This Arizona lighting rep David Stark is very serious about helping his customers become more profitable.
David Stark was born in Indiana, but lived all over the country as a child since his dad was in the Armed Forces. Not a fan of the peripatetic lifestyle that being in the military entails, Stark decided to go to school instead of enlisting – and not just any college, but Notre Dame University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in marketing and finance.
While at Notre Dame, Stark’s first job was the dream of any young male: working for Anheuser-Busch, promoting Budweiser® in university bars and offering promotional paraphernalia to his fellow students and bar patrons. “I was Bud Man,” he quips. Upon graduation, he continued his relationship with the beer giant, relocating to Florida to take a sales position calling on bars, liquor stores, and nightclubs throughout Broward and Palm Beach Counties.
That job was a lot of fun, but as Stark admits, “It wasn’t the [long-time] lifestyle I wanted to maintain.” Around that time in the early 1970s, his uncle told him about a lighting showroom called Pompano Lighting that was for sale. Stark decided to buy it and retain the current management. “On paper, it looked like a good investment,” he says. This was Stark’s introduction to the lighting industry, and while he sold his stake in the business after two years for personal reasons, he considered the category to be interesting.
A few years later, a trip to Phoenix to visit an old friend convinced Stark to make a major lifestyle change and move to Arizona. “The desert is the antithesis of Florida, where it’s humid and you’re near water,” he explains. Thinking back to his experience with lighting, Stark made the rounds of Phoenix-area showrooms to inquire whether there were any job openings. Sure enough, he received word through a showroom that manufacturer Lightcraft in California was looking for a sales rep to cover the state. Stark immediately sought out the company and got the job.
“At the time, Lightcraft was a strong, full line on the West Coast,” he states. Stark substantially grew the company’s business in Arizona, which led to additional manufacturers such as West Gate Lighting and Bibi Continental wanting him to represent their lines. Soon, Stark’s territory grew to cover Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii. In addition to having represented Sea Gull Lighting for 30 years, today Stark’s line card has grown to include Hinkley, Golden, Forte, James Moder, Lite Source, Triarch, and Philips’ lighting group.
Selling Budweiser actually has something in common with selling lighting. “The lighting industry, especially back then, was a very social atmosphere. Many deals were made over golf outings and other casual get-togethers,” he explains. Over time though, conducting business in today’s time-pressed era has become more formal.
For example, when Stark calls on a customer – which includes lighting stores, builders, and designers – he wears a jacket and tie. “I dress up to show my customers the respect they deserve,” he explains. He also handwrites Thank You notes to each customer on his own stationery instead of sending out an email. “I mail out my letters on the Monday after our meeting. I take the opportunity to recap some of the ideas we had discussed and present an outline of the action to be taken next,” Stark says.
There have been a lot of changes with lighting showrooms in the 40 years that Stark has been a lighting rep. “Whereas the distributor used to work with perhaps five reps, now they might work with as many as 25. And, while showrooms might have done a lot of their buying with one major line, now they have diluted their purchases across many manufacturers,” he notes. Naturally, competition is fierce.
Arizona was hit hard when the housing bubble burst; there is a glut of new homes built before the Recession that still haven’t sold. “We have more supply than demand. Since 2006, there’s been about an 85-percent decline in what I’d call normal buying levels due to the economy,” Stark observes.
For anyone considering going into the rep business, Stark offers this advice: “You have to be a self-starter and self-disciplined. Get to know your customers and potential clients and understand who they are and what they are looking for.” He also advises calling on your client base more frequently to see how you can be of assistance since everyone has cut back and stores are struggling to do more with less staff.
“I thrive on my interaction with people,” Stark says enthusiastically. “All day and every day, I have fun with the people I call on.”
Another terrific atmosphere is the one evident at the annual ALA Conference. Stark has been active on this year’s committee since the event is in Scottsdale and takes place this month. “At market, it’s all about selling. However, at the ALA Conference, you can still talk business, but it’s in a casual atmosphere. I really like the social aspect.”
Stark holds his clients in highest regard. In return, “I’d hope that my customers believe I have integrity, morality, and respect,” he says.