As a freelance writer, editor, and publisher, I’ve attended a lot of annual Lightfair events. But it was only at this year’s renewal, held April 21-25 in Philadelphia, that I began to comprehend how stunningly incomprehensible the damn thing is. It’s like trying to get one’s arms around an Elephant!
Hundreds of exhibitors. Lots of invitations (to me, as a blogger) from suppliers to come and visit with them or attend an event. Many, many educational sessions. Tons of interesting people to speak with (and, most importantly, to whom one should listen!).
[Incidentally, the coming NECA Convention & Trade Show is getting to the same point. Industry suppliers are flocking to the thing (it was 84% sold as of 4/30/13, and the Show happens Oct. 13-15 in Washington DC). The Show might well have more than 300 exhibitors. To spend 15 minutes with just one-fifth of those contractor-focused companies will take you 15 x 60 = 900 minutes = 15 hours. But the NECA Show is open for only 14 hours . . . maybe you might want to bring with you someone else from your company?]
Back to Lightfair. In looking over the schedule I’d booked ahead of time, and the thick on-site directory, I realized that it was going to be impossible to “cover” the thing in person. In fact, this has probably been the case since the first time I attended, more than 20 years ago; however, only now have I come to appreciate how much there is to see and learn.
First, most of Lightfair was on the 2nd floor of the Philly convention center. I stayed up there. I never got down to the additional exhibits on the first floor (I would guess those added up to maybe 1/7th or 1/8th of the total).
Second, the layout included everything you might think you know about Lighting, in a huge, wide-spread physical presence:
a. Hubbell Lighting and Cooper Lighting have bought many of the brand names you grew up working with. There are other companies making acquisitions; Acuity Brands just made another buy. GE’s press lunch included several references to Albeo – a company that GE Lighting acquired.
Above: The Tetra light strip product for GE. I thought it could have been a new, LED-inspired way to provide ambient lighting – but it’s aimed at people who make/install cabinet and box signs.
b. While the joke that Lightfair was really “LEDfair” is at least 3 years old, there were – as you might imagine – beaucoup exhibitors showing off LEDs and variations of LEDs. Many electrical contractors and distributors have decided that they’re going to stick with the tried-and-true names when it comes to LEDs. This has not stopped the small start-ups from proliferating. Somewhere during the 3-day event I heard someone say there are 2,200 LED companies (I’m not sure they all make products contractors can install, but it’s one heck of a number, isn’t it?).
Most lighting geniuses (I am not one of those) will tell you that the industry will consolidate; these small companies will either be taken over by the big guys or will just fade away.
If there are really 2,200 of ‘em out there, however, it looks as if one heck of a lot of consolidation is ahead of the industry.
c. Not long ago, Lighting Science Group had to recall some of its LED products. Of course, this did not escape anyone’s notice. And of course, one feature of what I heard was competing bulb-makers noting that no one had recalled anything they had made!
Above: From SWITCH, this is said to be the first LED replacement for a 3-way bulb.
Where is Alan Ruud?
I went to the Cree booth for a demo (more about that later), which was very interesting. BUT: I wanted to find Alan Ruud; I was told he was there – but I couldn’t manage to be in the same place as he was for even a few minutes. My bad.
As you might know, Cree bought Ruud Lighting (and more) almost two years ago.
When you think of Cree, Inc., you might think of it as a johnny-come-lately to the Lighting business – especially in contrast with General Electric (founded by Thomas Alva Edison), OSRAM (which includes Sylvania), and Phillips.
However, it’s worth remembering that:
(1) Cree is a leader (and, arguably, THE leader) in LEDs, and (thus far) an independent company;
(2) you can invest in Cree stock, if you’re so inclined; it’s hard to invest in GE and think you’re buying a lighting company;
(3) Alan Ruud spent a heck of a lot of his time (and maybe still does) thinking about Lighting and Electrical Contractors; and
(4) Cree is the only one of these companies (including GE, Osram, and Philips – and perhaps – who could know? – all of the other 2,200-odd LED companies) to include a contractor-focused marketer on its board of directors!
What was not at Lightfair
Lightfair does not focus on electrical contractors. I saw very few people walking the show who struck me as familiar-looking (as I’ve been hanging around NECA in one way or another for most of the time since 1979, I think I should know).
Likewise, the heavy Lightfair education component was not aimed at contractors; lighting designers and end-users were the targets I thought I saw (reading between the lines of the various session titles).
However, had you attended (or if you do next year) – it’s not a case of having to be dragged around by the hand. Just a walk down one or two aisles of Lightfair would take you close to a full day, assuming you have a legit interest in what you are installing – and if you want to decide whether or not you want to be the contractor who stands behind a given new product or idea.
More from Lightfair coming soon.