Commercial and industrial lighting has thrived over the past ten years as the booming construction market created plenty of business to keep the whole supply chain hopping. Competition among suppliers has remained vigorous all the while, but as the economy slows down, that competition is getting more intense, particularly among the largest of the commercial and industrial (C/I) fixture manufacturers.
Sales of C/I lighting fixtures through wholesalers have more than doubled since Electrical Wholesaling did an article titled “Lighting Giants” in April 1992, from approximately $3 billion to $6.4 billion in 2000. Of this figure, four companies account for the lion's share.
Lithonia Lighting, Conyers, Ga.; Cooper Lighting, Elk Grove Village, Ill.; Genlyte Thomas Group, Louisville, Ky.; and Lighting Corp. of America/U.S. Industries, Iselin, N.J., dominate the commercial/industrial lighting market. Built over the past couple of decades into broad packages able to supply virtually all the lighting fixtures on a commercial construction job without resorting to other sources, the majors have enormous leverage, and their expectations about the changes ahead shape the future for everyone involved.
Executives from the four majors expect further consolidation over the next few years, along with continued expansion into new geographic and end-use markets, a focus on operating efficiency, the reduction of excess production capacity and development of new product categories based on new technologies.
The wild card in the back of all their minds right now is California. Recent power problems promise to raise awareness of energy conservation and demand for high-efficiency electrical products, even while they threaten to slow down the construction economy of the busy Golden State. It hasn't been lost on lighting manufacturers that much of the problem could have been avoided if more builders and specifiers there had paid attention to the benefits of energy-efficient lighting years ago.
“We're stupid in this country, in that this California energy problem pretty quickly could be solved if the State of California would just go back and say, ‘If you have any (fluorescent) lighting fixtures installed before 1985, you must retrofit all those with new energy-efficient T-8 and electronic ballasts,’” suggests Larry Powers, president and chief executive of Genlyte Thomas Group. “Then if they would just legislate basically doing away with all the incandescent lighting fixtures for any kind of retail spaces or commercial spaces, they could solve their energy problem almost overnight.”
Even without the state legislating new demand, power problems in California have the glimmer of opportunity for makers of lighting fixtures. If the problems expand this summer into neighboring western states and perhaps even the U.S. economy overall, as some analysts have predicted, it could give a huge boost to demand for energy-efficient technologies that have lagged behind expectations for many years.
With or without the California Effect, the ongoing development of more efficient light sources such as T-8 and T-5 fluorescents and HIDs will continue to drive fixture design. These technologies now account for a dominant portion of new commercial lighting specifications and their influence promises to grow stronger.
“You've got to look at the real energy-efficient sources. The compact fluorescents and what they have brought to bear over the past 10 years or better make up a big part of our lighting palette that we draw from,” says Jeff Bucar, vice president of U.S. sales for Cooper Lighting. “We're also very interested in smaller-wattage HID sources. We see them becoming more popular as time goes by.”
Development of newer, more exotic technologies such as fiber-optic lighting and white LEDs have been making headlines, but their usefulness in mainstream commercial lighting is still some time in the distance, says John Morgan, executive vice president of the Lithonia Lighting Group and president of Holophane.
Morgan believes the most significant advances in fixture design over the next few years will come not from new light sources but from new materials. “I think there's significant design opportunities that exist in the area of materials such as steel and finishes, aluminum substrate,” he says. He believes advances will be made in the reflective and light-controlling properties of a lot of materials.
Research and development is an important part of the plan for major fixture makers looking to expand into new product markets. Possibly more important is market entry by way of acquiring companies already established in desired niches.
LITHONIA LIGHTING — National Service Industries Inc., Conyers, Ga.
|Antique Street Lamps — decorative outdoor lighting|
|Avante — recessed direct/indirect fluorescent lighting|
|Gateway — harsh-environment vandal-resistant lighting|
|Gotham — architectural downlighting|
|Holophane — outdoor and industrial lighting|
|Hydrel — architectural landscape lighting|
|Lithonia — fluorescent lighting|
|Indura — industrial emergency lighting|
|Peerless — architectural linear fluorescents|
|Synergy — lighting control systems|
|Quick Flex — wiring systems|
COOPER LIGHTING — Cooper Industries Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill.
|Halo — recessed, track and surface lighting|
|Portfolio — high-performance, specification-grade architectural downlighting|
|Metalux — fluorescent lighting|
|Neo-Ray — architectural lighting|
|Corelite — fluorescent lighting|
|Lumark — indoor and outdoor HID lighting|
|McGraw-Edison — HID lighting|
|Sure-Lites — emergency and exit lighting|
|Fail-Safe — high-abuse fixtures, control systems|
|Iris — architectural, residential and commercial lighting|
|AtLite — emergency, exit, fluorescent and downlighting|
|Lumiere — landscape and area/accent lighting|
|USL — sports lighting|
|MWS — modular wiring for fluorescent, incandescent and HID lighting|
The direction of the construction economy will have a strong influence on the pace of consolidation, says Morgan. “Consolidation probably has not occurred at the rate that some expected (10 years ago),” says Morgan. “However, I think that one dynamic at work over the last 10 years has been that the construction economy has been tremendous; therefore the economy has been able to support a lot of manufacturers. As the economy cycles and construction needs and available square footage gets lower, the economy will be tougher, and consolidation will occur again.”
GENLYTE THOMAS GROUP LLC — jointly owned by Genlyte and Thomas Industries, Louisville, Ky.
|Bronzelite — specification-grade landscape and underwater lighting|
|Capri Lighting — downlighting and track lighting|
|Chloride Systems — emergency lighting and exit signs|
|Crescent — fluorescent lighting|
|Day-Brite — commercial and industrial HID and fluorescent lighting|
|EMCO Lighting — area luminaires and poles|
|ExceLine — indoor and outdoor HID lighting|
|Gardco — site luminaires for parking, garage, roadway and path lighting|
|Hadco — specification-grade exterior architectural lighting|
|Horizon — lighting fixtures and reflectors for retrofit|
|Ledalite — linear fluorescent lighting, lighting management systems and transportation lighting and communication systems|
|Lightolier — downlighting, track, decorative and fluorescent lighting|
|Lite-Energy — decorative architectural interior and exterior lighting|
|Lightguard — emergency lighting, exit signs and central systems|
|Lumec — specification-grade decorative street and area lighting|
|Matrix Control Systems — microprocessor controls for interior lighting systems|
|McPhilben — exit and other electrical signage|
|Omega — architectural grade specification downlighting|
|Stonco — indoor and outdoor HID lighting|
|Translite — open-conductor low-voltage lighting|
|Thomas Lighting Residential — residential lighting|
|Wide-Lite — specification-grade HID lighting and controls|
|Zed — decorative outdoor urban lighting|
LIGHTING CORP. OF AMERICA — U.S. Industries Inc., Iselin, N.J.
|Architectural Area Lighting — specification-grade outdoor lighting|
|Alera Lighting — architectural-grade indoor direct and indirect lighting systems|
|Columbia Lighting — commercial and industrial fluorescent lighting|
|Dual-Lite — exit signs, emergency lighting and emergency power systems|
|Kim Lighting — outdoor lighting|
|Moldcast — outdoor lighting|
|Prescolite — downlights, track lighting, surface products, life safety products and lighting controls|
|Progress Lighting — residential and commercial lighting|
|Siteco — indoor and outdoor lighting|
|Spaulding Lighting — commercial outdoor lighting|
Strategically, the acquisitions often are driven by a desire to expand into a new market, either to take advantage of an opportunity or to keep a package breadth equal to competitors'. Linear fluorescent fixtures, the fastest growing segment in fluorescents for the commercial market, were the target of a flurry of activity in the late 1990s.
“There was almost sort of an stampede when Lithonia bought Peerless” (in 1998), says Powers of Genlyte Thomas. “We then acquired Ledalite, and then Cooper acquired Neo-Ray and Corelite. One of the big guys gets in and the other big guys don't want him to dominate, so everybody scrambled for that.”
What market will be the target of the next round of acquisitions is unclear. Morgan of Lithonia says the most likely candidates are markets that remain heavily diversified, particularly those built on concepts that were new within the past 10 to 15 years and have really caught traction in the last handful of years. “My personal speculation is that it would fall into a handful of categories, such as architectural indoor products, architectural outdoor products. Those are two areas where the market is diversified with a lot of niche manufacturers.”
Although the list of small independents is not as long as it was in the early 1990s, there still are many, as well as some substantial companies in the middle of the market, such as Hubbell Lighting, Christianburg, Va.; Juno Lighting, Des Plaines, Ill.; and GE Lighting Systems, Hendersonville, N.C.
“I think there'll always be a group of upstart companies looking at niche markets that eventually develop into sizable markets that attract the big four to them,” says Bucar of Cooper Lighting. “Consolidation is happening, probably more than in the past, but I don't think it's at the expense of the small startup niche companies. I think they're still bubbling up to the top.”
Behind the scenes, the fixture manufacturers are tweaking their operations to prepare for further competition in an already low-margin business. All four companies have mentioned steps they're taking to improve internal efficiencies.
Consolidation is a major priority for Lighting Corp., says Jim O'Leary, who is executive vice president of U.S. Industries and has been tapped to become chairman of the lighting group once the company completes a planned spin-off to shareholders. In March O'Leary told analysts at a housing conference hosted by Credit Suisse First Boston, an investment banking firm, that Lighting Corp. will consolidate two plants and shift to expanded facilities in the Maquiladora border region of Mexico.
“Taking capacity out is first and foremost on the Lighting to-do list,” O'Leary says. “Lighting is an inherently lower-margin business, and where U.S.I. has been woefully behind the curve is in the move to offshore manufacturing. What we did two years ago at Progress, which stops this year and starts to show results, was expand the Maquiladora plant. We were manufacturing in South Carolina, and that's not the way to make money in the lighting business.”
The companies also are continuing to explore efficiencies that can be gained on the market channel side with communication technologies based on the Internet. The recent shakeout in business-to-business electronic commerce may have cooled some of the furor and hype surrounding the potential of Internet commerce to solve everybody's problems, but it's also put real benefits to be gained in a more realistic light.
“The B2B side of the Internet has been good in that it's helped all of us dramatically improve efficiencies and communicate quicker and more accurately,” says Powers. “Our industry certainly is lagging other industries in using electronic commerce, but we're getting better. The industry hasn't moved that quickly because it hasn't been forced to, and it's a lot of money and it's hard to know what to do. We spent a lot of money on some false starts. But sometimes I think the people who have drug their feet a little bit are going to be the recipients of the lessons from a lot of us making mistakes.”
The past years of the Internet boom have taught companies a lot about what works and what doesn't in an electronic-commerce environment. It may have huge potential to simplify the education and transaction process, but Bucar of Cooper Lighting says some things still require a personal touch.
“The specifying public is so demanding of what they're looking at, it's still back to the old methodology of, ‘I'd like to see a sample, I'd like to table-top yours against somebody elses, I'd like to do a comparison and really see what your product looks like,’” Bucar says. “When it comes right down to it, the architect, or the lighting designer or the consulting engineer — they're going to want to see a sample. They're going to want to have somebody sit there and show them the benefits of the product.”
What has become clear is that communications technology is still an important investment for distributors, and manufacturers are hoping distributors won't back off because of the recent downturn in the technology sector of the economy.
“I know it's gone slower than (distributors) would like, but electronic commerce is the wave of the future. Even though a lot of the Internet companies have failed and so forth, I hope they don't look at it like, ‘Well, we don't have to do anything,’” Powers says. “They're going to need to be there, and if they don't update their systems and spend a little money and do the things they need to do in the long run, they'd better be prepared to sell out or do something else because they won't be around. They've got to keep up with technology. Electronic commerce is not a cure-all, but it's just one more thing that can help us do a better job.”