This month starts our series of recognizing the outstanding up-and-comers in our industry who have already made a significant impact while in their 20s.

Cole Semenko

MEET

COLE SEMANKO

Vintage Fans & More, Sole Proprietor
Fargo, North Dakota


How long at company: 10 years

How I ended up in lighting: My origins with the ceiling fan industry reside in an early fascination with electric fan products and my personal collection of them. I have been an enthusiast of fans since early childhood, and after finding an online community of similar collectors in the mid-2000s, began uploading videos of my fans to YouTube in late 2008 for others to enjoy. My collector friends started watching, and surprisingly, so did a lot of other people. 

A few years in, the name Vintage Fans & More was conceived. I chose it because I am rooted in older products, and will always be a collector at heart, but I was also featuring newer products and the name helped reflect that. With millions of views racking up and an expanding “brand” presence across social media, ceiling fan manufacturers were taking note of my passion for their products.

In 2015, I slowly began receiving a few complimentary products direct from some of my favorite fan companies to work with and feature on my platforms. Since then, and as I’ve expanded to embrace new brands and products, my work direct with manufacturers and the industry as a whole has only expanded onward and upward.

I’ve reviewed fans from nearly a dozen manufacturers to date, have partnered with many of them multiple times, and continue to foster existing and new relationships to present the best products to my direct followers and a greater audience beyond.

My more heavily produced product features for manufacturer-provided products go in-depth – breaking down technical product knowledge, related aspects of product design, and interior design – and are geared toward recognition and promotion of the brand as a whole. I also do general demonstration run-throughs, simply showing both old and new products in operation, as well as a vlog series to connect with core viewers in a more casual format and show all the other things I work on with my collection behind the scenes. Despite the fact that my ventures have become more business-oriented, VF&M remains a passion project that I do mostly because I love it.

What I would be doing if not in the lighting industry: After high school, I had a slight interest in going directly into lighting in some capacity, but couldn’t really figure out the right path or how to go about it. I also lacked a lot of relevant knowledge that I’ve gained since. I chose a somewhat lighting-adjacent path, earning a two-year degree in Electrical Technology and subsequently working full-time as an electrician’s apprentice for a few years while still dealing with Vintage Fans & More on the side.

I enjoyed aspects of the electrical work and learned a lot, but as my work with Vintage Fans & More has grown, the income generated from YouTube has enabled me to leave full-time work elsewhere for the moment and allowed more time to invest back into the venture that I truly love and enjoy. VF&M is still not generating enough to pay all the bills on its own, so I also work part-time in omnichannel sales for Macy’s Stores in-store fulfillment, but Vintage Fans & More has been on an exponential growth path over the past few years and perhaps someday it will be a full-time endeavor.

Job accomplishment that I am most proud of to date: Vintage Fans & More has given me many things to be proud of. I’m living a dream that my younger self could’ve only dreamt up, since what I do didn’t even exist then. To have my opinion valued by so many industry professionals, as well as the companies I have idolized, is humbling.

I think the proudest accomplishment I’ve made though, is a personal one; coming further out of my shell. I have always been rather quiet and shy, self-conscious, and have previously never quite been able to find where I excel and belong in life. I’d never felt confident enough in anything to let myself shine. I didn’t fully appear or speak in my own videos for years. I wanted it to be about the fans, not the sound of my voice, or what I look like. Social media is filled with people saying things that probably shouldn’t be said from behind a screen, and early on I was not ready to hear those comments directed to me on a personal level.

It took the collaboration with manufacturers to push me out of my comfort zone, be more fully present, and ignore any instinct telling me otherwise. Positive results have far outweighed any negative I’ve heard, proof that my fear was unwarranted. As an unconventional outsider welcomed into this industry by so many people from manufacturers and showrooms around the world, I now have a place where I belong and feel confident in my ability. This industry has changed me for the better, and I am forever grateful.

What I like about the lighting/ceiling fan industry: Lighting is a family; I have felt it from the very beginning of my deeper work with manufacturers, and from showrooms that have supported my vision for just as long. I’ve only been to Lightovation twice so far, but when I’m there it feels like a second home where everyone is happy to see you. Friendly people are a guarantee, and there’s always someone who’s got your back. Countless people and manufacturers have gone out on a limb for me, taking a chance on what I do. Mutual trust that we will all see benefit through collaboration is not always easy to earn, but lighting has been more than open to giving it a shot. It is fulfilling to know that your industry is behind you.

What I wish was different about the industry: I’d really like to see some greater accessibility to different types of basic information about the lighting industry by various means, but especially accessible by online search or via lighting association websites, etc. — literally anything; be it careers, sales, manufacturing. This industry is a rather small family, and those who have the privilege of being in it know a lot about it, but I truly think there are a lot of younger people who have an interest specifically in lighting and aren’t sure where to get started when information is limited by the means they typically use to research.

Speaking as someone who had an interest in pursuing lighting before stumbling into it by a different route, I found it difficult to source any kind of guidance or self-directed information specific to lighting. While I do think that asking around at the local showroom is a viable resource and may generate a connection or additional contacts, it can also be a limited scope.

Five years ago, I wasn’t even aware of a multitude of the aspects and roles playing a part in lighting that I’ve learned about since. As someone who’s been there, it’s not easy to find the way with little or no other occupational background to help guide the search and hard to gain specifically lighting experience without already being tailored to it, or coming in with a specific background.

Where I hope my lighting/ceiling fan career will take me over the next 20 years: I am absolutely living my dream as it is, so it’s hard to even think about where things could go. It would be wonderful if Vintage Fans & More could someday be a full-time endeavor, but even if it’s not, I do it for the passion and true enjoyment of the opportunities I’ve been given. Perhaps someday it will transcend what I’m doing now in some other capacity, but moving forward the real focuses are continuing to build and strengthen relationships with everyone who supports my endeavors, bringing awareness to the industry and the amazing brands that I work with, and creating quality content. My expectations have already been exceeded, and I think the sky truly is the limit.