Early '90s: Big Box Boom

Another look back: Retail revolution sparks a residential lighting industry resolution to fight back against a tough new competitor.

Cori Dunn
(From left, standing) Harry Kallick, Joan and David Stark, (seated) Wayne Falk and Marci Jo Kallick at the 1993 ALA Conference in Atlanta.

During Residential Lighting’s earliest years, The Home Depot and its spin-off, EXPO Design Centers, were in rapid expansion mode. While lumber and building materials made Home Depot tick, EXPO was all about making big-box home fashion retailing profitable at margins far below established sellers. Home Depot had its Hampton Bay private label on fixtures and fans, but EXPO was carrying well-known lighting brands. Emotions ran high. More than a few showroom owners publicly announced their refusal to do business with lighting vendors selling EXPO. Even sales reps were disavowing relationships with home centers.

There were dissenting voices. Michael Ber, President of Lighting Inc., New Orleans, told our editors, “We don’t perceive The Home Depot to be a direct competitor. My toughest competitor is the guy down the street selling lighting fixtures, the furniture stores, and the guys selling carpeting and draperies.”

Sy Mayerson, Chairman and President of The Mayerson Group, said he believed The Home Depot would make the lighting industry “sharper.”

“[Home Depot] will inspire inventiveness, creativity, quality and cost efficiencies,” Mayerson said. His advice: Pick a high-end niche and keep finessing it. Worry about giving consumers real value. “The real future of residential lighting is not in price," he said, “but in the potential of [consumer] education.”

Eventually, EXPO had 34 stores in 12 states. A poor financial performer, the division was shuttered in January 2009. The Home Depot is now the world’s largest home improvement retailer and the fourth largest U.S. retailer, with 2,252 stores and annual sales of roughly $68 billion.  

Looking Back: Early '90s


Kichler is the first lighting manufacturer to be nominated for a second ARTS Award in the Lighting Fixture category on the heels of a win.

Green Seal, the first U.S. environmental certification program, awards its first seal of approval to compact fluorescent lamps, singling out CFLs made by General Electric and Lights of America.

Classic Lighting celebrated its 20-year business anniversary in 1993.

Stiffel introduced its first line of ceiling fixtures, a collection of seven chandeliers.

Pat Weathers and Larry Howard of Stephens, Fuquay-Varina, NC, get married and also have a ”wedding” in Kalco’s Dallas showroom.

TRENDS: Materials
Some say the personal computer, with its vividly illuminated screen colors, is fueling consumer acceptance of bright colors for the home. European blown glass chandeliers 
fit the bill beautifully.

In the “less is more” early ‘90s, casual transitional styling does not play well with the traditional look of polished brass, which loses ground to wrought iron and painted metals.


About this author

Cori Dunn

Cori Dunn has been covering the retail, lighting and furniture industries since 1982, and was the Founding Editor of Residential Lighting. Dunn also created Furniture Style and Home Fashion Forecast magazines. In this blog, she takes a look back at the last two decades in the lighting industry, in honor of Residential Lighting's 20th anniversary.

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