Besides the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, there’s another Manhattan landmark that draws a crowd – Lighting by Gregory.
When lighting industry veteran Joel Horowitz founded Lighting by Gregory (named after his son) in 1978, there was a lot of competition. For many years, The Bowery section of New York City was known as the place to visit for unbeatable lighting bargains – yet amid all the jumble of lighting stores lining the street, Lighting by Gregory stood out from the rest.
Skyrocketing rents and a faltering economy forced many of the small mom-and-pop type lighting businesses to close their doors. While there is still some competition on The Bowery today, Lighting by Gregory has far surpassed its neighbors, drawing both a national and international clientele through word-of-mouth as well as through its comprehensive Web site.
For the last five years, the business was owned by Fifth Street Finance Corp., although the original executive team (with the exception of Horowitz, who left to pursue other interests including the launch of enLIGHTenment Magazine) was on-site to handle the day-to-day operations. In September 2012, the opportunity arose for the long-time employees to purchase the company (under the name LBG Enterprises LLC) from the investment group. LBG Enterprises’ members are Clifford Starr, David Silverstein, Joel Horowitz, and William Skarren. Under the new ownership, Silverstein serves as vp/sales, Starr is vp/showroom operations and chief lighting consultant, Horowitz is chairman of the board and in a senior advisor capacity, and Skarren is president and CEO.
The majority of the employees at Lighting by Gregory have 25 years of lighting experience. For example, Silverstein has been working at the store since he was 16 years old after school and through his college years. “Lighting by Gregory is a New York institution like the Yankees or Carnegie Deli,” Silverstein quips.
Education Is Everything
Offering such a high level of lighting expertise is one of the distinguishing factors in why people including Hollywood and sports celebrities plus politicians and even modest homeowners in America and overseas wouldn’t consider shopping anywhere else. “Lighting by Gregory is a destination location,” Skarren says. “People all over the world know us. Some of our clients from other countries have apartments in the City.” The store is also the go-to source for movie and TV studios. Many Woody Allen films have featured products from Lighting by Gregory as have Law & Order and Men in Black III.
Once upon a time, customers would spend a full day going from store to store on The Bowery, trying to get the best deal or lowest price on the same fixture. While that sort of haggling still goes on in the other stores on The Bowery, it’s not a big concern here. “I’m not afraid of people price-shopping because of all of the tremendous experience we have. We also give a lot of value-added service. We’re about customer service and experience. I embrace the competition because it allows the customer to get more information when they land in our store. They immediately realize we’re above the rest.”
Silverstein adds, “I have clients who have been coming to me for 20 years. They continue to come because they know I look out for their core business.”
Skarren emphasizes that the company goes that extra mile for superior customer service. He recalls a recent incident when a customer had trouble installing a flushmount. “We sent over one of our stock guys to her apartment at no charge to fix the light,” he says. The staff will even conduct walk-throughs of a client’s home to help them assess their lighting needs. Creating a lighting plan, however, is not free. “It’s human nature that if you don’t charge for it, people won’t appreciate it or take it seriously,” Skarren says. “Our people go over and above in helping their clients. They spend a lot of time on-site working with the client’s architect or designer.”
It also helps that one of the owners, Clifford Starr, is a renowned lighting designer himself. Besides an engineering and electrical background, Starr has earned degrees in both hotel and restaurant management. He was instrumental in opening the Hard Rock Café in New York City and a few other prominent restaurants before realizing that designing lighting was the perfect fit. “I was getting burned out on restaurants and what I liked about lighting is that it’s constantly changing with all of the technological advances,” he says. “The problem-solving aspect appeals to me.”
Starr’s clients certainly value his expertise. “I’ll get calls from clients before they’ve even closed on their property,” he states. “I’ve started working on projects many times right on closing day.” Starr agrees that the expertise offered by Lighting by Gregory’s staff is what makes the greatest impact with clients. “We’re not just pointing to a fixture and saying ‘This is nice’ and reciting how many lights it has and the finish name. We participate more in the design process. We offer a lot of architectural lines and a lot of companies around here do not. Architects want full service and help with specs and they appreciate that we can do that for them.” Starr is also vice president of the architectural group Designers Lighting Forum (DLF) and is on the board of LEDucation, an annual lighting industry educational event held in New York City.
Another influential factor is the incredible amount of inventory that is kept on-site within 16 floors of warehouse space over four buildings. With that much product on-hand, customers are pretty much guaranteed to find what they’re looking for.
There is yet another noticeable aspect at Lighting by Gregory that is not found at other lighting stores. The entire 8,000 square feet of showroom space – comprised of four rooms – is presented in a gallery format by manufacturer. “The gallery concept evolved recently,” Skarren says. The idea originated with the designer Robert Sonneman, who felt it was important to emphasize his name. “We took the plunge and wanted to do something different,” Skarren says of taking the gallery concept across the board.
At Lighting by Gregory, the focus is on high-end contemporary lines that aren’t found everywhere else, such European brands like Flos, Meltemi, Estiluz, FontanaArte, LucePlan, Holtkötter, and Artemide as well as American brands such as Sonneman, George Kovacs, House of Troy, Hubbardton Forge, Jesco, and the Philips Group. By attending design events like the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), the team has discovered relatively new companies such as the task lighting line Koncept.
The year 2013 marks not only a return to its former ownership, but also the relaunch of its comprehensive Web site business. “Lighting by Gregory is back in the hands of long-term, seasoned lighting people who live, eat, and breathe lighting,” Skarren says.
Educating the public and design trade about advances in LED is another priority. “We’re seeing a lot more of the average person coming in and asking for LED,” Starr comments. “They know about it and they’re seeking out info.”
Adds Horowitz, “Being away from the retail business for the past five years, I’ve come back with a different outlook on what is happening in the industry and where it will grow.” While Horowitz’s focus will be on retooling the Internet site, he says there is still a need for bricks-and-mortar stores. “The Internet cannot replace a great lighting showroom. Lighting is still a feel and touch type of product,” he says. “What we’re hoping to achieve at Lighting by Gregory is to become a multi-channel store.”
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