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Join Ron Callis, Owner & CEO of One Firefly and industry veteran, as he talks business development, technology trends, and more with leading personalities in the tech industry. Automation Unplugged (AU) is produced and broadcast live every week.
An AV and integration-focused podcast broadcast live weekly
Join Ron Callis, Owner & CEO of One Firefly and industry veteran, as he talks business development, technology trends, and more with leading personalities in the tech industry. Automation Unplugged (AU) is produced and broadcast live every week.
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Home Automation Unplugged Episode #231: A Lightapalooza Special

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Ron sat down to discuss event logistics including vendors, attendees and trainings offered for the upcoming Lightapalooza show.

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Tom Doherty, Michael Libman and David Warfel. Recorded live on Thursday, December 15th, 2022, at 2:00 pm. EST.

About Lightapalooza

Lightapalooza 2023 is the 2nd Annual Lighting Conference exclusively for the Custom Integration Industry. This special show will include Lighting Fundamentals Training, Lighting Design Workshops, Expert Panel Discussions and Manufacturer Training Sessions.

It will also provide a unique opportunity for the top Custom Integrators and Lighting segment manufacturers to gather and engage over three days with the subject and conversations strictly around the emerging lighting category. Lightapalooza will provide the perfect launch for your company's success and growth in the lighting category in 2023.

Interview Recap

  • The history behind Lightapalooza 
  • Event logistics including vendors, attendees and trainings offered
  • The growing importance of lighting in the custom integration industry

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #230 An Industry Q&A with Sarah Dresher


Ron:  Today we have a super special show, as I said, and that is we're here with a purpose. I want to make sure that we are getting the word out about a really special industry event that's just around the corner. And that particular event is Lightapalooza. So Lightapalooza is taking place I'm going to look over here at my notes. It's taking place on February 20 through the 23rd and it's going to take place at the Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel and Spa. This is the second annual holding of the lighting conference known as Lightapalooza. Here for the show, we're going to be interviewing some of the different stakeholders related to the event. We have Tom Doherty, he is with HTSA and he is the Director of New Technology Initiatives and he's the co founder of CEDIA. So Tom has been around our industry for many years. Many of you, when you see his face here in just a moment, you'll know Tom and you'll know that you've seen him and he's also the show director, one would argue the man behind this twinkle of an idea that he turned into a show last year with very limited notice. Now there's been a lot more time and energy and frankly, success and momentum coming out of the last show. And so the show is going to be even bigger this year. And that's thanks in large part to Tom and his ingenuity and hard work to make that happen. So I'm actually going to bring Tom in first, let Tom say hello, and then we're going to be joined by two additional folks here on the show as well. So let me get Tom in and we'll say hello to him. Tom, how are you, sir?

Tom: I'm doing great. Yourself?

Ron:  I am doing awesome. Where are you coming to us from, Tom?

Tom: I'm coming from Palm Desert, California, 92211.

Ron:  Now I know that you are not from Palm Desert, so how long have you been in Palm Desert?

Tom: Since November. 60 plus years in Indiana and now in California.

Ron:  That is awesome. Well, Tom, lots of fun things to talk about. Thank you for joining us today.

Tom: Oh, thank you for hosting this.

Ron:  My pleasure. So we are also going to be joined by David Warfel of Light Can help You. David has been all over this industry helping integrators with lighting design and fixture specifications. He's a wonderful educator, wonderful human being, and at the Lightapalooza show, he's going to be doing full days of education. He's also keynoting and his team is also going to be manning or staffing the help desk. So let's go ahead and bring in David. David, how are you, sir?

David: I'm well, Ron, thanks. It's great to be back.

Ron:  Yeah, man, actually I got to pull the show. You were a past guest here on Automation Unplugged.

David: Way long time ago. Yeah, it was fun.

Ron:  It's been a little while ago. We'll pull that show number in case anybody wants to check it out.

David: I don't know if I want to see it again.

Ron:  Yeah, I know. I never actually go and re watch my shows. It's like you get that cringe if I ever hear my voice.

David: I'm afraid of what I said.

Ron:  You and me both. Where are you coming to us from, David?

David: Snowy Madison, Wisconsin. So we just got six inches of snow last night and the kids got a day off of school, so we're all actually thrilled with the snow.

Ron:  So it's a celebration day for your little ones at least.

David: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, as they say.

Ron:  Oh, that's awesome. And I did just get a note here. Looks like you were on show 84.

David: 84, okay.

Ron:  Yes, a little while ago. Thank you, David. It was on August 5, 2019.

David: Wow.

Ron:  Can you believe that? It doesn't feel like it's been that long.

David: Time has been weird the last few years.

Ron:  You're de aging. You look younger. How's that?

David: Yeah, it's a filter.

Ron:  Yeah, Google is amazing these days. All right, and we are going to bring one more guest in. And this is Mike Libman. He is with DMF Lighting and he's representing the manufacturer side of this conversation. And he's the National Sales Director of the CI business. And this is his second year attending Lightapalooza. So let's go ahead and bring in Mike. Mike, how are you, sir?

Mike: I'm doing well, how are you, Ron?

Ron:  Welcome to the party.

Mike: Yeah, thank you.

Ron:  So where are you coming to us from?

Mike: I'm actually at our headquarters in Los Angeles. So not too far from Tom.

Ron:  No snow on the ground in Los Angeles though, right?

Mike: No snow, no snow.

Tom: Yeah, Tom, no snow for you either out there in the desert?

Tom: Not on the ground, but in the mountains. It's beautiful. From my driveway, I can look up at the San Juanito Mountains and they're snow capped.

Ron:  They're snow capped. Awesome. Tom, I'm going to start with you, sir. We have a lot to cover and I want to attempt to try to deliver as much value to our listeners, folks that are either going to watch this and or listen on the podcast so they know all the what, where, why, how, all of those good questions. We want to kind of cover all of it. And I'm actually going to share my screen just so everyone can at least see the brand. And I want to start with you, Tom. What is Lightapalooza?

Tom: Lightapalooza is a lighting only focused event strictly aimed at the custom integration channel. So there are many lighting events or lighting conferences during the course of the year that have gone on for many years. A lot of people, perhaps in your audience, have heard about Light Fair. There's an event in New York called LEDucation and other regional events, but they primarily serve the traditional lighting category stakeholders. And lighting as a category for the custom installation channel is relatively new. Let's say the custom installation channel is from 1985 to present, BC being before CEDIA 85 to 89, and then after to present I don't know what. We have to come up with something clever on that.

Ron:  I like that BC, though, before CEDIA, and you were in the integration space before CEDIA, you founded CEDIA, so you were one of the cofounders.

Tom: Yeah, BC 85 is when I started my first business at age 26. Tom Doherty's custom Audio and Video.

Ron:  Well ahead of your time, Tom. Well ahead of your time.

Tom: Well, I was going to say that the category I joined HTSA in 2017, actually, when I met Mike DMF being one of our initial lighting vendor partners. And at the time it was people are like, why is Tom going to work for HTSA? And really? We're going to start selling lighting fixtures, and we're going to do lighting design. But over the last five years, everyone now knows that this is an important category. Well, there's a history, but we came up with Lightapalooza a couple of years ago because I really believe we were at the point where we needed a dedicated lighting conference that shows like Light Fair and so on and so forth would never really be relevant to our channel. Our channel is kind of unique and that I felt that there would be enough interest amongst manufacturers, custom integrators, and other stakeholders such as David's Firm and others, that we could bring the industry together and have a dedicated lighting conference. So Lightapalooza is all about lighting, lighting fixtures, lighting design, lighting controls, including automated shades, because that is an element that controls natural lighting. And Integrators have been leveraging the integration and the relationship between controlling the sun and controlling the light in the house. So this conference is strictly amongst those categories and strictly aimed at being relevant to the custom integration channel.

Ron:  Tom, is this an HTSA event?

Tom: It is supported by HTSA. So HTSA is myself and John Robbins. We report to a board of directors made up of HTSA members. But the HTSA board last year supported this concept and this idea, and also supported the idea of allowing non-HTSA members to attend, both non-HTSA vendor partners and non-HTSA members. And we had that indeed happen last year. We had some non HTSA vendors exhibit and we had a number of non HTSA integrators attend because we recognize the need for this new category as an industry to be done correctly. The earliest days of CEDIA, a big part of it was to really learn from one another and get better and develop real professional habits and best practices. And so the industry will be served by everybody kind of understanding what it takes to really excel. Because we have limited opportunities to gain the trust of our builder contractors and our architects who are used to getting their lighting solutions or their designs or their fixtures or these sort of things not from us. And it's not going to be good if people jump in because they see it strictly as a profit opportunity or a new revenue stream and just kind of wing it, because this is a much more complex there's a lot of areas in lighting that you can cause a lot of problems for your client, for the project, for yourself. And so the industry can benefit from my about 15 years of banging my head and scraping and getting bloody and others in the industry that have gone through these things. So that's the purpose of the conference and it is open to everybody.

Ron:  There's a lot to be said for learning from those that have gone before you. And what I'm hearing you say is, I've learned some things, I've purchased a few mistakes. Let me teach you. Let me bring that value to the industry at large. And I think everyone in the industry and everyone here owes you a bit of gratitude in terms of you being willing to take that on. So I think that's quite noble and pretty awesome. Speaking of which, and very nicely timed, we have an integrator out of Atlanta, actually just dropped a note here. GHT Group says big thank you. Let's see here if I can read this. Big thank you to you guys who've helped guide GHT with the category of lighting. It's getting more and more important to our business and expect it to be our biggest growth moving forward. So that's a pretty big statement. And that's from a pretty big integrator. That's pretty cool. Thanks guys, for commenting out there. And if you're out there watching, don't be shy. Drop a note in and let us know what you're thinking or what questions you might have. Mike, I'm going to come to you and actually I'm going to give you a shout out too, because you were also a past guest on this show. And David dropped me a note here. You were on show 198. So that was practically 34 shows ago, if I'm doing my math right.

Mike: Yeah, I think it was right around this time last year or maybe beginning of the year.

Ron:  December 22, 2021.

Mike: There you go.

Ron:  So, Tom, you know what this means. We need just you on you're the legend here that we all want to dive deeper into and hear from. So we're going to get you scheduled for a dedicated show. But Mike, this is your second year as a manufacturer attending the event. Talk to us. What was year one like and why did you choose to do this again? And kind of where does this show stand out amongst all the different events? I see you everywhere. I think if there's anyone that's at every single event happening in the industry, it's literally you and your company. So what are your thoughts?

Mike: Yeah, I appreciate it. So last year, Tom called me and said, hey, I'm thinking about putting this together. The industry as a whole, we do a lot of shows where we're showcasing product on a tabletop, and there may be some limited training, but really want to dive deeper. There's definitely a demand for some deeper understanding on design, on best practices, on the business of lighting and how to be successful in it. And we love the concept. From our perspective, is the fastest growing part of our business by lot. We're actually at our national sales meeting right now. I was able to leave the room to come talk to you guys, so thank you for that as well.

Ron:  So for you guys, this channel, just so I have clarity and our audience has clarity, CI is one channel of multiple channels that your company operates in.

Mike: So we have two bypass. Basically, we have our electrical division. We've been in business for 35 years, and then we started working in the CI channel about five years ago. Tom really tapped us and brought us in with a partnership with HTSA. We've since partnered with ProSource. We've built out an entirely separate rep network around the country, added some familiar faces from the industry and Lanny Godfrey and Chris Carboni to our team. And we're all in, a lot of our planning over the last week is how can we continue to invest, how can we continue to grow and support our dealer base? And we think that Lightapalooza is a fantastic venue to be able to do that. So last year was a big success. I think a lot of folks walked away with a much better understanding of how to go to market, and we've seen that translate throughout, seeing a lot of businesses, including Georgia Home Theater for growing this year in a big way. And we think that that's going to continue because we barely scratch the surface. There's still a ton of demand. We get requests all the time. And Lightapalooza is a great venue. And from a design perspective, being able to partner with Light Can Help You as well. David is a resource that I tap frequently, so this is a good mind trust that we got today.

Ron:  It is.

Mike: I'm excited to learn too.

Ron:  Quite the brain trust. And I'm just going to, GHT is of course watching and participating. Thank you, GHT. They said last year's event was fantastic. Members of our team said it was the best industry event they have ever attended. Tom, that's not bad for it being your first time holding the event.

Tom: Holy cow.

Ron:  This year GHT will be represented with nine attendees. That's amazing. So David, over to you. So you keynoted last year. You gave provided education. You apparently did a great job because now you've been invited back and you're going to be keynoting again and doing more education. Kind of give your perspective from design. And I know you and your company are also a great resource for many integrators around the country. Kind of give your perspective.

David: I'm really excited about Lightapalooza, Ron, because of the education focus and the opportunity to really just narrow in on lighting. And there's so much to learn about light. It's kind of an overwhelming category. If you just walk in, as Tom was mentioning, if you just walk into Light Fair. I've had dealers say they were completely lost because lighting is a huge industry. It's been around for 130 years. There's lighting on every house that's built. There's already an established industry and what the CI Channel is doing is really shaking it up and delivering a better experience for clients. But it means you're replacing somebody else there. There's already this industry there. So I'm excited about this event because it really allows us to address the integrators needs specifically and not just talk about lighting generically. So I'm excited to do a full day of education on the Tuesday. I'll be leading four different sessions, everything from kind of lighting fundamentals through sales and how to look at a lighting plan and know if it's good or bad and all those kinds of topics. And I'm also excited about the help desk that we're going to try out on the show floor this year. Our team is going to staff a help desk. Because if you're an integrator and you're a first time integrator, and this is your first time at Lightapalooza, or it's your first time at a lighting show, or it's your first time really looking at lighting, you're going to go to Mike's Booth and you're going to see some awesome fixtures. But how do you know how to compare those to all the other products that you see on the show floor? Well, if you want.

Ron:  Mike said that you just don't need to go to any other booths. Mike said just go to his, and you actually could probably call it a day.

David: So you come to our booth, we'll tell you Mike's are best, and Mike slips me $20 under the table. That's how it works, right?

Mike: There's a lot of good vendors that are going to be there.

David: There sure are. Yeah.

Ron:  I'm just joshing with you. David, what's your vision of the role of an Integrator? How should they perceive the expertise they should have, either through your training or through other, maybe, certifications as it relates to design? Maybe if you could expound further, when are they good enough with their in house abilities, and when do they go out and seek support of a designer to participate with?

David: That's a really good question and one that we field a lot, because the answer is going to be different for every Integrator and for where they are in their business path. Of course, our business serves as lighting designers for Integrators. We work through Integrators, and that's what we do. So I have to tell you that Integrators can never be lighting designers. Otherwise I'm going to put myself out of business. But the real truth is there are integration business out there that started in lighting. Like, they actually started with a lighting designer at the core of their business 20 years ago. So it's not that you have to partner with somebody outside, but I will say that you need to have in your company some core competencies in lighting to be able to answer contractor questions, to be able to call up Mike and say, Mike, this is what I need, etcetera. You've got to have some core competencies to be successful in this. But then there's this enormous body of knowledge that lighting designers have. I've been acquiring this knowledge for 25 years, and I look at what it takes for us to bring a new lighting designer up to speed. Our newest one, started four months ago, has a four year degree in lighting design, and we're not ready to cut that person loose yet. And they've had someone like 240 days of training before they're going to be ready to go. So I think there's that far into the spectrum that's going to be really hard for an Integrator to do. That's where they need to either shop around for outsourcing it to somebody like us or hiring somebody who already has it. But those core competencies, you can develop, and you don't need to be an expert at everything. You just need to know where to go for the answers.

Ron:  Got it. Tom, to pull that thread a little bit more, what's your perspective? Because you've been leading this charge with HTSA for, like you said, since 2017 when you joined. What technical acumen do you like to see Integrators gain in house, whether through attending a seminar or official certifications in order for you, the industry veteran and kind of foreseeable of the future, for you to deem that these businesses are better prepared to succeed with this category.

Tom: This needs its own show.

Ron:  We can do that.

Tom: For that question. And because what I find interesting about our industry is often things are painted in such a broad brush. You say custom installation, or you say CEDIA, where people talk about the CEDIA industry and the range of experience and the type of projects each individual integrator works on, from just hanging, banging TVs, to doing some really sophisticated installations and designs on $20 million homes. And with lighting, absolutely, you want to at least be able to talk about it competently. Let me, let me say, let me shift gears for a second. With residential lighting, the bar is so low that it doesn't take much to be as good or better than what's already happening out there. So there are a number of ways to get into the lighting category or to add lighting fixtures to your offering, along with the lighting control solutions you've been delivering for a long time without sticking your neck out. And this, again, is a much longer conversation at the most basic level, if our industry again has been putting in Lutron lighting control since 1992 and up until a very long time what you would do as an Integrator is you would get the plans from the house and there'd be some sort of electrical plan and you'd be able to figure out what neutron components you needed to make that work. And you wouldn't touch the lighting. You wouldn't say, hey, I noticed you didn't do any wall washing over here, or any accent lighting. You just wouldn't dive into that. With LED, Brian Hutkins told me this as he was talking to a client, and he said, yeah, LEDs are great. They last forever. What's terrible about them is they last forever. And whatever you put in your house is what you're going to live with forever. And these early generation LEDs and the contractor grade LEDs that go into people's homes are really not great. It's such a small spend on the overall project that by doing something better. And so, like with the DMF product line, if you just replaced what was already going to go in this project and put in a better quality lighting fixture, that is at least an improvement. Now you want to get to the spot where you can analyze a plan or have David's company analyze the plan and make adjustments to the plan to really have a better experience. So where I'm going here, then this is a long answer, but what do you need? Our approach has been what I tell my members is that there's a three steps to get into this category and be successful at it. One is to be able to talk about it, have some competency. We know about decibels and ohms, and watts and things like that, and those sort of things. So being able to talk competently about CRI and CCT and these other things. There are some basic lighting trainings that you can achieve that the ALA offers that, our group does that, ProSource has their university. So there are ways for the CI Channel to get some of this basic stuff. And then from there, demonstrating lighting in your showroom and experiencing it firsthand. And being able to show clients things like the difference between accent lighting and wall washing. So that's building that out. And then finally when the client realizes that, you seem to know as much or more than everybody. The electricity interior designer, the architect, the builder on the job. Because most projects do not have professional lighting design. Most lighting, even in high-end homes.

Ron:  Four cans in a fan.

Tom: Four cans in a fan. And it happens during a walkthrough.

Ron:  I got a bunch of bedrooms in this house with four cans and a fan.

Tom: Yeah, I could keep talking about this. So this is a long topic, going from being able to replace the fixtures if somebody's got an existing home and converting their halogen or incandescent, and being able to intelligently recommend the right sore lamp or the right DMF retrofit kit. That's a way to get into the space. The next is just to be able to talk intelligently enough to be able to recommend why they shouldn't go with this contractor grade thing and get something better. And then the next level is really doing the design build that we're used to in the high end. And that takes a lot more investment. You have to work with a third party like David's, or you better have a David type capability in your own company. One last thing, what we said from the very beginning within our own group, that this is something that just doesn't happen overnight. People were able to kind of migrate into networking or even migrating the shades almost, not quite overnight, but pretty quick. This takes a while and it has an impact on your operation like no other category ad that I've seen over the decades. It's a different flow, it's a lot more SKUs. The level of project management and the impact that it has on the construction is such that when we are doing music systems in homes, we can go. Yeah, I think it would be great that the speaker should be right there and then you show up and either the client doesn't want it there or the framing doesn't allow it to go there. So you go, okay, I'll just move it over here. With lighting, the light is going to be in the right spot and you got to be able to really read the room where if you're just looking at the room as it's framed and you go, okay, let's put these things here. And then you don't realize oh, they're adding cabinets here. And now the lights are lighting the top of the crown molding of the cabinet and okay, who fixes that? Who pays for that? So I can keep rambling down.

Ron:  No, it's good. David, I'm going to come back over to you here, and I want to ask you, Tom was just referencing the reality that it helps to see the space in three dimensions. It helps to see the space even beyond the plans into the usage of the space. Where will the furniture be? Where will the artwork be? What role do you or your firm and maybe if you'll speak on behalf of lighting designers at large, what role do you have in that process for those that are listening that might find this intimidating?

David: Well, Tom is absolutely right. If you don't understand the space in three dimensions, then you cannot predict what the light is going to do in that space when it's done. And what a lighting designer does, for example, our team, we think a lighting plan is something that is used to build and install the lighting. But there are a lot of times out there where the lighting plan is put in front of a client and discussed. They don't actually have any idea what they're looking at. So for us, we build a 3D model so we can stand in the kitchen and look out into the living room and say, oh, this is how it needs to be, as Tom was mentioned. Oh, yeah, there's cabinets here, but they've got a four inch crown coming out, so we need to put the light here, etcetera, when we visualize it from three dimensions. It's much easier that way. And it's also, from a sales perspective, it's much easier to convince a client that that lighting is worth paying for when they see it than when they just see a bunch of circles on a plan and say, well, that's too many circles. Well, how do you know, right? That's what designers do. And I think for us, we've worked really hard to be able to walk into those spaces before they're ever built and look around them and say, how do we want this space to feel? How should it feel? What lights need to go and where do they need to go there? And all of that sort of thing. So I think that's an important skill that is really kind of tricky to teach. It's tough to teach. And one of the reasons why I think we've been successful as a company in this channel is that we can do that. We do it all day long, and for us, it's much easier, it's faster. We've got people who do nothing but build 3D models and do AutoCAD.

Ron:  That's what I want to pull a thread on. Tell me more about this 3D models. And when someone works with you, an integrator works with you, is that a version of a package. Like you can get the package without the model and you can get it with the model.

David: Exactly. Yeah, but most of our projects are in the model phase where we build a model. So we have a couple of different packages or different levels of services. But the model seems to be the key differentiator between just looking at a plan and trying to guess what it is, or looking at a photograph of somebody else's house versus looking at a 3D model of your house and saying, oh, okay, I like that. It's a huge differentiator for us.

Ron:  The marketer in me, I can't help but at least put this out there to the ether. The marketer in me is screaming that the Integrator should be out showing the world that they provide this level of service. And I can't think of a single Integrator website or the marketing for the hundreds of businesses we do the marketing for, where actually we even knew that to go out and put that out in their blogs, their social media, their newsletters. It's just another of many examples where we all need to step up our game in the space and be better communicators to our customers and our trade friends because we do so many cool things and we do them all day long and we think, well, everybody knows we do this. And the reality is, they don't know you do this unless you tell them that you do this.

David: I went and looked at a couple of our best dealers, the ones that are doing the most design work with us and have really grown phenomenally in the lighting category over the last few years. I was looking at their websites and you can't tell that they do this.

Ron:  Well, my team is listening to this show and we're going to noodle this afterwards. Our people are going to talk. Mike, a question for you. When we talk about dealers being successful in this category, this category of lighting, and I say there's the design, the fixture specification and sales, and then the control systems, and then this aspect of controlling light, both artificial and natural light. That's where the shading component comes in. You're out there and you joined DMF to grow this channel. And how many years ago did you join the CI space with DMF?

Mike: So I've been with DMF for eight years and I was tapped to start the CI business about five years ago.

Ron:  Okay, I'm going to make an assumption and then you tell me what the truth is. I'm going to make an assumption that the Integrators that are the most successful selling the power and beauty of light, lighting control and lighting design are those that are able to demonstrate it. Is that true or is that partially true? Kind of speak to that. What are you seeing around the country?

Mike: Yeah, so what I think that the value proposition that's really unique to the CI channel if you get into, let's go through a spec sheet and show the spec points of DMF versus whatever is specified, you've already lost. So we believe fundamentally that lighting is about enhancing the things that people love about their homes and really how they experience their homes. And that speaks to how David and his team do that 3D space and help them experience that. So it's not the pretty trim, it's not, CRI is very important, but that's not necessarily the discussion with a homeowner. It's really, how do we create an experience that you love about your home? And so in doing that, the way to best illustrate it is there's a visual component for sure you're not going to rip through spec sheets. If there's an interior designer and you have a material palette, light it up, show how it actually renders the color of the materials that are going to be in the space. If you have a showroom, illustrate concepts where most homes that don't have a lighting designer on them have a grid for general lighting and there's no layering. So when you take into account accent lighting or highlighting for how the furniture is going to be laid out, or the artwork, as opposed to just making sure you don't stub your toe on the coffee table, it changes the space. And it's also where homeowners have an emotional investment in those finishes in the furniture and the architectural details and all these other elements in the home. They've already thought a lot about it and if they light it poorly, they're undermining their investment in all those other areas. So being able to speak about the value of lighting at a high level, I think a lot of integrators. If they have success with our brand, they're not necessarily going in like, look how awesome DMF is, we want to be a tool in the toolkit. And if they can have that broader conversation, then they understand when it's the appropriate time to bring out DMF because we're able to help them achieve that experience for their client.

Ron:  Just to stay with you, Mike. We are sort of I can't say definitively this is the case, but we're sort of post COVID, sort of and have you seen a pop in your dealers, your resellers, investing in their offices and show spaces? Because now theoretically, customers and trade partners are coming into those spaces.

Mike: Depends on the market. So in some markets we see people that maybe moved away from a large showroom because people were kind of closed up and others doubled down and said, hey, while we don't have people in our showroom, let's figure out how we can elevate the showroom and do some of these concepts. So we've seen some fantastic lighting labs. Tom and David have had a hand in helping design a lot of those. We've contributed to a lot as well. I think if you get someone to actually experience a space with different lighting, that's the best way to understand what the value is. And once they see it, they can't unsee it. So it's a great way to educate the client. If there's not a lighting designer, that conversation is not typically happening. I have a lot of Integrators that say that the way that they get their foot in the door is just ask the client who's talked to you about lighting and nine times out of ten they'll go, well, actually, no one's talked to me about it.

Ron:  Blank stare.

Mike: Yeah. So for us, we think it's a great way to add value to the client. I mean, that's that's really, at the end of the day, again, focus on experience. Our clients are willing to spend money where they perceive value. We feel at DMF that the Integrator channel is the best channel for folks to be able to articulate that value.

Ron:  David, quick question, kind of random. Tom, I'm going to come to you next with a flavor derivative of this question. And David, when an Integrator hires, I have to be specific, because you can speak about your firm and maybe your practices. Are they taking what they would pay you and then marking it up and they're able to profit from this topic called lighting design, or are they running, passing you through and you're helping generate the spec for the gear they'll sell?

David: Most of them are marking up our service so that there's some sort of referral fee. But what we've done is keep our fees super low because the money really isn't in design. So if an Integrator goes out and says, I'm going to become lighting design, and they spend $100,000 hiring somebody and training them up to speed, that's a big investment. So for us, it's like, well, you pass the cost on to the client, you make a little referral fee tapped on top of margin, on top of what we do. But the real payoff is in the fixture game. It's ten times our number. So if it costs us ten grand to do a lighting design, our average fixture sale this year that we've specified for dealer partners is over $90,000. So that's where the real money is, ten of those and you're at a seven figure category in lighting fixtures, and it happens all day long. So, yeah, they make a little money off of our service, but that's not where the money is.

Ron:  That's not the real carrot.

David: Not in this industry. It's in the fixture side and in the control side.

Ron:  David just referenced the top line revenue number. His average spec is 90 grand of fixtures. Do dealers make money getting into this category? And I'll just say comparatively, because maybe this show gets in front of the consumer. So we don't want to say maybe exact numbers, but our dealers comparatively integrators. Is this a smart place to be if they aren't here or they only have 1ft and they don't have both feet in the lighting category? Just from a financial standpoint and looking at all of the places they could spend their attention on, is this the financially smart place to spend their time?

Tom: So clearly there's a profit opportunity. The category wouldn't be much harder for people to embrace it. So there's margin like there is with all the other products that they sell. Not equal, maybe some higher, some lower. One of the primary reasons that our members and the thing that I was been pitching and experienced firsthand for the reason to do it, is this notion of becoming visible to projects, opportunities sooner. Essentially, the quick story, as quick as I can tell it, when I was wanting to marry my wife and my father-in-law was like, what is it you do? And I worked at a HiFi shop. And then very soon I started my custom install. And it's like there are people that there's a business and somebody hooking up stereos in your house. So soon I was explaining to a builder what I did, and he was like, oh, I've got a client. We're building a house. This is 1985. I'm building a house. I've got this client that wants music throughout the whole house. I need you to get over there and wire that for me. Awesome. When can I meet with them and when do you need it wired? Oh, we're the sheet racking tomorrow. Can you wire it today? Later on, early 90s builder hey, I've got this project for you. What, you need me to wire it in a week or so? No, they want a home theater, but we don't know how big it needs to be. We don't know how deep to dig the hole for the seating. We haven't even dug the hole. We need you to be involved. So in the 90s, there is this kind of new shiny thing. And people would contact me early today. And for the last decade, it's like, hey, I know you're working on some jobs, Mr. Builder. Can I get with you? Yeah, we're going to call you without him saying this. There's 20 people in your market. The client knows they're going to do it. They want to go look at new kitchen appliances. They want to look at cabinets, they want to look at countertops. And we'll get around to it. And then by then, it's like, well, the thing is already starting to frame, and I could have had influence on this or that. And essentially most people have just become numb. Either they become numb to home automation and these sort of things, or they've had something they didn't have a quick experience or whatever. So it's like, I'll talk to you later. With the lighting category, when I started when I built my lighting lab in Indianapolis and I started to learn, which is too long of a story, the short story is I had people come out and they were blown away because no one was ever demonstrating architectural lighting to them. If you are building or remodeling a house in America today, the builder is going to send you to the kitchen place and the stone place and the granite place and the roofing place, and they're going to send you the lighting showroom. You're going to go in the lighting showroom and all you're going to see is decorative fixtures. And the decision with your designer is, what style do you like? There is no demonstration about layered lighting or wall washing or anything, how to light art, none of that. So I built that and I started having people go through and go, well, no one's ever showed this to me. I have an architects come through and I would show them the impact of a white baffle trim versus a black and they would be blown away. So soon after I started getting calls, hey, we need to sit down with you because we need some help with the electrical plan. We need to do some lighting and we haven't dug the hole. In fact, in some instances, some architects would contact me. They haven't even selected the contractor yet. It's just like we need to incorporate this into the design. So the primary reason to get into this is to be exposed to projects earlier. As you're exposed to those projects, and if you are credible and you do a good job, the client will recognize in my conversations, were we're not talking about audio, video or any technology, we're just going to talk about your furniture plan, your art, your house, your finishes and where the lighting should go. And help you discover a budget for the fixture package. Over the course of those meetings that you're having with the architect, the interior designer, and the client, you establish a trust and a credibility that, okay, where do we want TVs, where do we want outdoor sound? What kind of network do you need? And so the Integrator can do all that. So that was my vision for our HTSA members in 2017 when they themselves were going; What we're going to sell lighting fixtures? Can't the electrician do that? Five years later, we have a number of success stories. Mike has success stories, David has success stories. People are experiencing exactly that the profit opportunity on the fixtures. Yeah, it's there, but it's really a one two punch and it's much more important to win and get that project overall than to not. So it's like a Trojan horse if it's done right.

Ron:  What I'm hearing is if you get in early and lighting is a category where you're allowed to get in early, I would imagine ticket sales across that project for all categories go up.

Tom: Sure. Because you've established trust. And then the client's like, well, what should I do with the audio? What do you think? It's not like this kind of, oh, you're trying to sell me, let me go out and shop a bunch of other dealers and get confused and I don't know what decision to make. It's more like, hey, Tom, hey, whoever I trust you, help me. It's like I just bought this new house and I don't know anything about a pool. And I'm looking at this pool equipment and it's like, what should I do? I don't know if this is running right. I need an expert to come here. I read them if I can trust them, okay. Out here you have gardeners. I've never had a gardener. Okay. They come every week, right? And it's like, if this was your house, what would you do Javier? And people just don't want to work hard at making decisions with technology. We make it hard for them anyway. Part of it is because the relationship is semi adversarial in some instances. But if you can establish trust and that happens when you're lighting their objects, when you're paying attention to their art, when you have enough meetings, where it's a creative process, and then when it's time to talk about the automation, the AV, the network, the cameras and all that, it's like, okay, what would you do, Tom? What are you recommending if you were to value as if we need a value engineer, where would you do it if it was your project? It's really a great thing.

Ron:  I'm going to bring us back a mindful of time and I want to make sure we get all the details relating to Lightapalooza out there. So Tom, I'm going to first of all ask you the vendors, so Mike and DMF Lighting, they're going to be there. What type of vendors are going to be there? And I'm going to ask you an add on question. What makes for a good lighting vendor suitable for CI? Because you or Mike or somebody was mentioning Light Fair, 200, 300 manufacturers at these places. How many will be at Lightapalooza? Why are they there?

Tom: So far we have 25 exhibitors signed up and there is more awareness, seems like every day or every week getting calls and some people are calling and I'm saying, this is not the show for you. The real purpose of what I did last year is I invited people that were not HTSA vendor partners. HTSA has been at this a pretty long time. I've been in this job full time for five years, and we have a pretty broad portfolio of great vendor partners. But there are a number of vendor partners that are doing a great job in the channel. The custom installation channel is completely different than the traditional lighting market in that channel. I'm not going to make an analogy. It's just different. The way they sell and how their go to market strategy is completely foreign to what we're used to. So I was primarily interested in lighting fixture manufacturers that were going to do business the way every other supplier in our channel does, the way Crestron, Sonance, Sony, Liberty Wire, they all sell to us the same. The lighting world doesn't work anything like that. And so it was more about me educating the lighting manufacturers, you're going to have to do business with us the way we're used to. And that is a whole another separate show. And I got in a lot of trouble uncovering the kimono of the lighting industry five years ago. There's a couple of companies like Prolux, and at the time Color Beam and WAC Aspire, they weren't our partners, but those guys work really hard and they really understand the channel and they've made the investment and the right kind of reps and so on and so forth. So we have manufacturers at this are lighting manufacturers that are adapted to or understand the CI dealer. That's who we're focused on exhibitor wise. Education is probably going to be 400 exhibitors in the lighting category. Maybe we'll end up with 30 or 28 or I don't know what the number is going to be, but right now we have 25, and all of them are in this channel. So that's the high level.

Ron:  Yeah, that makes sense. And Mike, logically I would give you a follow up question regarding manufacturers, but I'm going to flip it and say, tell me about tell us, everyone listening, what type of dealers are attending, what type of dealers should attend?

Mike: Yeah. So I really think if you're interested in the category, the show is appropriate for you. So there's going to be integrators that are further along in actively selling fixtures, and they're going to get a lot out of enhancing their design shops and understanding how to refine their go to market strategy. There's going to be even reps. I mean, the rep channel, traditional CI reps are fully engaged in the fixture category now, and they're going to be attending and getting involved. There's integrators that haven't ever done a lighting project. And they're going to get to not only see product and hear from David, but they're going to get to speak with their peers and listen to panels that have experienced not only some of the pumps and bruises that Tom talked about, but some of the successful strategies that have really impacted a lot of these businesses. So five years ago, when Tom and I first started talking, it was, why are we talking about fixtures? Now I really think that the category has arrived and the conversation is, how do we do it successfully? And I think all the right people to be able to tell that story and share those tools are going to be at Lightapalooza. So again, if you're interested in the category, you should definitely plan on attending.

Ron:  David, what type of roles within the CI company? Who should attend?

David: Anybody who's going to touch the lighting. I mean, we think that this starts at the very top. If a business owner or the decision makers don't understand the impact that lighting can have on their business, it's going to be a non-starter. So if you're on the fence as a business owner, come check it out. There's a reason that lighting fixtures has quickly become the fastest growing category in the CI Channel. But then from there, like salespeople, you come figure out how to talk about lighting with your clients. Come hear what sales strategies have worked at other organizations. And then on the implementation side, if you're a system designer or a purchaser or a field tech who's never touched lighting and all of a sudden you have a contractor coming because you're there and you have the shirt on saying, hey, what should we do? In the corner here where there's a joist and there's a light fixture that's supposed to go there, having some basic knowledge at that level will come in enormously helpful. So I would say basically, if you're involved in any way, you'll find something useful at Lightapalooza.

Ron:  I don't know if the group from GHT is still watching, but if you are, drop into the comments. I think they're watching on YouTube. Drop into the comments. You said you had nine people attending. What are the roles of those people? We're curious, and if I get it in time, I'll drop it into the live show here. Tom, what I'm going to do is actually I'm going to go back to sharing my screen, and I'd love if you would give us just a super high level breakdown of actually, I'll let you give all of our instructors. I'll let you shout out David just so he doesn't have to shout out himself here on the screen. I've got our instructors. Why don't you speak about who they are and then we'll go through what the itinerary is.

Ron:  Yeah, I'll start with the middle. Peter Romaniello is somebody that a lot of people in the industry have known or worked with. He's a member of the IALD. The International Association of Lighting Designers. That group is much like the AIA architects, where they're strictly lighting designers, meaning that they design and don't sell or have influence on the specific products that are provided. So they're kind of a pure play in the design world. And so he's going to be available to teach and he teaches more advanced stuff. He's more applicable for people that have at least been in this for a while or he's taught basic stuff in the past. But his repeat here will be for what he'll be teaching and focusing on will be for people that have been doing this. David Warfel is going to be there, and he has been unbelievably impactful to the industry and helping people learn. His presentations are really excellent and easy to understand and not made up of any technical gobbly goop. So he is very effective not only on the Tuesday sessions that are described within the website here that you can read about. This help desk is really innovative just to have a desk there where you can stop by and what would you do in this situation? Or I don't understand the differences here. Or these two fixtures do look to be the same. What am I missing here or whatever the question is. Jan Moyer is the expert on landscape design, landscape lighting design. I met her almost 20 years ago and essentially she wrote the book on landscape lighting in 1992. It's now in its third edition. So her bio is really impressive. She's done landscape designs around the globe. She's coming in, will teach an afternoon Tuesday introduction overview of landscape lighting, and then on Wednesday morning, she's going to do a three hour in depth. It will not be vendor, it'll be just completely pure lighting design. I have some other people that are on deck that I'm talking to that we may be adding to the program, but right now we've got a really strong one. Last year our only instructor was Peter and so now we have three. These are world class instructors at this event and who understand the CI channel that's a tentative show floor is expanding and changing. I'm probably going to remove that map today and just list all the manufacturers because I keep juggling this floor around.

Ron:  Playing show floor Jenga?

Tom: Yeah. And then really we have some things happening Monday, but they're mostly rep and manufacturer meetings. Some of the groups may take advantage. I've extended to the other groups. If you want like a meeting room and you want to have a pre meeting room with just your group, I can accommodate that. But the kick-off is really on Tuesday morning where Tuesday is all education. So we got David there in the green. In the salmon color is Peter and Jen. There's manufacturer trainings that are going to be occurring. And then we're going to have expert panel discussions on a variety of topics where actual integrators populated with some dealers. Some reps will be able to share best practices on some very compelling topics. Throughout Tuesday, the manufacturers will be setting up in the exhibits. Most of these manufacturers are bringing full blown exhibits and they're making a big investment to be there on Wednesday. The morning will be populated by training and panel discussions. And then around noon, David will be presenting a keynote to kick off the conference. And then the show floor will open up at 01:00 on Wednesday there. So that yellow is just the keynote. There'll be a continuation of some manufacturer training, but the exhibit floor will be from one to seven with a five to seven, you know, beer and wine on the floor kind of thing. Last year and this year, you know, just there's learning outside the classroom. At breakfast, at lunch, at dinner. And then of course, our industry. Most of the learning and great ideas happen at the bar after dinner going into midnight, and that occurs Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night. Thursday is a shorter day. There's also still manufacturer training. There'll be some lighting training, there'll be some panel discussions. The exhibit floor opens early so people can grab and come by those booths that they didn't have time to spend. It'll then end at two. We'll have some compelling things towards the end of the day, but people can fly home or travel home. Those that are on the east coast will be able to either stay over or get home late. Of course those on the west coast, Phoenix is an easy airport to get in and out, and I think a lot of people are going to want to be in the Phoenix area in February is my guess.

Ron:  That looks like one heck of a show agenda. Tom, I'm going to maybe let you close. I'm mindful of time. We're at the hour. Anyone watching or listening that maybe is on the fence or curious what's the reason they should go ahead and experiment and come on out and check this thing out?

Tom: Well, it's the beginning of the year, and every year my group and other people are saying, hey Tom, 2021 is going to be the year for lighting for me. Hey Tom, 2022 is going to be the year for lighting for my company. And this has continued to happen. And the benefit of being at the beginning of the year is, if you're curious about it, it's pretty inexpensive to fly and stay over a couple of nights in the Phoenix area. Last year to attend was $750 and everybody paid $750 and 250 people came. This year, those that register in December, it's only $150 to attend. Now we're not serving breakfast and lunch, so you don't have to complain about bad food, but this is a pure conference. Everything is available with that fee. If you register before the end of December, it's $150. In January, it's going to go to $200. And if you show up at the last minute in February, it's going to be $250. So we're trying to encourage people to commit so we can communicate to our vendors what to be prepared for, and we can also understand how to orientate the classroom space and that sort of thing. So it's pretty inexpensive to if you're even thinking about this category or you're already in it, or you think you're doing a great job, pretty inexpensive for you to really align yourself for the rest of the year. No one said last year that they were bummed that they showed up. Everybody was pretty pumped, and I expect that to be the same at the end of this year. I don't know. I can't guarantee anything, but I'm pretty sure as it relates to look, I've been involved in industry events since founding CEDIA starting the Expo 30 some years ago. I was an integrator. I've been a manufacturer, I've led a trade organization. I work for a buying group. I know what everybody cares about and I've really kind of factored everybody's points of view to make this thing a win win for everybody. So that's my pitch.

Ron:  It's coming across strong. Tom, the website is Anybody that wants to get in touch with you directly, what is the hand off? Do you want to give any social handles or email?

Tom: Sure. There's a button on the website that will just generically. I see all the on the contact button, I see them all. Or my email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Ron:  Awesome. Tom, it's been a pleasure having you on the show, sir. Mike, thank you for joining us here to talk about Lightapalooza. Anybody that wants to get in touch with you directly, where would you send them?

Mike: Yeah, you can reach me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And thanks for having me on again, Ron.

Ron:  My pleasure. David will close out with you sir, same question.

David: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is the way to get a hold of me and echo what Mike said, Ron, thanks for having us on the show. And you should come to the conference.

Ron:  You know what, I'm pumped. I'm going to be there. So I'm going to be at that bar. I'm going to be hopefully that interesting conversation at the bar.

Tom: I will buy you that first cocktail there, Ron.

Ron:  That's a deal. What I'm actually noodling, and maybe we'll talk. I'm thinking some of my writers should be there. Like we're writing, we're doing marketing on the subject for so many companies. My content creators should be there consuming all this education because that way they're going to be better advocates for our industry as we're producing content. So yeah, my gears are turning swiftly. Appreciate the three of you. I'm going to pull you off screen here and sign off and then I'll wrap up with you fellas in just a moment. Thank you all. It was great.


Lightapalooza 2023 is the 2nd Annual Lighting Conference exclusively for the Custom Integration Industry. This special show will include Lighting Fundamentals Training, Lighting Design Workshops, Expert Panel Discussions and Manufacturer Training Sessions.

It will also provide a unique opportunity for the top Custom Integrators and Lighting segment manufacturers to gather and engage over three days with the subject and conversations strictly around the emerging lighting category. Lightapalooza will provide the perfect launch for your company's success and growth in the lighting category in 2023.

Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing in the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.

Resources and links from the interview:

Tom can be reached directly by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

David can be reached directly by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Mike can be reached directly by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.