For a lighting distributor dealing predominantly with retail and walk-in traffic, opening a trade-only showroom is very unusual. It’s a good thing the person heading up the operation, the division’s Vice President David Bellwoar, is anything but ordinary.
“I’ll admit, I’m a bit silly,” says Bellwoar, who exudes quirky charm — the kind that commands attention and naturally works a room. He’s a man of unabashed style who enjoys homemade espresso, pranking his employees, and discussing lighting manufacturers he’s most passionate about. His Bright Light division generates more than $10 million in sales revenue a year, yet Bellwoar considers himself a simple, local businessman.
“I think it comes down to how I was raised,” he says, citing the work-hard-play-hard mentality. “I’m honestly just a little guy trying to fit into the industry.”
Since 1972, his family has grown Colonial Electric Supply across five states, with more than 600 employees, 40 delivery trucks, and nearly $300 million in sales annually. Bellwoar doesn’t just fit into the industry — he’s part of lighting royalty. His right to sit on the throne, though, is earned.
“My grandfather said positions of power in this company would go to any Bellwoar who wanted it, just as long as they worked for it,” he explains. “There’s no default entitlement at Colonial. We each went to college, put in the time, proved our dedication, ran with new ideas, brushed ourselves off when 9 out of those 10 ideas failed, and showed up every day to make this company better. I am what I am because of hard work, not just because I was born with [the right] last name.”
The latest generation of the Bellwoar family arrived at Colonial in the early 1980s. By the end of that decade, the company had about 50 employees and plunged into the computer age well ahead of other distributors, making inventory control, order entry, and purchasing virtually paperless. The 1990s were significant for Colonial, as Bellwoar and his brothers took over, and more than tripled the company’s sales.
By the year 2000, Colonial debuted Bright Light Design Centers (BLDC), a progressive retail lighting division with Bellwoar as the Vice President . He has since opened five BLDC showrooms, and this latest one in Center City is the first trade-only store in the company’s history.
“It’s a big undertaking, but I know we can do it,” he says, adding the new venture comes with a 12-year lease. “This company always looks into growth opportunities when they fit. We are moving toward more intimate work with interior designers, and we need to offer them a showroom comparable to those in other major cities.”
“I figured, why the hell not?” he jokes. “Not everyone can afford a Tesla, but there’s a reason everyone wants one — they’re exclusive, and for that reason, I’m putting a charging port on the back of our next location.”
Bright Light’s highly curated lighting displays are accompanied by stunning views of the Philadelphia skyline, and intermixed with the latest in LED technology and smart home controls to aid designers while selecting luxury options.
Bellwoar’s staff must complete 10 courses from the American Lighting Association (ALA) and three weeks of in-house training before working the floor. Since the clientele for a trade-only Design Center is unique, the staff is different as well.
“Let’s just say we put the best candidates through Bright Light University,” he remarks, adding he even administers a Myers–Briggs personality test to see if applicants are a good fit. The BLDC staff must also learn the specialized software programs, as well as every detail possible about the featured vendors.
“My people will not only tell you about a lighting fixture, they’ll tell you about the company that manufactures it,” he explains. “I think it’s important to know each company’s warranty policies, their vision and brand message, and more importantly, where they’re from. I think it’s also important to know a few fun facts. Did you know Hubbardton Forge participates in Tie-Dye Tuesdays? My people do.”
Located on the third floor of Philadelphia’s new Design Center, Bright Light joins dozens of other professional designer trade businesses, such as the Baer Collection, Beatrice & Martin, Croce, AK & CO, Harrington Group, Kravet, Pindler & Pindler, Robert Allen, and Scalamandre.
The Design Center, Philadelphia’s premier resource for the interior design trade, opened last fall as part of the city’s ongoing initiative to strengthen a Design District in the heart of East Market. A mix of corporate and independent showrooms now offers design professionals exclusive access to some of the world’s most prestigious brands and distinguished furnishings from 500+ manufacturers. Visitors also benefit from educational seminars, events, and exclusive showroom promotions.
“East Market is a place for creatives, innovators, and young professionals, who value design and originality, to be at the center of it all,” says Daniel Killinger, Managing Director of National Real Estate Development. He adds the $500 million development will span an entire city block, blending new-to-market retail and dining experiences with contemporary apartments to create a thriving urban destination for locals and tourists alike.
BLDC celebrated an official Grand Opening in late February, which drew more than 200 interior designers and building professionals. The company will also open a new location in King of Prussia this fall.
“It’s all very good things,” Bellwoar says about the future. “I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. Who knows, we might even have a real Telsa out back and not just the charging port.”