In 1996, an online bookseller named Amazon.com was turning the retail world upside down. The residential lighting industry was just beginning to figure out the Internet, an alluring but still undefined technology. Only 20 million Americans were “surfing in cyberspace” at that time; many of the industry’s first websites were essentially online wholesale catalogs.
As connection times improved and security protocols were introduced, more consumers began to shop online. Comprised of many small businesses, the lighting industry depended on the American Lighting Assn. (ALA) to lead the way to Internet success. A seminar at the 1996 ALA Convention, “The Internet, Life in Cyberspace, What is It? How Do We Use It to Our Advantage?” was presented by Lawrence Jackson of The Richards Group. The ALA’s new website was a key component of a major public relations campaign launched in 1997. Consumers who visited the site found tips about lighting and a directory of member manufacturers and showrooms. A business with its own website got a “hot link.” At the time, the ALA site was averaging 500 to 600 hits per day.
A few e-commerce lighting websites were up and running before the dot-com crash in 2000. Capitol Lighting’s early 1800Lighting.com came along in 1996 as a bricks-and-clicks strategy. Already a successful regional chain, Lamps Plus was also an early e-commerce player. Coming out with one of the first “clicks only” sites, Allied Trade Group Inc. (ATG Stores) began in business in 1999 with LightingUniverse.com. Ironically, some of today’s largest lighting websites had no previous involvement in the lighting industry. LightingDirect.com, for instance, began as a grad school marketing project.
With mobile shopping and social media promising to stir the waters all the more, there is still a lot of room for new lighting websites. According to Forrester Research Inc., online shoppers in the United States will spend $327 billion in 2016, up 45 percent from $226 billion this year and 62 percent from $202 billion in 2011.
Looking Back: Late '90s
At the September 1997 ALA Conference in Toronto, H.A. Framburg Vice President Bob Heimrath became the first recipient of the Residential Lighting Industry Leadership Award.
Feiss Industries provided 1,500 styles of lamps and lighting as props for a fictitious lighting store appearing briefly in the Ron Howard film ”Ransom.”
The Energy Efficient Lighting Assn. launched “Enlightening America ... It’s Good Business” a campaign to promote energy-efficient lighting retrofits. The first residential lighting products with the EPA’s Energy Star® designation appeared at the summer 1997 Dallas Market.
Lighting One, a cooperative of independent lighting showrooms now owned by CCA Global Partners, was founded in 1999 as Illucio by industry insiders Jeff Carmichael, Ken Freedman and Joe Rey-Barreau.
Finish of the Decade?
With commodity fixtures pushing polished brass into passé status, multi- step finishes were all
the rage for late ’90s lighting. And perhaps no single finish was more popular or legally protected than Kichler’s Olde Brick®. Originally created by designers Kevin Von Kluck and Rick Hammar for the company’s outdoor line, it found a welcome home indoors as the perfect blend of warm and cool tones — a grayish-brown that’s much prettier than it sounds and still an option today. It was only a matter of time before Olde Brick impersonators began popping up under other names, but in its advertising, Kichler threatened legal action against any company knocking them off. The only company permitted to use Olde Brick (including the name) was Emerson, who featured it on fans (shown).