Founded by industry veterans, Classic Lamp Parts is gathering steam as a new resource in component parts for lighting. Consider them familiar faces in a new place!
Just as most people outside of the lighting industry don’t understand how portable lamps, sconces, and ceiling fixtures could possibly be interesting, that sentiment could probably go double for anyone outside of the lighting component parts business — but that doesn’t bother this group of OEM parts veterans. They share a venerable passion for their chosen careers.
“I like learning about what our customers do, especially when I travel to their businesses,” says Michael Jackson, President of Classic Lamp Parts, headquartered in California. “There are still a lot of custom manufacturers in the U.S., and many of those are run by artists and designers. On any given day I may meet with distributors, showrooms, renovation specialists, or even commercial lighting manufacturers. Each one of them has special challenges and I like to have enough expertise to help them with their current and on-going problems.”
Jackson’s favorite example relates the resurgence of the Retro-Warehouse look. “The usage of cloth-covered wire is very popular for that style, but the product can be very difficult to work with and installing a line switch is very frustrating,” he recounts. “Our solution is to have it done at the factory. That way, we have individually packaged cord sets with line switches and line dimmers and floor switches installed, with and without rayon coverings.”
Donna Domingo, VP/Operations, echoes that enthusiasm, adding, “I find it interesting how lighting manufacturers and their needs differ so widely. I enjoy the challenge of each project and working each one through to fruition.”
Filling a Void
Since the component parts business for the lighting market has arguably seen more consolidation in the past 10 years than the manufacturing side has, what made this tight group of industry veterans think there was room for a new resource — especially one that was starting from scratch? In short, they saw a void, and had the gumption to fill it. They also have no problem sharing all of the responsibilities; job titles aren’t something that anyone on board is concerned about.
“I think what [has been] missing are suppliers who really care and want to help their customers succeed. We are listening and adapting our product line to meet the customers’ needs,” Domingo states. “We spend a lot of time working with individual customers to develop quality product at competitive prices. We have worked hard to find the best supplier partners; they are very special to us and go out of their way to help us succeed.”
For Jackson, drawing upon his past experience and the satisfaction he gets from being a problem-solver has been great motivation. “Our goal every day is to try to help the smaller companies. For many of them, it may be difficult to create tooling or to do the finishing on unfinished parts,” he notes. “We are constantly trying to create new items based on customer input — and when we create them, we try to leverage the investment by running as many variations of that part as possible.”
Conquering Growing Pains
Start-ups are never easy, even when the people involved are well-known and liked within an industry.
Going from meetings held around the proverbial kitchen table and renting third-party warehouse space to establishing a dedicated facility for the office and distribution takes time. Remarkably, that journey was accomplished in three years for Classic Lamp Parts.
“There certainly is a basic financial barrier to starting a business like this,” Jackson admits. “By its very nature, the turns are low and the initial investments are large. People might think, ‘Well it’s only parts, how much could it cost?’ In actuality, for every single item there are manufacturing minimums. Furthermore, to provide value for our customers we need to produce variations of the popular products that are not currently on the market, and then we need to make each item in a variety of sizes and finishes.”
To anyone doing the math, any given product addition requires “approximately 10 or 20 times the product that we might be able to sell in the coming year. You have to really love the business to take that leap of faith,” Jackson laughs.
The ability to pick the right items and product groups to focus on is another skill. “We want to be a good partner to our customers,” Domingo states. “We now have a large variety of parts available and have gone through several phases of reorganization to do so.”
“It is a very interesting (and humbling) dynamic, going from being part of one of the leading lighting parts suppliers in the U.S. to an absolutely brand new start-up,” Jackson remarks. “When I talk to a customer, I try to make it very clear that while we are not yet in a position to be their only supplier, we bring a unique approach and product assortment.”
The reaction from the industry has been overwhelmingly positive. “Most customers recognize very quickly that we speak their language, and we enjoy
following up on their input,” Jackson says. “In one case recently we had a hospitality lighting manufacturer ask if we had three-wire twisted rayon cord available, as no one carries it.” In response, Jackson rose to the challenge. “Now we are the only company to offer this product and we just had a brand new customer order six rolls in a variety of colors,” he comments. “The bottom line for most customers is that we are just flat out easy to work with. We usually have a new account set up in less than an hour, we ship 95% of our orders the same day, we pass along all of our shipping discounts, we make returns and credits painless, and we truly like our customers!”
Hitting the Road
When it came to getting the word out about the new company, Jackson took a page from a very famous leader in the ceiling fan business. “One of my heroes is the late Burton A. Burton, the founder of the Casablanca Ceiling Fan Company. I am a big believer in ‘experiential marketing’ and Burton brought that concept to the lighting industry in an extreme way,” he recounts.
One of Burton’s most memorable marketing ideas was to take national promotional trips in his refurbished classic railroad cars. “In that very unique way, he was able to connect with the family-owned lighting showroom market in a manner that few have been able to replicate,” Jackson recalls. “There is not much chance that I will be able to duplicate his results, but my hope is that by taking some trips in my Classic Cuda, I will at least be able to inject some fun into the trips for everyone.” Like Burton, Jackson has chosen to travel via a personal passion project: a 1972 Plymouth Barracuda that he spent seven years renovating.
This fall Jackson has been tooling around the country in his Cuda in a quest to discover potential customers. “When I go on the road, it is always with the hope that I will be able to make a positive connection,” he explains. “At the last company I worked for [American-De Rosa] I learned that I enjoy that process very much. In one of our annual planning sessions, the owner even made the remark, ‘Mike, you are so good at this, I should just give you a credit card and let you drive across the country calling on every possible customer you can find’ — and that is what I do now. I look up every type of lighting company that there is in an area and plan a route that takes me past as many as possible,” he recounts. “I might have called on the customers before, but several years have passed and the staff has often changed.”
In Jackson’s most recent trip, he drove from Palm Desert, Calif. through Los Angeles, and then up the California coastline, finishing in Modesto. “I racked up about 800 miles in six days,” he chuckles. “We are currently planning another extended trip for next spring that will take us through Idaho, Washington State, and Oregon.” Thinking like Casablanca’s Burton, he quips, “We are hoping to be able to have some live Internet coverage for that one!” Pausing for a moment, he adds, “The toughest thing about long road trips is having a day when no one is interested in a lighting parts supplier who cares about their business, but luckily that does not happen very often.”
End Game Strategy
“Product assortment, pricing, and product knowledge are just the beginning of what we offer,” Domingo states. “We make it easy for prospective customers to set up an account and we offer a variety of payment terms and shipping options.”
The line has expanded considerably since its first catalog, where the concentration was on basic items. With the advent of the second catalog, scheduled for release next month, there are dozens of exclusive items in addition to competitive pricing and high quality on a wide variety of lighting industry staples.
“We are particularly proud of our brass and steel stampings, which we offer in a variety of finishes that correspond to the finishes on our solid brass stamped and cast sockets,” Jackson says.
Additional changes involve back office and marketing developments. “We plan on updating the Web site to allow customers to check stock, order status, and place orders online 24/7,” states Armando Perales, VP/IT & Marketing. Other plans include adding a Facebook page for sharing information on product, promotions, sales, and lighting industry news with customers. “We’re also looking to create a YouTube channel that we can use to introduce new product and display how a product works in those cases when a product’s story cannot be told by pictures and text,” he notes.
“In short, we want customers to think of us as their first choice to work with,” Jackson explains. “We think that this goal is realistic because we are already getting feedback along those lines, even though it might feel like a double-edged sword. Every week we have customers tell us, ‘I wish you carried this item, but I had to go somewhere else.’ With twice as many items in our new catalog, we know that we will be hearing ‘I am so glad you have that now’ a lot more often in the months ahead.” ?