enLIGHTenment Magazine pays tribute to some of the most illustrious members of our industry.
Category: Leader, Manufacturer
David Littman, Littman Brands™
The Early Days:
A lot of my younger years were spent working at our family’s lighting business. In 1985, at the age of 23, I completed an MBA in finance and was determined to go into banking. I interviewed with a number of top companies and then my dad said, “David, before you decide on taking one of those banking jobs, you might want to look at this little company in Upstate New York. It’s nothing today, but could give you a platform to build your career.” It was a specialty vertical manufacturer of commoditized, low-end decorative fixtures. I’m an aesthetic guy – always have been – so I had a hard time relating to the company’s market position. My naive energy kicked in and I decided to purchase the company. Since then, I have used that initial investment as a starting point for building Littman Brands™, which now includes four high-end lighting manufacturers: Corbett Lighting, CSL (Creative Systems Lighting), Hudson Valley Lighting, and Troy Lighting. I also joined forces with a famous designer recognized for pioneering modern lighting as an art form – Robert Sonneman – to create Sonneman ? A Way of Light.
Dealing with the market’s perceived value of lighting. In my earlier years, the industry was largely driven by everybody buying components from the same vendors, but twisting their arms in different ways. Lighting had a very generic feel to it. In the mid to late 1990s there was also a huge shift to companies moving offshore, which drove average prices down by about 50 percent. Consumers were being trained that lighting fixtures should be inexpensive, an afterthought. Instead, I decided to increase my commitment to creating original high-end lighting designs, which was the opposite of what almost everybody else was doing. This is how my business differentiated itself in the marketplace. We invest a lot into educating consumers (through advertising, PR, and our sales network) about how lighting enhances architecture and their living spaces. People are willing to spend money if they like the product and it increases their quality of life.
Key to Success:
First of all, it took time to develop a clear vision of what I wanted to contribute to the lighting industry, but once I committed to focusing on the high-end segment, things clicked. From that point forward, my philosophy has been to specialize in “great” rather than specialize in cheap. Another key has been learning how to delegate. As I’ve matured as a business owner, I’ve learned that my strength is on the financial and design side of the business. It’s important to surround myself with people I know and trust to do a great job in all areas of the business.
What Lies Ahead:
Solid-state lighting is the future of the business. CSL is manufacturing high-performance, architectural-quality LEDs that appeal to a wide variety of architects, builders, and designers. Another company, USAI Lighting, which I own with my sister, is producing extremely high-end SSL fixtures. We are on the cutting edge of this rapidly evolving technology, and the market is demanding greater energy efficiency, product lifespan, quality of lighting and more. We have an incredible team at both companies and many of their innovations are being applied in our decorative lighting lines. They’re not just squeezing in an LED driver or fitting; they’re engineering the technology into the aesthetic framework of the fixture and creatively balancing the line between beauty and science – a trend I expect to continue.
Looking forward, another priority for us is investing in our U.S. manufacturing facilities. We have always maintained domestic manufacturing sites. In fact we recently opened a new state-of-the-art 200,000-sq.-ft. facility in City of Industry, California. As costs rise for doing business in China, I think the story gets better (from a design and quality standpoint) for increasing the percentage of U.S. production.