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Lightapalooza 2024: It Takes a Village to Raise a Channel

The need to work together — both within the channel and with the other trades — was a central theme of the ever-evolving event.

Lightapalooza 2024 Floor Entrance
Photo by Isha Kipp-Cook/Ish-This Multi Media.

If there were any doubts that lighting has taken a firm root in the custom installation business, Lightapalooza 2024 put them to rest. Attendees poured into Arizona’s Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel & Spa from February 26–29, learning from a who’s who of educators and experiencing the latest technology from a packed exhibit floor showcasing some of the industry’s top lighting and shading vendors (with several power products added for good measure).

There were many things to be impressed with at Lightapalooza — the diversity of attendees, the quality of the classes, the CEDIA Expo-sized exhibits on the show floor — but what most stood out to me were the number of people there to learn about and experience the power of lighting in the home. Each session I went to, or even walked past, was packed, and yet that didn’t seem to pull from the exhibit floor, which had good traffic and people doing business all day long.

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The main theme that I heard repeated in different ways throughout the show was the need for us all to work together — both integration companies with each other and integrators with other trades — for everyone’s benefit and success, especially the homeowners.

Working Together: Integrators

Working together as an industry was not only the topic of the keynote session, but it was evident by the participants on the panel. On the stage were Jon Robbins from HTSA, Jim Pearse of ProSource, Daryl Friedman from CEDIA, and Matthew Fox from Lucifer Lighting, which sponsored the session. The panel was moderated by Jeremy Glowacki, editor of Residential Tech Today.

Lightapalooza 2024 keynote panel
The Lightapalooza 2024 keynote panel featured (l-r) Matthew Fox from Lucifer Lighting, Daryl Friedman from CEDIA, Jon Robbins from HTSA, and Jim Pearse of ProSource. Photo by Isha Kipp-Cook/Ish-This Multi Media.

Though driven by HTSA director of new technology initiatives Tom Doherty, Lightapalooza is a joint venture between industry buying groups HTSA, ProSource, and Azione Unlimited because, as Robbins explained, “We have a responsibility as a channel to educate our people in lighting, in power, in AI… Our role is to continue to perpetuate education and work with people in the industry to bring up the whole channel.”

“This is a brand-new vertical that is growing from almost nothing to become a meaningful business,” added Pearse. “We don’t have the scale to do that individually. The attendance this year is a function of that collaboration and us telling our memberships that this truly is an industry event, and when you come to it, there’re now enough resources available to you.”

This is the third year for Lightapalooza, but the first one attended by CEDIA’s Friedman, who was impressed by both the collaboration and the lighting companies on display. “I applaud the cross-group collaboration and I am inspired by what I’m seeing,” he said. “CEDIA is going to also step up in the lighting category with a new lighting education track.”

He also reminded the crowd of CEDIA’s government advocacy by stating that integrators can only do the work in lighting if the government allows them to. He explained that custom installers are still listed under “telephone repair” in terms of category, and that the association is working day-to-day to be sure integrators can handle low voltage.

Working together is also on the minds of manufacturers, according to Lucifer Lighting’s Fox, who said that Lightpalooza had become an important event for his company because of the relationships formed there — and not just with attendees. “What we are doing is customer service to become a better partner with the integrators,” he said. “We are also working on relationships with vendors in the other areas of lighting that we don’t see all the time to develop new products and collaborations around that.”

Lightapalooza 2024 Photo Gallery by Isha Kipp-Cook/Ish-This Multi Media

Working Together: Trades

Forging relationships with the home design trades — architects and interior designers — provided another take on working together. Builders, electricians, and landscape designers were also mentioned as trades that we need to reach out to and communicate better with if we are going to move forward as members of the design team.

Lutron sponsored a panel called “Synergy in Lighting Systems Specification, Design, and Commissioning” that brought several worlds together. Moderated by Doherty, the session included integrator Navot Shoresh, lighting designer Gregg Mackell, interior designer Rachel Keena, and David Weinstein from Lutron.

In relaying the current situation between the trades, Weinstein quoted a co-worker of his who said, “We need to teach our community to learn how to play in a dolphin pool because now it is a shark tank. We need to have a unified strategy for the client.”

Heard at Lightapalooza 2024: Leaning Into Outdoor Lighting

Proving that such collaboration works — and works well — were Shoresh and Keena, who regularly work on projects together. “Rachel and I serve one person — the client,” said Shoresh. “You are part of a larger team. When you collaborate well, you bring value, and you will get continuously invited to the party. You may not get the full profitability, but you made someone a valued collaborator who will invite you to the next one.”

Keena pointed out how the relationships have exposed her to areas she may not have known about without them. “Six years ago, I didn’t do lighting at all,” she said. “Navot brought [lighting designer] Peter Romaniello in and I got to see what both bad and awesome lighting design is. Paintings and sculptures look bad if lit poorly. Knowing this helps me to push it to my clients.”

Keena also talked about a recent project she was working on with Shoresh where the client said they did not want home automation. She told them it was a mistake, and that he needed automated shades and lights. “I want an integrator on every one of my jobs,” she said. “My fabrics look so much better at the end.”

In terms of how we can work together, Mackell stressed that it is important for integrators to keep lighting designers in the loop. “When we specify, we don’t do it on accident,” he said. “If you are going to have a client come to your showroom, call the lighting designer ahead of time because there might be a reason we didn’t recommend a product from the start. Being at the showroom with the client is absolutely a great benefit for both lighting designers and integrators to show off the products they have in a way that is cohesive to the project.”

“Trades throw each other under the bus all the time,” added Doherty. “By building strong alliances with the professionals, you build advocates for you who will watch your back and speak up for you when you are not in the meeting. This new category provides us an opportunity to get invited to the table much earlier We should not try to grab the whole cookie jar.”

The Exhibit Floor

If you want to experience what the Lightapalooza 2024 show floor was like, PJ Sykes from Livewire has created an amazing video that shows you the whole thing in under 10 minutes!

Looking Ahead

For each of its three years, Lightapalooza has grown. This year’s event achieved an impressive scale, and if you want to see what happens next, make plans to be at the 2025 event.