Pride in craftsmanship. Small batch and custom capabilities. Lifetime warranties on products. With domestic lighting manufacturers, these are just some of the characteristics that lighting retailers and interior designers can expect from what are often family-owned companies at any time. Throw a pandemic into the mix, and domestic lighting manufacture takes on even more importance.
This spring and summer, demand for lighting has seen significant increases as consumers have turned their attention and discretionary spending to the homefront. Online sales saw increases in demand from the start of coronavirus lockdowns, and lighting retailers, many considered essential, returned to brisk business from short stay-at-home orders.
At the same time, production and shipping sputtered across the category, as global supply chains slowed and even domestic manufacturers saw production lags with short plant closures, furloughs and the need to find new work configurations to keep employees safe. The difference, however, between U.S. manufacture and imported goods has been control of the situation. Those same American lighting manufacturers who experienced backlogs a few months ago have been able to make the necessary adjustments to get back up to speed much faster than imports that have been caught up in supply chain backlogs. While many lighting companies have had stock, say retailers, they are now experiencing delays in replacement times as shipments have slowed.
For the U.S. manufacturer, however, it’s been easier to recover. “We’re back on track,” says Jeanne-Marie Gand, Vice President of Marketing at Hubbardton Forge, in Vermont. “We did close for five to six weeks, and we had a significant backlog. When we started back up, we could only have five people per shift. It takes four people to make one product. You have to have the right artisan at the right place.”
However, she continues, the company split the work into two shifts and hired more artisans to ensure demand continued to be met. “We’re back to 110 percent from where we were before,” she adds. “We have been very fortunate thus far. Our artisans are all here and local, and Vermont has had low [coronavirus] numbers,” adding that many of Hubbardton Forge’s suppliers are local as well. Currently, the Vermont lighting manufacturer is exceeding even it’s normal production lead times. “We’re now at three weeks for made-to-order products and we’re headed down to two weeks,” adds Gand, noting that the shift configuration has given the company a better workflow. “It’s good customer service for us to deliver top quality as quickly as we can.”
Meyda and 2nd Ave Lighting have also worked through slowdowns that happened in the beginning of the pandemic, but they are close to back to normal production times again as well, says Max Cohen, Director of Hospitality Marketing for the companies. “We manufacture our smaller-volume and large-scale pieces here [in upstate New York],” he says, adding that the company never shut down because of its essential status. “There have been some challenges,” he notes. “We took extra precautions, moved the shop around so people had distance, but some employees didn’t feel comfortable coming to work, so we worked with a skeleton crew for a while.” The company is back to full staff now, as everyone has confidence in precautions in place to keep them safe. “We kept the critical projects on track,” he adds but saw four- to six-week delays for some others, far shorter than the months-long delays he says some of his colleagues importing from China are currently experiencing. Some importers have even come to Meyda to see if the company can fill in gaps where shipments have been delayed, he says.
Quality Is Job One
More than lead times, however, it is the reliable quality of American-made that has kept these companies at the top of their game for, in some cases, generations. The skilled craftspeople who join these often family-owned manufacturers stick around, understand the work and are experts at what they do. “We know every person in the building by name, from the guy sanitizing the door knobs to the guy running the laser,” says Cohen. “We have employees who have been here for 35 years.” As a result of that expertise, Meyda/2nd Ave. is comfortable taking on custom projects and technologies because it knows its employees can get it done right and get it done quickly. For example, Meyda is now working with OLED, a newer LED technology that Cohen says is equivalent to Toyota vs. Tesla.
At Hubbardton Forge, customers know they are buying first-quality handmade lighting, says Gand. All lighting at the Vermont manufacturer is made to order. “We think we have products where you can feel and see the value through the design and through the actual makers making it. We’re very in tune with that,” she notes. “It’s very different when you’re making something that is for someone than when you’re making it to go on a shelf. You take more care.”
Hubbardton Forge is so confident in the quality of the products it delivers, it offers a lifetime warranty, something lighting retailers suggest adds to sales and draws consumers to the collection.
Banking on Custom
Northeast Lantern, out of New Hampshire, also offers a lifetime warranty on its products, and as many of those are destined for the outdoors, that’s a tall order and a perk that customers appreciate, especially those on the coast. “Our employees have the commitment to providing the best fixtures,” says Christopher Heal, the company’s President.
While Northeast Lantern offers upward of 20,000 SKUs based on its varied configurations, materials, types of glass and electrical options, they basically build to specifications.
“We don’t mass produce anything,” Heal continues. “Each consumer can have [a fixture] uniquely built for their house. If someone orders one, we make one. We can morph and change.”
One of the reasons Northeast is confident in its lifetime warranties is the brass and copper materials the company uses on its indoor and outdoor fixtures, especially for its customers in coastal areas. “They are living materials and are forever changing. The patina that Mother Nature applies helps to protect that metal,” Heal notes.
Customization is a benchmark of these domestic lighting manufacturers, something that adds even more appeal to their products for their retail customers and particularly for a growing designer community, where custom is often the name of the game.
“If you’re not here, it’s hard to deliver anywhere near what an American company can deliver,” says Hubbardton Forge’s Gand, speaking of the company’s custom capabilities. “If a designer wants something that’s one of a kind, we can create the prototypes right here within days. It’s a completely different experience for a designer working with us. We can also do custom finishes and glass, and we work with local glass blowers. It’s a much easier process.”
These lighting companies are proud of their U.S. roots, nimble capabilities, skilled craftspeople, quality and customer service. It’s not that consumers, designers and retailers are necessarily looking for that “American made” message, but especially in times like now, having the confidence in availability from companies who back their products makes a difference. “Right now, consumer sentiment for American-made is at an all-time high,” says Heal. “Part of that American-made message though is that as a company, we stand behind it.”