Distributors share their impressions of Lightfair 2019 – the “Big Kahuna” of annual lighting shows.
From the latest in high-efficiency LED innovations to connected lighting, architectural designs, niche products, user-friendly controls and more, LIGHTFAIR 2019 was a bonanza of colors, form factors, and features across the dynamic field of illumination. But if you weren’t among the 20,000+ people who attended the 30th anniversary of North America’s largest annual lighting trade show – held from May 19-23 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia – or weren’t one of the over 550 manufacturers who exhibited there (60 of whom were exhibiting for the first time), no worries.
Below, lightED invited three attendees – Charles Dix, lighting segment manager at Cottage Grove, MN-based Werner Electric (www.wernermn.com), Robert (“Bud”) Belviso, lighting designer at the Tinton Falls, NJ-based Lighting Design Center at Warshauer Electric (www.warshauerlightingdesign.com) and Stephen Shepps, LC, construction solutions manager at Harrisburg, PA-based Schaedler Yesco Distribution (www.sydist.com) – to share their impressions of last week’s show, its highlights and lowlights, and what they took away from the show that will impact their business.
In the following second part of a two-part series, our experts share their thoughts on the lighting industry’s investment in this year’s show, the presence of offshore exhibitors, and whether Lightfair 2019 met their expectations.
lightED: Are you noticing any kind of scaling-back on trade show expenses in terms of booth sizes and the number of people manufacturers are sending?
Dix: Yes. Not every manufacturer is cutting back, but some of the major manufacturers have clearly had to deal with the new reality created by the LED revolution, which is that the number of players who now offer LED lighting has grown substantially, competition is more fierce than ever, and some legacy lighting suppliers have struggled to find the new norm in the market. The ability to innovate, experiment, and create new LED lighting forms, not just once a year but several times a year, has become the new standard. On the flip side, some of the previously smaller manufacturers are now boasting larger booth sizes, more staff, and are spending more at Lightfair. LED lighting has truly turned the world upside down.
Belviso: I didn’t notice a scaling-back. If anything, I found that there were more qualified reps than ever before. They demonstrated a lot of expertise and were happy to have us pick their brains.
Shepps: I absolutely saw a scaling-back. I heard from several vendors who didn’t exhibit this year that the cost is too high, and the payback just isn’t there. The word going around is that even some of the conglomerates will either not be at Lightfair in 2020 or will reduce down to a 10 X 10 booth and host visitors at offsite suites to show their products.
lightED: What’s your reaction to the number of companies and products from “cheap” LED companies out of China? Are traditional manufacturers taking notice of the cheap stuff? Did you notice more people spending time at the cheap LED booths?
Dix: At this year’s Lightfair, I saw more overseas companies than ever before. Not just Chinese players, but manufacturers located in Australia, Taiwan, and Europe. I would guess that a full third of the convention floor represented vendors from outside of the traditional manufacturer channels. These companies are bringing products to market faster than our traditional manufacturers; tape light, TLEDs, flat panels, corncobs, and other products all appeared first in these overseas booths at previous Lightfairs and now you find those products as main line items offered by the major U.S. manufacturers. In addition, many of the products offered by the big U.S. manufacturers are now made in China in the same factory in which those other Chinese companies make theirs. Most, but not all, U.S. companies require stricter binning requirements and higher specifications for their products, but they still come from the same factory. You really have to dig deep into the specs on those Chinese products to find the quality differences. The dollars involved in a value line are too great to ignore and as a result the major manufacturers have had to adapt to offer similar product but at a better quality than you can find from most of the Chinese companies.
Belviso: You get what you pay for with LED lighting. I won’t subject my customers to a company that hasn’t got a good track record – there are plenty of those available on Amazon. But, again, it’s my job to educate my customer and present/provide the best lighting for their project. If there’s a budgetary restriction, I’ll get them the best available product within their budget, and if the product will compromise the outcome, I’ll explain that to them too.
Shepps: I think that the traditional manufacturers took notice of the bleed-off to the cheap LED guys over the past few years and have all developed programs to combat them. Acuity has ‘Contractor Select,’ Hubbell has ‘Trade Select,’ Signify has ‘Light to Go,’ and Eaton has ‘Off the Shelf.’ I believe that these programs have all been effective in combatting the low-price importers. As a result, there were visibly fewer of them in attendance this year.
lightED: What did you want to see at this year’s show, and did you see it?
Dix: I wanted to see more practical applications of IoT and control products. What I saw was the continued evolution of IoT and how it continues to integrate into fixture designs and control systems. There are still really no ‘off the shelf solutions’ that a customer can quickly install and work with; most still require some extensive programming and integration services that the lighting industry will need to grapple with. Are we lighting specialists/designers or cloud programmers? Will IoT create a whole new branch of specialization in the lighting world that will require skills in programming, cloud management, and meta-data management? These are really the questions we’re facing.
Belviso: I saw many impressive presentations this year and am always especially interested in smart home and innovative products, which were plentiful at the show.
Shepps: I was hoping to see human-centric lighting products and new innovation and I did.
lightED: What did you not want to see at this year’s show, but was unavoidable?
Dix: What I didn’t want to see but did was mostly a lot of manufacturers and booths ALL offering the exact same product. I kept count as I walked the floor and found that nearly 45% of the booths all offered the exact same fixtures with little or no variation. The only distinguishing feature was price and how you wanted to buy it. Many of these manufacturers simply wanted to cut deals directly with the distributor or end users and cut out our traditional product channels. If you wanted to buy a sea container full of flat panels directly from China, you could get some fantastic pricing. Those manufacturers who can find products, services, or ways to differentiate themselves from the pack are the ones that will continue to dominate the market and set themselves apart.
Belviso: There was definitely a lot of repetition among products and the diode manufacturers and small companies promoting lower-quality products were unavoidable. Also, since I could only attend one day, my only regret was not getting to seminars.
Shepps: I didn’t want to see components, but there are always several LED chip and component manufacturers in attendance.
Tagged with 2019, Lightfair