enLIGHTenment Magazine is proud to present the recipients of our annual awards series honoring those individuals in our industry who have been nominated by their peers for leading by example, standing out in their field, and inspiring others.
How did you get your start in the lighting business?
I remember it clearly: I was working for the Pillsbury Co. in their industrial division in South Florida. It was in May and I had just attended a 10-day management training course in Minneapolis. When I left Miami it was 85 degrees and it was the same when I returned. In Minnesota, however, the temperature ranged from 30 degrees below 0 to a high of 10 degrees below 0 the entire trip. When I returned to Florida, I got a phone call congratulating me on being promoted and that they were moving me to the home office in Minneapolis. My response was “Thanks, but no thanks.” They said the relocation wasn’t optional. My response was, “I do have a choice and it has been wonderful working for you.”
Although I wanted to become an independent food broker at the time, I ended up taking a job in the lighting industry with Thomas Industries in Louisville, Kentucky. I grew to enjoy lighting more than the food industry. After 4 1/2 years, I was able to pick up several really good lines and have been an independent rep ever since.
In the early 1970s, I had a showroom customer in Hollywood, Florida called Lighting Showcase. The owners, John and Trudy Hazel, had met working for Progress Lighting and they had a daughter, Linda, who worked there part-time while in high school. We all became great friends. Linda became the first female rep hired by Nutone/Lightcraft of California for the Atlanta territory and was later promoted to the Southern California territory.
I had dinner with Linda during the summer Dallas Market in 1986 — and the rest is history. We decided we wanted to share our lives together. I sold my company – which had grown to cover Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North & South Carolina – to the key people in my agency and moved to California in 1987. Having a loving partner in life and business has been the best choice of my life.
I later became the founding president of the NALR (National Association of Lighting Representatives), which rocked along for a while with about 35 members. I flew to Dallas and had a meeting with 35 Texas agents who joined en masse. I suggested that there had not been a national lighting show since New York closed and proposed we start a new lighting show and require reps to be members to work the show and rapidly grow our organization. The Texas group said they would organize everything & the first Dallas Lighting Market was established at the LaBaron hotel and evolved into the lighting market we have today.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
When I started in the industry, every condo on Miami Beach had a pulldown fixture in the dining room. Then it changed to cast Spanish bronze crystal chandeliers, and later to Williamsburgs. Today there is an ever-changing and diverse cross-section of styles in complete flux.
Before such a major shift in the supply chain to off-shore manufacturing from either European imports or domestic manufacturing, the showroom distribution channel always had back-up inventory. Today the product inventory has, for the most part, shifted to the importers’ and manufacturers’ warehouses. We are very proud to still represent several domestically manufactured product lines.
The retail supply chain has spread across all segments of retail businesses – including box stores and the Internet – and changed the purchasing process. I do believe there is a place for the smart showroom operator, representative, and manufacturer/importer. Changes are happening so rapidly and all will have to follow the changing technologies, lighting sources, and the consumers’ changing lifestyles.
What do you think have been the keys to your success?
Maintaining integrity, honesty, consistency, and service. Our job is not finished until all tasks have been satisfactorily completed and that can only be accomplished with diligent, hard, smart work.
What do you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started?
How rewarding a life in this industry could be and has been. This is a relationship business and the most enjoyable part of it is the people: the customers, factory people, and other sales reps. I’ve made so many life-long friends worldwide over the past 50 years. I feel privileged to have been able to amass such a wealth of memories and experiences in this industry, making me a very lucky man.
What do you envision lighting sales agency of the future to be like?
I have operated a large agency covering the Southeast and have operated a small agency, and I prefer the latter. I find it far more rewarding in personal and monetary satisfaction than big business. I believe the smart showroom operators will survive in the future, along with the quality sales representatives and manufacturers/importers who evolve with the changing market conditions. It is a shame that there are so few young people looking to make a career in this industry, and because of that, it’s going to take all of the players in this industry to make sure there is a future for all to continue to evolve and survive. I am so thankful for this Legend Award and for all the wonderful people who have crossed my path along the way.