Paul Stanton: C & S Lighting Sales | Seattle, Washington
How did you enter the lighting business?
Shortly after I graduated college with a degree in Marketing, I went to Europe for several months with some friends. We flew to London and traveled to Amsterdam, where we bought an old VW bus and drove around the continent, staying at various campgrounds. When we came back, I worked in the restaurant business. I was waiting tables, and a customer asked me if I knew of a go-getter who would want to learn a business. I said, “You’re looking at him!” It turns out my customer worked for NuTone and I became a Nutone rep in the Pacific Northwest for 14 years. When the Western Regional Sales Manager retired, I was promoted to that role until Nutone was bought by the competition. We were all “out.” My good friend Bill Barnhart (who was National Sales Manager at NuTone) went to Sea Gull Lighting and reached out to hire me for the Western Regional Sales Manager position at Sea Gull in 1999. The Sea Gull Lighting business was growing rapidly and the environment was like family — I’m very close to them all today. In May 2008, I began my own business (Stanton Lighting Sales) and it has grown ever since. May of 2008 was not the best time to start your own business, but we survived. In 2014, I partnered with Randy Croson of Firefly Lighting Sales, who was representing Tech Lighting. We merged our companies and created C & S Lighting Sales, which represents Generation Lighting (Sea Gull, Feiss, Monte Carlo), Tech Lighting, and Visual Comfort in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska.
What have been some the biggest changes you’ve seen?
The online world has changed everything. Getting lighting showrooms to remain successful is getting more difficult all the time. To help them, we do a lot of product knowledge training sessions as well as overall training to give our customers confidence in dealing with the internet. Reps are not just taking orders; it’s about showing up and being there for your customers. Many showroom salespeople fear that the internet will cut their prices, but that simply is not true. Showrooms can match internet prices all day long and make money. We, as your manufacturer’s reps, need to constantly remind showroom salespeople of this fact.
What do you think has been the key to your success?
The key is helping our customers. Show up and do what you say you are going to do. Most of our work is problem-solving. In my experience as a Regional Sales Manager, I understood the manufacturer’s perspective of the business and how to manage people [i.e. a rep network] and as an independent rep running my own business, I enjoy being my own boss. I really enjoy the relationships I’ve formed with customers and my fellow reps. This industry has a lot of great people and we’re all quite friendly with one another.
What does the future hold for lighting sales agencies?
There have been changes to the showrooms’ customer profile. These days, 60- to 70-percent of a showroom’s business is with builders and commercial work. Only 25 to 30 percent of their business is the retail/walk-in trade. Roughly 10 years ago, it was more like 50-50. I worry a little bit about the future of brick-and-mortar showrooms. One of their greatest challenges is keeping talented people on staff. The younger generation isn’t as patient about learning a business as a career. Many of the older, more experienced lighting people are starting to retire, and filling their shoes is the next challenge.