coppersmith) to her line card. She also teaches showroom managers in her territory how to make their stores stand out on the internet, plus uses her expertise in SEO, coding, back-end website building, and social media to further educate her clients.
“I hold training meetings once or twice a week to show how to use the internet as an effective sales tool,” Blake explains. “I’m grateful to be able to combine my degree with my love for the lighting industry. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but looking at it now, it all makes sense.”
Unlike his sister, Tyler has known what he’s wanted to do since he was 12 years old. The youngest Fellner recalls going out to breakfast with his mom and one of their showroom reps after a doctor’s appointment. “I liked that he had the freedom to go out to breakfast with me and my mom,” Tyler explains. “Mr. Eddie wasn’t confined to an office. He got to travel and meet new people. I knew from that day that it was what I wanted to do as well.”
After college, Tyler moved to Michigan and immediately began repping for several lighting manufacturers. Livex provided him with the opportunity to start his own agency – Future Is Now Sales – and move back home. In 2018, he was hired by Livex to cover Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, plus North and South Carolina. It’s been an opportunity he says that has allowed him to grow professionally as well as personally. “So far it’s been going great. I’m extremely happy and looking to grow my territory with Livex and hopefully hire someone to help me expand my agency.”
The Fellner family solidified their claim in lighting when Tyler’s longtime girlfriend, Morgan Marrale, joined the business after she graduated from college last year. “I went to school for Marketing and minored in Business Analytics,” Morgan explains. “I had thought about doing business analytics for a sporting goods company, but I didn’t want to look at spreadsheets for hours. I was looking into real estate and was interested in interior design.”
Lori urged Morgan to try working at the family’s showroom to see if she liked it. After approximately eight months of enjoying her showroom duties, Scott asked if she’d like to see the rep side of the industry. The experience of driving around to visit with different people at various stores held tremendous appeal. “He stole me away from Lori,” Morgan jokes. It’s now one year later and she is loving her job as a manufacturer’s representative. “I’m glad a lot of things I originally set out to do didn’t work out,” she declares. “Tyler helps me a lot with this industry. I came into it knowing nothing, but we talk about lighting all the time.”
Discussing lighting is something the entire family does whenever they get together. With members involved in different areas of the industry, each brings something different to the dinner table. There’s rivalry, of course, but they assure it’s all in good fun.
“We are all there for each other,” Blake says. “We bounce ideas off one other. While we have different approaches and tactics, we aren’t afraid to share what works and what doesn’t if there’s a chance to help each other grow.”
One of those challenges is the rise of internet shopping. “When box stores came onboard, everyone thought we would be out of business,” says Scott. Surviving the competition – then and now – comes down to customer service.
Lori agrees, “You can’t [win] on price, you’ve got to do it through customer service.” Fortunately, Lori and Scott saw the importance of the internet and social media early on. Instead of fighting the unknown, they leaned into it.
“I have decided not to fight the internet. Instead, I embrace it,” Lori states. I don’t hide our prices,” she explains. The family is also encouraged by recent rulings (i.e. the Supreme Court’s South Dakota vs. Wayfair decision) that could pave the way for all states to collect sales tax on internet purchases, helping to level the playing field.
“If we keep everything equal – prices are the same and everyone pays sales tax – that can bring the [retail sector] to a level that’s equal,” Scott notes, adding, “We can do things [with help from vendors] with shipping and freight.” According to Lori and Scott, survival for showrooms today is all about selling yourself [as a business], your expertise, and customer service. It’s a method that appears to be working. “We get repeat customers and referrals all the time,” Lori states.
With some paid advertising and a consumer-friendly social media presence, Light & Day has established itself as an educational resource for lighting in the surrounding community. Undoubtedly, everyone in the family has contributes something to the business’ success. “We are all intertwined,” Lori remarks. “The Fellners help light up the world.”