Having attended the inaugural event last year in Dallas, it was easy to see how much more buy-in and support there was for Lightapalooza 2023 last week in Glendale, AZ. The conference, which focused exclusively on bringing together residential lighting designers and manufacturers and the custom integration community, had a total of 729 total attendees, which is more than double last year’s event. It was also clearly evident how the exhibit floor had grown in size, with around 40 total sponsor companies exhibiting everything from smaller vignette-style displays to full-sized trade show exhibits and even a tiny house from Lutron/Ketra (more on that later).
But the success of Lightapalooza 2023 was about much more than just numbers. The event itself has evolved from a quickly thrown-together proof of concept in 2022 to a fully formed conference and exhibition, with two and a half days packed with extensive residential lighting training, insightful presentations, expert panel discussions, and vibrant vendor exhibits.
The creative force behind the event is custom integration industry pioneer Tom Doherty, who although employed by the HTSA smart home consortium (formerly known as a buying group), made sure that this year’s conference truly open to all, rather than an HTSA event. He had attempted that approach last year but given the somewhat short planning time and limited capacity at the first event, it consisted primarily of HTSA members. This year, however, the event was clearly broadened beyond that single constituency.
As visual evidence there were membership lounges clearly set aside for Azione Unlimited, Pro Source (also a cocktail reception sponsor), and HTSA members, along with name badge ribbons indicating membership in each group (if any). All three groups sent their directors to attend the conference, as well. Additionally, the sponsor list went well beyond only HTSA members to include manufacturers exclusive to other groups and some that do not participate in any group.
Perhaps most notable of the additions this year was the sponsorship role played by lighting control
technology pioneer Lutron, whose team found a creative way to exhibit its Ketra lighting line by constructing a “tiny house” just outside the hotel building. Built just in time for the conference with equipment installed by Jesse Silva of PAVE, that space provided the best demonstration of human-centric LED, tunable white, and colored downlights, linear lighting, and decorative fixtures at the conference. While there were many more great examples of LED fixtures and accessories on display during exhibit hours, there was no better way to showcase the capabilities of advanced LED lighting technology than within an enclosed residential space like the tiny house.
Just like the inaugural event, Lightapalooza 2023 also featured many hours of training classes from respected lighting designers, David Warfel (in person) from Light Can Help You and Peter Romaniello (via Zoom) from Conceptual Lighting LLC. Also like last year, sponsors taught product training classes that were specific to their own product lines and/or participated in expert panel discussions.
For example, I was asked to moderate a panel that kicked on Day 1, called “Closing the First Sale.” It featured insights from a rep, integrator, and manufacturer. In the rep role, David Thomas, executive director at Momentum Group and principal at Rio Grande Rep Firms and a Partner with the PureTech Alliance, Denver, offered veteran insight from his experience working with lighting brands and providing training to his dealer partners. Our integrator, Eric Joy, CEO of GHT Group in Marietta, GA, has been spec’ing lighting fixtures for two years, already seeing the great potential for the industry to grow in the category. Steve Glenn, director of sales, high-end residential, at Ecosense/Soraa, was our manufacturer, and thus the sponsor of the panel.
After the panel, Joy added to his comments about the lighting category and the impact on his business. “I’m really excited about the lighting category’s ability to help our company become more engaged with the design community,” he said. “While our industry offerings have always needed to be integrated into the design of a home, lighting seems to be one that really sparks exceptional interest within the design community. And the more we can engage the design community, the more smoothly the project will go, and we find ourselves getting involved at a much earlier stage of the project.”
Throughout the conference, other panels included titles such as, “Ideal Business Models for a Prosperous Lighting Division,” led by the insightful president of business consultancy Vital, Matt Bernath; “Expert Insights on Growing Your Lighting Business” by the always engaging Ron Callis of One Firefly; “How to Create Impactful Collaboration Communities to Grow Your Lighting Systems,” expertly led by Lutron’s David Weinstein; and “Choosing Vendor Partnerships” moderated by my friend Jason Knott, of CE Pro.
On the exhibit floor, there were the requisite lighting fixture manufacturers, including those that have truly embraced the custom integration channel after years of working exclusively with lighting designers and electricians. For example: AiSPiRE, a WAC Company, DMF Lighting, and Proluxe Lighting were most familiar to me, but then were surprises like Draper and Screen Innovations, who both control light through motorized shades; Josh.ai, who controls everything through voice, and even Control4 and Crestron, which are addressing lighting either via control only (Control4) or with control and fixtures (Crestron).
The remainder of the show floor was a combination of other impressive lighting fixture companies (Apure, Clarte Lighting, Coastal Source, Colorbeam, Delta Light, Ecosense/Soraa, Environmental Lights, Garden Light LED, Klus, Lighting Leaf, Liteline, Lucetta, Lucifer Lighting, Luminii, Modular Lighting Instruments, MP Lighting, Proluxe Lighting, SeeLess Solutions, Seura, Vantage, Verozza, Visual Comfort), service providers (CATalyzing Communication, Light Can Help You, Netsertive, One Firefly, Vital), or distributors (Apex Technologies). I stepped in for a presentation from Bernath called “New Category Means New Metrics” that should be required for all custom integrators whether they’re in the lighting category or not.
Beyond boosting the lighting fixtures category in the CI channel, Doherty had hoped to make Lightapalooza different from your typical conference environment. It’s a tough to goal to achieve, but he was successful in few ways.
To keep registration fees down, the event mostly eschewed staged meals. The buying groups sponsored their own private breakfasts, and vendors (including Origin Acoustics) or buying groups paid for a couple cocktail receptions. For me, ever the introvert, the excuse to sneak away from a sushi lunch outside the hotel was welcome, so was avoiding a rubber chicken hotel dinner each night.
Somewhat atypical for a conference, the keynote address (also from the omnipresent David Warfel) wasn’t held until Day 2 of the event, at noon, without the typical luncheon to go with it. That keynote was a call to action from Warfel for the industry to take the leadership in lighting specification in a big way. One idea was that the industry could pool its resources to create an HGTV-style television pilot featuring home lighting makeovers. That might be overly ambitious or overestimating the interest in such a topic for TV, but the idea that “the sky is the limit” for the category was a message well received. As was this discovery from Patrick Laidlaw of AiSPiRE’s (the keynote sponsor) that the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy has stated the following about modern lighting:
“Among the barriers to rapid deployment of highly efficient, grid-interactive connected lighting, one of the largest is a mismatch in required skills throughout the new lighting-related workforce.
“LED lighting still requires knowledge of general lighting practices, but now also requires understanding network communications, building systems, new features enabled by LED technology, power grid behavior, and even new application understanding, such as human health impacts…
“The changes along the lighting value chain from manufacturing to installation and maintenance mirror the changing needs of the lighting workforce, which requires new skills and new ways to acquire them.”
If that’s not a message directed toward the custom integration channel, I don’t know what it is. Additionally, Laidlaw directed attendees to a AiSPIRE/WAC-produced video, which he encourages anyone in the industry to use on their own websites to promote their skills to the general public. When you land on the AiSPIRE/WAC page, a center video has a 30-second AiSPIRE/WAC commercial at the end, which anyone is welcome to use. In the center of the page is an, “I am an integrator” story, and at the bottom of the page is unbranded video download that integration companies can tag their own company name/logo onto and use on their social media, websites, etc. Here is the link to the landing page: https://aispire.com/integrators/
The overwhelming message of Lightapalooza 2023 was that we’re still very much in the first mile of a very long race with this category and that integrators new to the category should “crawl then walk” before running. Those in attendance already have a head start in the category, just for dedicating the time and resources to be there. But, again, we’re just in the beginning stages and the opportunities are vast.
There were many familiar faces at the event, with varying degrees of experience in the category. For instance, my hometown pal Jason Barth, owner of the Premier Group, in Carmel, IN, has been spec’ing lighting longer than most. He’s excited about the enthusiasm for the category, and despite his existing knowledge, seemed to be fully engaged in the event.
“We’ve been focusing on lighting design, fixture specification, and controls for over 15 years now,” Barth noted. “And so while we’re not new to the game, the opportunity has grown immensely, especially in the fixture market with such a wide variety of step-up performance and luxury products. Lighting makes or breaks your space, and you really only get one chance to get it right. Lighting and audio also go so well together. Our comprehensive design solutions for both architectural lighting and audio are simultaneously aesthetically pleasing, as well as functional, dynamic, and emotional. The two together create the perfect environment for working, playing, relaxing, or entertaining.
There will most likely be a Lightapalooza 2024, and you must consider attending it, and encourage your friends in the industry to join you. This industry cannot ignore the potential that specifying lighting provides for integrators wanting to remain essential service providers in the smart home.
As LED lighting becomes ubiquitous in the home, there are more needs to help consumers avoid poorly executed lighting layouts and inferior product specifications. At the end of the day, you’re the one sitting at the end of the sofa with the client, while all of the other building professionals have moved on. You’re the expert of most of the technology in the home already. Why not add lighting to that list?