In absence of the ALA Conference, a group of members joined together for a networking event in Chicago that included touring several award-winning lighting showrooms.

Iwasn’t the breathtaking cliff-top Waldorf Astoria resort in Puerto Rico that American Lighting Association (ALA) members were sad about missing this year, rather it was the invaluable networking opportunities and educational sessions that take place at the annual conference. Nathan Frampton, ALA board member and President of Fanimation, decided to do something about it. Since ALA Conference-goers had already blocked off those dates in September on their respective calendars before the conference was cancelled due to Zika virus concerns, Frampton invited the industry at large (not just ALA members) to gather together in Chicago on those days. Choosing the Windy City for the location not only made good sense geographically, but it also is home to several of the most forward-thinking lighting showrooms.

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Frampton enlisted the help of Kirsten Recce at Black Whale Lighting in California for help in organizing the gathering, which drew two dozen retailers, manufacturers, and sales reps from as far away as Hawaii, the Northeast, Oklahoma, California, South Carolina, as well as neighboring states.

The owners of Hinsdale Lighting, Hortons, and Lightology generously opened their doors to welcome everyone on a bustling Saturday afternoon and tell the group about their business. Meals and transportation to the showrooms was provided by several manufacturers (Fanimation, Framburg, WAC, and Quoizel) and a one-hour architectural boat tour of the city was hosted by enLIGHTenment Magazine.

Realizing that the ALA Conference was also a time when the ALA was slated to hold its committee and board meetings, Frampton suggested Chicago would be a convenient meeting spot after the weekend networking event. ALA President Eric Jacobson and Executive Vice President Larry Lauck flew in early to join the showroom tours and festivities.

What made the selection of showrooms particularly useful was that each was completely different in the way it presents products and handles operations.

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Nathan Frampton of Fanimation was pleased to see the company’s brand new fan display on the Hortons showroom floor.

For example, Hinsdale Lighting is open only by appointment, does not show pricetags or hold inventory, and charges a $95 consultation fee (that can be applied to a resulting order). Hortons Home Lighting does a big business in gas grills, outdoor furniture, hardware supplies, plus seasonal gifts and prominently displays each manufacturer’s brand, backed by a significant amount of inventory for customer convenience. Lightology is exclusively Contemporary in its viewpoint with a gallery-like space on three floors, features plenty of global designs, and has an experience center (called the Morpheus Room) to showcase cutting-edge applications and a rooftop garden to demonstrate outdoor lighting and host events for the architectural community.

Retailers, manufacturers, and sales reps alike relished the opportunity to observe first-hand the various ways of effectively selling and display lighting. At each showroom, the owner or experienced staffer was on-hand to answer all of the visitors’ questions candidly and completely.

“The Chicago event was awesome,” said Kirsten Recce of Black Whale Lighting. “Where else could I share my wish list of vendors and supply categories that I’d like to see added to Lightovation with executives from the Dallas Market Center, or discuss potential ideas for market and display programs casually over a drink with the presidents of Fanimation and Quoizel? I never miss an opportunity to network and educate myself about how and why decisions are made about how we do business in the lighting world. I am so thankful that Nathan Frampton had the vision to create this event and see it through. We need more collaboration like this!”

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Oklahoma-based sales representative Andy Burns (left) of Triple C Lighting brought along Cecilia Bridge with Locke Supply and Chris Ashlock with Smith Lighting from his territory to the Chicago event.

Frampton was pleased with how the event turned out. “It was great to see key leaders from different industry sectors at the Lighting & Fans in Chicago event interact and learn from each other,” he remarked. “There was a good mix of showrooms, sales representatives, manufacturers, and media in attendance. We were also fortunate to have leaders from the ALA and the Dallas Market Center participate. It was exciting to hear all of the proactive discussions going on as we made our way around Chicago. On our tour, we sampled three successful – yet very different – lighting showrooms in the Chicago area. We were able to observe more than one way to sell a ceiling fan or lighting fixture.”

During an informal breakfast meeting, Eric Jacobson and Larry Lauck of ALA detailed some of the innovative ideas that the organization is working on to benefit its membership and the lighting community at large.

Jacobson noted that there is a growing emphasis on “connected lighting” with the advent of smart controls. “All products are heading there,” he explained. The organization’s CEU-accredited educational sessions are also being expanded and refreshed.

“Many of our showroom members need sales training,” Jacobson said. “[Consultant and lighting sales expert] Mark Okun has been working on a training program for us featuring additional educational sessions.” Both Jacobson and Lauck emphasized that courses can always be held at a member’s showroom with CEU-accredited speakers from the ALA.

“Thanks to sponsorship from our manufacturers, showroom members can access ALA training sections on demand through our Web site; the Webinars in our library are free and count toward CEU credits. It’s a win-win for our sponsors and our members,” Jacobson stated.

Regarding legislative activities, Jacobson told the gathering that the ceiling fan membership has been “phenomenal” in helping the ALA combat proposed ceiling fan regulation that would negatively impact the industry. “It’s taken about two to three years of work involving special counsel,” he explained. “The amount of money that’s been put toward this issue has been staggering.”

Jacobson and Lauck enthusiastically shared some of the insights that were revealed through the recent Consumer Survey that will be released by the ALA shortly. “Surprisingly, Millennials value quality and style over price,” Lauck shared.

Jacobson added that the 2017 Showroom Profitability Study has been underway, along the Manufacturer’s Survey. What makes the ALA’s surveys unique is that they are targeted to the independent lighting showrooms.

“There is no data available for decorative lighting,” noted Rick Seidman, President of Quoizel, who was personally involved in organizing the survey as part of a project he spearheaded while recently earning his MBA. “In the past, if you were trying to measure the size of the decorative fixture business, so much [was skewed to] the mass merchants,” he said. “It’s been a long road to procure the data.”

Members at the meeting expressed interest in having lighting become a part of the new construction/remodeling projects sooner. “If the drywall is up, I can’t get sconce holes drilled,” said Karen Lang, President of Hinsdale Lighting.
“We’re hoping that with the advance of LED, the lighting category might be moved to earlier in the building process,” Jacobson remarked. The Lighting & Fans in Chicago event was a bonafide success and participants were eager to have more meetings like it in the future. 