With experience at several high-profile lighting showrooms, Casey Fitzpatrick Penry is now at the helm of very distinctive rep firm.
Q. What’s your background?
A. I’m from Omaha, Nebraska and majored in international business at University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) before heading to Chicago in my early 20s to study interior design at Harrington Institute of Design. My mom is an interior designer and my dad owns his own industrial machinery businesses, but his background was architecture so an interest in design was something that I became interested in at a young age.
I spent my free time with my folks at design stores or art galleries – it’s basically been stamped into my head: Design. One of my mom’s big projects when I was in high school was Warren Buffett’s house. Our home was only a few doors down from his place so I was not only the local cat sitter, but also would watch neighbors’ homes while they were on vacation or out of town. I never did understand why Buffett had his foyer lined with Coca Cola™ – little did I know he basically owned it! I sure did help myself to the free cola in the fridge while they were gone.
Q. How did you become interested in lighting?
A. I have a long background in Chicago working for Crest Lighting, Ligne Roset, Portico New York, Marshall Fields Home Collection, Ralph Lauren Home Collection, and finally Lightology. Having been a design consultant at all the prior showrooms, I took a keen interest in lighting. It really stems back to childhood when I would go around and (using dimmers and different lamps and bulbs) accent our whole house using the lighting fixtures and downlights. I did it every evening until my dad started yelling at me about wasting electricity and would insist I turn off every light in the house. Some things never change! What I love most about the lighting field is the amount of control you have over any application. By using MR16s with different beam spreads and a handful of lenses, you can ultimately create an infinite amount of different lighting designs. I find lighting to be so easy and fun to manipulate; I take true joy in my work.
Q. What was your first job in the lighting field?
A. I worked for a summer at a showroom my very first year in Chicago called Crest Lighting. I learned that lighting was not only important to me, but ultimately everyone there seemed to understand that it was always a part of a grand idea and the conclusion to a well-thought design. I received my Lighting Specialist designation from the American Lighting Association (ALA) after my first year on the retail floor at Lightology. Three years later, I earned Certified Lighting Consultant (CLC) status. In addition, I’m considered a specialist with Tech Lighting, Juno Lighting, Lightolier, and many other companies.
Q. What made you decide to start up your own business?
A. During my fourth year at Lightology, I had created and ran a division known as LAD – the Lightology Architectural Division. We were responsible for selling the European imports to the A&D community. It was then that I quickly learned the life of a rep and found my calling. In in the interim, my mentor [lighting designer, retailer, and founder of Tech Lighting] Greg Kay had started up the manufacturing companies Edge and Pure Lighting. When the economy took a bad turn, Greg had to act fast in order to save Edge and Pure. He was advised to close down three divisions of Lightology, one of which was LAD. It was a tough time; I had to lay off friends and ultimately make a decision about my future. I knew right away that high-end European design was my niche. Strange as it may sound, my company, originally called Glow Contract Lighting and now known by the acronym GCL, was born of a bad economy.
Even to this day, the industry is saturated with brands that have a very similar design aesthetic. I’m all for a good fixture, but there was something special about the way the Europeans designed their lighting fixtures. There’s a romance to it, and an art, that I felt we were missing here in America.
Q. As an independent, how did you get European companies to sign with your firm?
A. It was very difficult to find a group of vendors with a good name and reputation that would agree to do business with me since I’m technically coming from a non-rep background. At the end of the day, Lightology was known as a showroom not a rep agency. However, I had spent the past six years of my life selling only the best that the lighting field had to offer. Lightology at that time was the largest contemporary lighting showroom in North America and also the world. That quickly changed as many Europeans came out with much larger outfits, but still I had only ever worked with the best in European lighting.
Towards the end of my time at Lightology whilst running LAD, I spent many a sales call with these higher-end European lighting companies and they became familiar with how I worked and my work ethic. I taught many of them first-hand how to present to a group of architects or designers, how to pay attention to body language, and run with any good energy that the specifier gives you. Sales is sales; I do believe it is inherent and not taught. I proved myself to them and since I have managed to keep my name and reputation, I’m able to keep them happy.
Q. When you are scouting overseas at the major trade shows, what are you looking for?
A. There are many new companies to choose from, including some with great design but poor engineering and vice-versa. For me, as an independent rep, I prefer to work with an importer or import house. They make life a heck of a lot easier by handling the importing, customs, and tax plus they manage stock and keep stock in the U.S. while maintaining flexiblity with negotiations for showrooms. Most important, they handle the Europe to U.S. engineering issues such as switching and whether the fixture was made to fit a U.S. J-box, meets ADA compliance, or is UL-listed.
Q. Are you an exclusive distributor just in your territory or all over the country?
A. We are the exclusive distributor for Illinois, Nebraska, plus parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana. For the Quasar and Decode lines, we are the exclusive distributor for the entire country. I began dabbling in the import side of things to learn about it and try it out. In this economy we all have to be efficient. Running many different types of businesses is great if you have the time and capital, but quite frankly any lines that I import myself, I do to fill a void that I may have on my line card. This works for me and I use it to my advantage. Technically I can source out anything I need for any project and beat the price of my competition. I’m a small shop, but with the help of my talented office manager Alex Seat, I provide much more than an outfit of 20 people.
Q. What are your plans for the near future?
A. I plan to take business up a notch with my Web site and keep my downtime focused on staying cutting edge on new technology, like LED. Glow is growing and we plan to bring on some new members to our team by next spring.