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Automation Unplugged

Automation Unplugged is a Facebook Live show recorded weekly with our host Ron Callis, Owner and CEO of the digital marketing agency, One Firefly. In each Automation Unplugged episode, Ron speaks with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. These interviews are designed to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field.

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Home Automation Unplugged Episode #198: An Industry Q&A with Michael Libman

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Michael Libman, National Sales Director for DMF Lighting shares why integrators should consider getting into the lighting fixture business

Home Automation Unplugged Episode #198: An Industry Q&A with Michael Libman

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Michael Libman. Recorded live on Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021, at 12:30 pm. EST.

About Michael Libman

DMF Lighting is a lighting manufacturer that takes a creative approach to lighting and offers industry-leading technology to set the bar for performance, quality, and flexibility. Mike was one of the first advocates of Custom Integrators adopting light fixtures as part of their business, turning DMF Lighting into a CE Pro Bullet Brand in 2020. He has a Bachelor of Arts from San Diego State University and has worked in technology for over ten years. Mike works with Custom Integrators across North America to provide beautiful Lighting Solutions to their clients.  In 2021, Michael was named Dealerscope 40 under 40, an awards program that recognizes the brightest idea-generators in the consumer technology industry.

Interview Recap

  • Why integrators should consider getting into the lighting fixture business
  • How to choose the right manufacturer to partner with in your business
  • How lighting will likely grow in significance within our industry

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #197 An Industry Q&A with George and Kassa Harrison

Transcript

Ron:  Michael, how are you, sir?

Mike: I'm doing well. How about yourself?

Ron:  I am well. Thanks for joining us today. I know we're so close up to the holiday break for many. Are you already on vacation?

Mike: Not quite. Getting close to the end of the year, though. I'm going to spend some time with the family next week. But, pedal down for this week.

Ron:  I love it. I'd pedal down too. It's hustle until it's appropriate to take time off.

Mike: Yeah.

Ron:  Where are you coming to us from?

Mike: From San Diego, California.

Ron:  San Diego? So let's just make all of our friends up north jealous. For me, I'm in Fort Lauderdale, and it's like 75, maybe 80 degrees outside. What's it like for you right now?

Mike: It's not too bad. We're known for having good weather, and it gets really cold down into the upper 60s from time to time, so I think we're about there.

Ron:  Got it. Sounds lovely. Are you staying there in San Diego for the holidays?

Mike: Actually, I'm going to Maui with my family to visit some friends and do some sailing and some surfing and some fishing and get a little R&R, so looking forward to it.

Ron:  Good for you! This is the time of year to get some R&R and squeeze it in.

Mike: Yeah.

Ron:  So, Mike, let us know. First of all, who is DMF? Who or what is DMF lighting? And then, what's your area of responsibility within DMF lighting?

Mike: Yeah. So DMF lighting is a fixture manufacturer. We're based out of Los Angeles in the South Bay. It's a family-owned company. DMF stands for Danish, which is the family name. And then Mark and Faye Danish founded the company about 30 years ago, and their son, Michael Danish, took over about ten years ago. Young guy, very forward-thinking, and he's the one that came up with the modular concept that we're most well known for today and also is a big part of why we started working with the CEDIA channel, as opposed to just working in the traditional lighting pathways through electrical distribution and the like.

Ron:  Got it. And you were not born and bred in the CEDIA channel; you have had a life before the CEDIA channel. So take us through that! What's your origin story?

Mike: Yeah, so I went to San Diego State University here in San Diego and got stuck here for the most part, but I ended up getting into technology. I moved to the Bay Area for a few years was working in network infrastructure with a company some folks may know, named Meraki, which got acquired by Cisco.

Ron:  We used to have a Meraki piece of gear in our office. I don't remember much about it. I remember there was a monthly fee, and I remember that my I.T. guy said that it was more secure than other alternatives. I don't remember much, but back in 2015, we closed that office, but there was a period of maybe 10 to 15 where we were running Meraki in our office.

Mike: Yeah, it's a great product. My wife and I ended up having twin girls and wanted to raise them in San Diego, so we moved back. I got pulled into the lighting industry, kind of by accident. Michael Danish, whom I mentioned earlier, lighting is a traditional construction kind of old school. Still, Michael, with kind of his youthful enthusiasm, wanting to take it in a different direction and wanting to focus on engineering, was Product First. He was committed to bringing out new stuff. So I ultimately got brought in and worked on the commercial side of the business for a few years, just managing a territory. Then as we decided to lean into the CEDIA space, they tapped me to lead that channel. So that's what I do today. I run the CEDIA business for DMF. We've got a small team, but it's the fastest-growing segment of our overall business. We're very bullish on the segment, and we've brought in a lot of folks with more CEDIA background than myself, including Lani Godfrey, who came to us from Prosource. Chris Carbone, who came to us from CET, ran the lighting division for a CEDIA rep out of Rocky's region. And then our head of engineering is Ruchi Kumar, who worked at Creston for twelve years, Lutron for nine. A big part of that was developing a residential product. Then my boss, Andy Wakefield, who runs our sales organization, among other things, was at Lutron for 15 years.

Ron:  I was gonna say he was a Lutron knight. I remember Andy. He was there for a period when I was there back in the early 2000s.

Mike: Yeah, and as part of that, he ran the resi business. So we've got this kind of unique mix of being a traditional lighting manufacturer. We understand the lighting business. We also have a deep knowledge of the CEDIA business and the team that we've assembled. So we're working very hard to come out with the new product. We're coming out with tools like our portal to support integrators. We understand the business model, and we've been in the space for about five years now. One of the first picture manufacturers to lean into the space. They have to give the nod to Tom Dougherty as well, who is a big part of pulling us into the space with HTSA. Yeah, it's been fantastic, and we feel that we're nowhere near critical mass, but it's been a really exciting ride so far, and we're very excited about the future.

Ron:  Did you know that this industry of technology contracting businesses existed prior to you learning about it when you joined the DMF business, so five to seven years ago, right? Is that when you joined the business?

Mike: Yeah. So I knew of it, the extent of which was limited. I did a lot more commercially oriented projects in my previous role. As well as for myself, I like audio. I was doing more DIY stuff. I was aware of some of the higher-end things, but not in that tax bracket. So, you know.

Ron:  Not yet. Not yet. You and me both. Not yet.

Mike: But yeah, I mean, it's been fantastic. I know that people are passionate about what they're doing. The types of projects that I get an opportunity to work on are fantastic. The folks that have embraced the line within the space, we're working with some of the top guys in the industry that have been doing it forever. So it's been a great learning opportunity for us, and I'm learning every day. And yeah, I just really appreciate the opportunity, and I appreciate you having us on as well.

Ron:  Yeah. No, my pleasure. You're not only within the IT category, but you're like one of the IT companies. Everyone's talking about you guys. So I appreciate you accommodating my team and I's request to have you guys on because I wanted to know, what's all the buzz about? Oh my gosh, what's going on out there? So what is it about the CEDIA dealer that makes this channel primed to bring lighting fixtures into projects? I mean, why not the normal channels? Maybe back up? What are the normal channels? For those that are listening. Educate us, what's normal and then why did you guys see this new opportunity in the CEDIA channel?

Mike: Yeah, so lighting for 100 years was viewed as a commodity. So in the houses that you and I grew up in, we probably had an incandescent bought off the shelf for a couple of bucks. It goes in, and it lights up. Incandescent dims really well; it's got great color quality, but it's very inefficient, and it's very short-lived. So the benefit of LEDs is that they last a long time and it's really efficient. The challenges are that it's hard to dim, hard to have good color quality, and hard to have a great architectural picture that's led. So with that said, and with the proliferation of controls, you know, the traditional channels. Certainly, when it comes to products that don't have a lighting designer on them, we see beautiful, amazing homes that just have fixtures that are off the shelf going into the space. As a kind of lighting need, we feel that it's a disservice to the overall investment in many of these homes. If people are spending significant money on their furniture, their countertops or cabinetry, all the finishes in the house, and they light it poorly; they're undermining those investments. So the good thing is that the CEDIA channel embraces being an expert, whatever they're offering. And right now, the lighting designers are addressing less than five percent of the luxury market. And I would say that's even generous. So we see a huge opportunity and integrators being able to come in and say, "Hey, we can give you more than a grid that's on the plans for plan check." "We can help be intelligent about how we light the space, and we can integrate it with controls. We can even do shading and manage all the light in the home and actually be consultative in how they approach that. I mean, really, lighting as a technology is an approach that no one else has done in the past. So with that, the homeowners that we deal with are willing to spend money where they understand the value A and B. I think that the matter has been underserved in the past. So certainly, for the luxury residential market, we see over time, all fixtures will be coming through integrators if we're correct.

Ron:  That's a bold statement.

Mike: Yeah.

Ron:  So the vision within your company. Is that all lighting fixtures in the home will come through the integration channel?

Mike: Yeah, I think certainly the architecture will continue to be heavily influenced by interior designers and things of that nature. But when it comes to downlighting and some other categories that we don't address and linear and exterior lighting, those things that are meant to complement the space and really shouldn't be necessarily a standout piece where you're seeing that individual fixture, it should be about how it performs. Yeah, I think all of that will be coming through the integrators in the next five years.

Ron:  How aware are integrators that this is happening? I mean, when you're out there, and I'm giving you this comment that I hear the category mention frequently from at least the guests on this show, from your perspective, what are you hearing and seeing?

Mike: Yeah, it's definitely been embraced. So I'd say the conversation is a lot easier now than it was five years ago, where we kind of started having this conversation. You've got folks like David Werfel. You've got Tom Doherty evangelizing the category as a whole. Some of our competitor's friendly competitors are entering the space that we've competed with on the commercial side of the business for a number of years. And although I feel that we're just scratching the surface, it's become a very meaningful part of our overall business across the board. So we're doubling down on bringing in additional engineering resources, where we have product roadmaps for the various kind of channels that we address, and we're taking the bulk of it right now. So I appreciate the support from DMF as a whole. We're bringing in dedicated channel managers. I'm looking to expand my sales team to the CEDIA channel right now. So if you're listening out there and you're looking to work with a great company, please reach out to me.

Ron:  And for that same audience, One Firefly is also hiring salespeople, so don't doubt to reach out.

Mike: There you go! Yeah, so it's awesome; we're partnering with great companies. We do have a unique product, but it's been fun to see how it's grown so far and again, I feel like we're just kind of at the beginning of the potential.

Ron:  Tell me about maybe the products platform as it exists today. And then what can you tell us about the product platform as you look forward? Maybe you don't want to tease too much about the distant stuff because people will wait for it. But what is it today, and what's imminent?

Mike: Yeah. So our core competency is recessed downlighting, and that is typically the largest part of any architectural scope in a luxury residence. So kind of what makes us unique is that we're actually designing every component ourselves, with the exception of the Dion itself. That's the only piece we buy off the shelf, but we're doing our optical design, our thermal design, mechanical design, and we actually design our own drivers. So that's that's a key piece. We're not buying a driver off the shelf and trying to integrate it. We design it kind of soup to nuts, and that gives us a very unique form factor. It gives us a very distinct simplicity. So as integrators get into a new category, they want to have expertise, they want to mitigate risk, and they want to make sure they're putting their best foot forward. They also want something that's going to limit their exposure if they make a mistake. So how do we minimize labor and material costs if things change from rough to finish, which happens all the time? So we're very unique in that instance. Then a big part of why we started looking at the space in the first place was dimming compatibility. Every integrator that's done controls or fixtures has had dimming compatibility issues at one point or another. Typically, they point the finger at the technology guy, the guy putting in the lights. So in that instance, they're taking the risk of putting that on, they're not capturing the revenue, and they're eroding their margin by having to roll trucks to solve those issues. I don't know if we're the only one, but I believe we might be the only fixture manufacturer that guarantees controls, compatibility and dimming performance across all controls platforms. So we're completely agnostic; whatever the manufacturer of your go-to control that you work with was tested and approved, and we'll guarantee the compatibility, or we'll fix it.

Ron:  This is a geeky question. How low do your devices dim? Like what percentage?

Mike: Yeah. So we're guaranteed at one percent. Some of it goes deeper than that, depending on the controls platform. But we're very confident that at one percent, you're going to get one percent across the board.

Ron:  Can you talk maybe a little bit about the science of all dimming is not the same, right? So the idea that you can dim and you can maintain the color of the light, or you could dim and maybe better match an incandescent glow for all my older folks that remember what it was to cover an incandescent light bulb when you get that orange glow. It makes your skin, and it makes your space look so warm and welcoming. How do you guys think about that aspect of dimming, and what are your solutions?

Mike: Yeah. So I'd say that the vast majority of what we sell today is warm dim. So basically, it's meant to mirror that incandescent dimming curve that you mentioned. So as you dim down the dimming curve, it shifts to a warmer color temperature, and it doesn't do it linear. So a lot of the early warmed in that came out bright orange light, people were frustrated by it. The concept was there, but it wasn't executed properly. We're doing a logarithmic shift so that color shift happens at the bottom 20 percent, just like incandescent until integrated directly into our module. So what's awesome about that is not only is it appropriate for new construction, but we've seen a lot of integrators have success in, let's say you're doing a panel upgrade or controls upgrade in a home, you're doing a retrofit. You can pair that with DMF fixtures and offer warm dimming, one percent adjustability optics, ninety-three-plus CRI, all the characteristics that you would expect in an architectural grade fixture, and you can do that as a retrofit project. That' significant revenue. We just had a project where a new dealer signed on. They weren't doing fixtures in the past; they're already in the midst of a controls upgrade and one of their projects. They tacked on DMF and their cost. What they submitted to us was a $20000 order for that same project. So it's real revenue; it can turn quickly. It's something that's kind of the gateway for a lot of dealers that are kind of trying to figure out, how do I get into this new category by doing retrofit in the homes that you're already in? That's a great way to start, and I would say that we have the best solution for that application.

Ron:  For an integrator that adds this category, what training is necessary for their technicians that are going to be installing this? Are you involved in that, or does the integrator get some product and mock it up in their warehouse? What does that look like?

Mike: So most integrators that we work with don't do the install. So the vast majority, they're doing the specification, they're making sure that everything is correct. We can even job packet before we ship it out so we can say, "This is going to the master bedroom, etc." and then we ship it to the job site. Electricians typically make some margin off material, but it's fairly small relative to their labor costs. So we still do a lot of business with electrician partners as well. We certainly encourage integrators to allow them to still capture that labor piece. We do have some integrators actually putting in a handling fee or cutting them in on material as well. But really, there should be a low-touch item, so you don't have to get your hands dirty with the material. You specify it; you place the order, you capture the revenue.

Ron:  It sounds almost too good to be true. And in my experience in life, often when things are too good to be true, there's some catch. Is there any catch here?

Mike: We've got 30 years behind us of working in the electrical channel, so we are certainly sensitive to, "Hey, are we going to create conflicts with our electrical partners?" But we've had surprisingly little. Most electricians are again more focused on labor and have kind of commodity-type perspective. We work with a lot of electricians that are very sophisticated in doing lighting control in those types of things, too. But we'd say that the majority of the market doesn't have that aspect, so unless an integrator is willing to start getting into wiring outlets and some of the other things that they don't necessarily want to touch. The best option is to partner with the electrician on the job, supply the material, guide them through proper install, just like they do with lighting control. Then it's really a Win-Win for everyone.

Ron:  Do you find that integrators are giving the electrician in that partnership or collaboration scenario, like something for the fixtures they aren't selling? Do you generally find there's some sort of handshake happening just to keep everybody friends? Or is that not always the case?

Mike: It depends on the area, depends on the integrator and kind of who has the pull position there. We encourage it.

Ron:  It seems to be a good practice. Why would you not? You'd want that electrician to be your friend to make sure everything gets wired properly, and the job runs smoothly.

Mike: Yeah, and we actually have a lot of pieces that, as part of our design process, are around ease of installation as well. So you partner with an electrician typically to properly light a home versus what you see on an RCP from an architect? Typically, that overall count goes up. So their scope will go up if they're capturing a part of either a handling fee or a portion of the material revenue as well. That's a benefit. Then the ease of install goes up pretty significantly with our product as well. So no, we see a lot of relationships being forged by that partnership between electricians and integrators in a way that leads to a lot of future business down the road.

Ron:  How do you see integrators handling the fact that these fixtures do need to be designed? You mentioned Tom Dougherty over at HTSA. Tom Dougherty is a lighting designer and an industry veteran. I want to say he was the first president of the founder of CEDIA. I mean, he's an OG, way back, but he's a lighting guy. Yeah, I'll just leave at high level. How are they doing? I mean, of course, they want to sell this and make a margin on fixtures. Heck yeah! How do they get the spec for the house that, particularly if this is new for them, how do they normally go about getting that design done?

Mike: Yeah, so it varies greatly. So you've got actual lighting designers that are servicing the space. So you know, David Werfel can help you put together a fantastic team. He understands the integrator market. He really supports the channel well, and he doesn't outsource for a lot of different integrators, regardless of buying group affiliation. Definitely reach out to him. Peter Romanello is working with HTSA, they do a lot of pieces. You've also got a lot of folks that are bringing in lighting designers in-house at this point and actually charging for those services as part of their standard documentation for design. And then, manufacturers like ourselves, because we only do down lighting, we're not going to do the same product that a Peter Romanelo or David Werfel can do. But we can certainly give a much better design and actual documentation deliverables with our own layout services at DMF to cover that gap. So, lighting designers, the dressing, the top percentage, I'd say that's growing because folks are supporting the integrator channel. And then you've got kind of architects and electricians with their scope. Then we're here to sort of support everything in between that. So even if you don't have design services in-house, there are ways to outsource it effectively with organizations that understand your business, whether directly through the manufacturers or through outsourced lighting design. There's really a strong infrastructure in place to help you be successful in the category as a whole, even if you don't have those resources in-house today.

Ron:  How common are you finding integrators bringing a designer on staff? Is there a trend there?

Mike: I do think there's a trend there. There are obviously costs associated with that.

Ron:  You have to have enough flow to make those finances work, for sure.

Mike: Exactly. So, some of the larger integrators we work with have made that investment upfront or maybe they got X amount of projects under their belt, and then they realize the opportunity and start bringing folks on. So I believe Alex Lelch at Lelch AV just brought in a designer on.

Ron:  It doesn't surprise me; Alex is usually an innovator ahead of the curve.

Mike: Yeah! That's just one that pops to the top of my head. There's a lot of folks that are bringing on designers, but we've been working with Alex and his team for four or five years. They were one of the early adopters of the brand. I believe that addition was fairly recent.

Ron:  The technology behind this, well, maybe I'll go even more basic than the technology. The electricity for this is this normal like 110 voltage here in the U.S.? Or is this transformer somewhere and different types of low voltage wiring to the fixtures.

Mike: So the vast majority of what we sell today is your standard two-wire dimming. It can support existing infrastructure. I mean, that's what makes it unique when a lot of times when you hear these deeper dimming options, or it's not just about adaptive dimming, too; it's about how smooth the dimming is. Does it go soft-on soft-off a lot of these different aspects of it? Most aren't doing it with a standard two-wire infrastructure. So that's a significant engineering challenge. Fortunately, we've got a really strong team that supports us in that. I'd say over 15 percent, if not closer to 20 percent of our overall headcount and staff at DMF, is engineering. So our head of engineering across the entire piece is an electrical engineer by trade. So as far as we're concerned, the dimming piece is a big part of where we allocate our engineering resources to solve many of those problems that folks see in the field.

Ron:  I don't know if I'm getting in trouble if I ask this. If we dim your fixtures, do they make noise?

Mike: No noise, no flickering, no shimmering. It's going to work the way that you want it to. Or, like I said, we'll fix it. We actually have what we call the DMF promise, so guaranteed dimming. It's also a ten-year warranty. Then lastly, and this is exclusive for integrator partners, basically a bat phone to our engineering team. It's not going to go to a call center. It actually goes to our engineering team, and our head of engineering actually has his phone for part of those hours that it's available on a daily basis. He's a busy guy; he was confident enough to put his hand up for that because we really don't get calls for troubleshooting.

Ron:  This is totally tangential, but we obviously do marketing and build websites, and we offer a hosting service, and our hosting service comes with the guarantee. If a website ever is hacked or has malware, we agree to fix it at no cost. We've done that since 2016. It's a bold promise. We've never had to apply any resources to actually fix any websites because of all the work we do upfront to secure the hosting. It sounds like it's similar on your part. You can make bold offers like, "Hey, here's our lead engineer, give him a call." If you know what you've designed is robust, then you know that it's a promise you can back up.

Mike: Absolutely. I'm glad to hear that you guys are doing that, too.

Ron:  I only learned from mistakes. It was not always that way, and then we had some stuff blow up, and I said never again. We invested and fortified, and then we could go out and make those bold offers or promises. So talk to me about the business of lighting fixtures. What does it mean? High level? What does it mean for an integrator to get into this business? What are they generally doing to grow revenues on a project or maybe their fiscal year and their top line bottom line? What can you dig into that might give people that are listening that aren't yet investigating the category? Maybe some food for thought as to why they should perhaps consider investigating the category?

Mike: Yeah. So as far as the category as to why you should get in the lighting business. A lot of a lot of integrators got into this business for the love of audio or video or some of these other pieces. Not every home is going to have distributed audio. Not every home is going to have a theater, but every home is going to have lighting. So it's definitely something that there's an opportunity on every project that you touch. We're finding that because the lighting scope is often decided earlier on in that process, and there are some different paths to be part of that process earlier on as well. Once you secure the lighting scope, the traditional audio-video scope and networking and everything else is kind of a slam dunk as well. That's kind of the broader piece of the overall opportunity, but even furthermore, again, if they're to bolster your traditional business too. It's complementary to what you're doing today, so if you're selling shades and if you're selling lighting control, this is what gives you the opportunity to add fixtures as a solution. So it's not a bolt-on; it's not a new kind of thing that you're offering. It's actually, "Hey, let's figure out how we can properly light the home, and these are the ways in which we're going to do it." And, you know, at DMF, we don't want you to go out and sell DMF as, "Hey, this is my widget versus the electrician's widget." The way that we see value in working with integrators is taking that broader kind of solution-based approach. So if you can go in and say, Hey, I guarantee it's going to work, we're going to light the space beautifully, we're going to be consultative in how you want to live in the space and make sure that we're fighting for those instances. And by the way, it's just going to work. That's compelling, and that's not something that traditional influencers are offering.

Ron:  Let's call typical luxury, and I'm making up this language. Typical luxury home, let's call it a five thousand square foot home, and I know this totally depends on where you are in the world and what city you're in, but I'm going to make up a number. Let's say the home is a $3 to $5 million house. What percentage of the typical fixtures in that house are able to be supplied by DMF versus the likelihood of needing other fixtures to fully complement and provide a fully rounded outset of lighting fixtures solutions in that project?

Mike: Downlights are probably 80 percent of the scope on a given product, if not more. It depends on how much linear you specify. There are some other categories; exterior lighting, there's stoplights and things like that. But for the most part, the vast majority of the scope is downlighting, and that's what we do. So, if you're going to take that solution-based approach, there are other manufacturers that you should certainly communicate with to address some of those other categories. But I highly recommend doing that overall architectural scope. Some folks dabble in the decorative piece, too, but doing custom anything, as I'm sure you're aware, with other categories that you do, it can get complicated quickly. You can create friction with some of the other trades and influencers on a job. So we certainly recommend going the architectural wrap out to start that. \.

Ron:  That strikes me as it may be intimidating to the business owner that's listening or watching, and they go, "I'm buying what Mike is selling me. I think the category's hot; I think DMF sounds like a swell company. I like some of these names or resources that you mentioned to me. It sounds like if I'm the right fit and I could maybe become a reseller for DMF, but I'm only going to have part of the solution." So what normally happens? I mean, I'm putting myself for a moment here in the shoes of that integrator that goes, "This sounds cool, but what about that other 20 percent?" Do you find that the rest of that is specked by the lighting designer? And then he is supplied by the electrician? How do you put a bow on the solution, or what's the path that an integrator would be able to put a bow on the solution?

Mike: Yeah. So I mean, if there's an outsourced lighting designer that's not working through the integrator, those are typically tough because they're getting paid a lot of money to put together a bill of materials. You're better off kind of serving them in that instance. Now, if you're in a position where you can control the scope, maybe there's not a lot of detail that have gone into the lighting scope. You go in, and you're doing those various categories. I'd say that most integrators that we work with have two or three companies that make up every single lighting product that they would typically supply. Now, if you're part of a buying group, they have kind of leaders in those categories, and they can help you kind of put together the right mix of manufacturers that can help you. This is based on what you have access to and the proper design. These are the manufacturers you should work with on this project. And then we can also make recommendations as well. But we want to play nice, and we want to be collaborative. Ultimately we want the homeowner to have a good experience and ultimately have that reflect well on our integrator partners. So, for example, in our layouts, we'll call out linear placement, and that may change. But we don't call out of specific manufacturers because different folks work with different stuff, but we'll call that out as well so that you can say, "Hey, here's my documentation to your linear vendor, and they can put together bill materials.".

Ron:  So, here's your kitchen cabinets, and we recommend up like Lanier's and downlight Lanier's. I don't sell that product, but you need a product for these at these locations.

Mike: Yeah, exactly. But that comprises most anything. And again, I don't find that integrators are in a position where they can't address the job because they don't have access to the right partners. Part of what we're trying to do is we're trying to, beyond selling DMF downlights, we're trying to make sure that our partners are successful in the category. I think if you speak to any fellow integrators that have worked with us in the past is that we're here for supporting the fixture business and the lighting business and helping you grow and develop that organically. We've been in this space longer than most fixture manufacturers or on the first ones to lean in. So we're well-positioned to do that. We're not just going to do DMF product training; we're going to go through and say, "Hey, these are the things you need to be conscious of; these are potential pitfalls, here's how you navigate the channel." There are different ways to kind of go through that to make sure that when you actually get into the space, you're successful with it.

Ron:  I think that I know, but you can certainly correct me. I think there is a trend of fixture types that allow you to run Cat six or other; I'll just say IP addressable fixtures, right? The idea that I plug the device in the fixture is on the network. And therefore, I can reconfigure the way those fixtures are zoned. I know that exists in the commercial world. It's been around for a while, I guess a good number of years, and I think it's making its way into the residential space. Is there any of that in yall's future? Is that just a different strategy, a different ballgame?

Mike: Yeah. I mean, listen, we have we have entire R&D team that's playing with potential solutions. I'd say it's too early to say that that's proliferated at any scale, but it's certainly interesting. So, you know, doing individual zoning, doing digital control, those different pieces are our viable options, and we've sold it in the past. But as far as wide adoption, the vast majority of what we do is track two wired dimming, and we'll see. As far as any new product development in the near future and what else comes out?

Ron:  So I'm going to ask you a similar but different question. You might give me a similar answer, but what about the world of running? Is there a future where you see homes having low voltage wiring run to the fixture locations and high voltage wiring, normal 1/10 voltage wiring in the U.S., not going to the fixture location? Is there a future where you see that happening?

Mike: It's certainly possible. I mean, you're talking about the wattage of fixtures being far lower with LED than they are with incandescent. Right? So while that is an option, I think a big barrier to that right now is actually political around electricians. It's one thing to capture the fixture scope to another thing to say, "Hey, we're just going to run all the wire; you do the panel and the outlets." So I think that's a challenge that needs to be addressed.

Ron:  With electrical unions, I would imagine, nationwide.

Mike: Yeah, but that's not the only barrier. There are some other challenges around how you wire it and doing home runs and other pieces as well. So I think that most fixture manufacturers are playing with those concepts and trying to figure out elegant ways to do it. But you've got other challenges around convincing a homeowner to close up their walls with a low voltage wiring and some of the other pieces just because it's fairly early in the development of that architecture.

Ron:  Got it. So just to be clear, your fixtures, whether that's new construction or retrofit, are wired, typically like any lighting fixture we know. It's from panel through switch to the load back to the panel, it's normal wiring.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. So I mean, regardless of who you're working with, if you're doing panelized or you're coming in and doing like a wireless retrofit control system, we're going to work, plug and play with all.

Ron:  Got it. Understood. I gave you an opportunity here, Mike, to speak to the audience. If people are looking to get into the lighting fixture business, why partner with DMF?

Mike: I would say talk to your peers get feedback from the folks that have been successful with us, which is a fair amount of really well-respected integrators in the space at this point. Reach out to us, again we're trying to make it as easy as possible to create the highest quality architectural lighting that we can offer. We understand your business, or we have the tools in place to support you on the overall business and not just our product. So we want to be partners in the space. We understand how tight-knit this community is, and we're here for the long haul. So if you have any questions, we'd be happy to go over the product, but we'd also be happy to go over some strategies on how to get into the space and how we can support you in being successful.

Ron:  Got it! One of your fellow industry friends, Sean over there at AudioQuest, gave you a "DMF exclamation exclamation exclamation." So thanks, Sean, for tuning in. Also, over on LinkedIn, Sean Sturmer gave us some comments and interactions, and he made some comments about the builder channel liking DMF. So appreciate Sean, you tuning in as well. Greatly appreciated. Mike, we have the holidays right around the corner, sir, so I want to thank you for coming on show 198 of Automation Unplugged. For our audience that are watching live or on replay or they're listening to the podcast, and they want to get in touch with you directly or learn more. What would you recommend?

Mike: You can check out our website at DMF lighting.com. There's actually an integrator tab that goes specific to a product that's unique to the integrator channel, so please check that out. You can also reach out to me directly, so my email is very easy. It's This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I was there early before the last names were added, and then you can also reach out to me at 760 9949737; I'd be happy to chat and thank you so much for having me. One hundred and ninety-eight of these is pretty prolific, so this is cool. I appreciate you having me on.

Ron:  My pleasure and all of those contact details my team will put into the notes both on Facebook and LinkedIn, and they will drop that onto the show page on the One Firefly website. I did; Mike want to give you the opportunity? You and I were commenting before we went live that I had Paul Starkey on, and Paul Starkey has a charity, and you've actually partnered and collaborated with his charity. Maybe we'll close on that. Can you tell our audience what that is and how you're helping those at-risk individuals that are being helped by that charity?

Mike: Yeah. So, Paul Starkey, I'd say a lot of people in this industry know Paul, great guy. He approached us about a 501c3 out of San Diego called Building Better Lives, and basically, they have homes that can support sex traffic workers that are trying to change their lives, as well as different things to help them get back on their feet, approached us about partnering with them, and we are doing what we call The Shine a Light Campaign and directly through the DMF portal. If you're a DMF dealer and you contribute any amount through one of your purchases on the portal, we will actually give $2 for every module you sell through all of 2022 towards that cost. So it's a great cause. Paul and his wife have leaned into the 501c3. They're very passionate about it, and we felt it was a great cause to be able to support and just doing a small part and helping raise some funding to support these girls. So if you guys want to contribute and you are a DMF dealer, please at the bottom of the checkout, it actually gives you an opportunity to add that to your cart. Please do so, and then you'll automatically be flagged for all future purchases to have $2 go towards Building Better Lives in the Shine a Light Campaign.

Ron:  Awesome! We will definitely put a link down in the show notes for that as well. So thank you for sharing that, Mike. And again, thanks for coming on the show and have yourself a wonderful holiday season, sir.

Mike: You too. Thanks a lot, Ron!

SHOW NOTES:

DMF Lighting is a lighting manufacturer that takes a creative approach to lighting and offers industry-leading technology to set the bar for performance, quality, and flexibility. Mike was one of the first advocates of Custom Integrators adopting light fixtures as part of their business, turning DMF Lighting into a CE Pro Bullet Brand in 2020. He has a Bachelor of Arts from San Diego State University and has worked in technology for over ten years. Mike works with Custom Integrators across North America to provide beautiful Lighting Solutions to their clients.  In 2021, Michael was named Dealerscope 40 under 40, an awards program that recognizes the brightest idea-generators in the consumer technology industry.

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 become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security. The One Firefly team works 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:

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

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