By Barbara Thau
As the president of WAC Lighting, Shelly Wang is focused on ramping up research and development to hatch cutting-edge products that further set it apart from some of the more pedestrian fare on the market.
Wang has also been emboldened by President Barack Obama’s eco-friendly mandate—which should translate into increased consumer demand for energy-efficient lighting, she told HFN.
“We want to reinforce and establish ourselves as an innovator,” Wang told HFN. “We test things to a fault sometimes. We are on the forefront of new lighting technology.”
Wang, who was named president this spring, most recently served as vice president and general manager of WAC, a high-end lighting fixture supplier which sells exclusively to lighting showrooms and electrical supply stores.
Wang joined the company in 2004 and is the daughter of Tony and Tai Wang, the founder and principal, respectively.
WAC’s technology push comes as the fixture-supplier category gets a little more crowded these days.
“Right now, the lines between lamp-source vendors and fixture vendors have blurred,” Wang said. “The encroachment is coming from the lamp side: they [now] have a fixture presence.
For example, “It’s interesting to see Philips’ purchase of the Genlyte organization to secure themselves in the fixture market in the U.S.
“We have to take advantage of our position as a more flexible organization to take more risks in terms of investing in new technology so we can offer the industry something that’s more original and unique than most of what’s coming through the major lines.”
Wang said the company’s operating model gives it an edge.
“Of most of the suppliers in the U.S., very few of them own their own factories,” Wang said.
WAC exerts greater control over quality standards, technology, product development and design than many vendors as more than 90 percent of its merchandise comes from company-owned factories in China, she said.
“We design the product, and we keep a full staff of engineers and designers in our factory who are focused on product that is unique to us.”
WAC hadn’t been a player until “The last 10 years—when they’ve come on very strong,” said Joel Horowitz, a consultant who is the former vice chairman and founder of Lighting By Gregory, the iconic lighting showroom in New York City. “They’ve spent a lot of money on innovation and product backed by a lot of R&D,” and are now in a category with upscale resources such as Lightolier, Halo.
WAC’s time has come, Wang said, especially since the push toward green and energy-efficient products has shoved the lighting category into the spotlight.
“Our president [Obama] said it the other day,” Wang said. “The focus on energy-efficient technology and the attention from both the consumer level and the legislatures will create some new opportunities for the development of new technology. It will build a lot of demand out there and will be great for our industry.”
In turn, “What is critical for us right now is to develop energy-efficient options,” Wang said.
The over-arching idea is to find ways to improve the quality of life at home that goes beyond energy-sapping incandescent lighting, she said.
“New technologies like LED, developments in compact florescent lighting—those are the things we are designing around.”
For one, WAC will work on taking LED to a new level so that it can cost-effectively illuminate an entire room, as opposed to just a small area—a technology evolution that has thus far stumped the lighting industry, she said. WAC will also look beyond LED and CLF for new lighting sources.
What’s more, WAC sees an opportunity to spruce up rooms of the home once lit by “a bare light bulb,” she said. As consumers pay more attention to beefing up the ambience of utilitarian spaces such as laundry rooms and garages, “these areas are getting more attention from a lighting perspective.”
The renovation of these rooms has been fueled in part by design-driven appliances, she said.
“Within lighting, there are a lot of parallels to what’s been going on in the plumbing industry and the appliance industry.” Bronze, for example, continues to be strong in major appliances and fixtures, she said. “That’s been exciting for us—where other industries have been successful in creating an aspirational lifestyle.”
WAC is committed to serving the high-end market and even during this economic malaise, is enjoying some benefits from its upscale perch.
“On the big-box side, there is a lot of risk in fewer baskets,” Wang said. “The margins are pretty thin. They’re trying for mass appeal to cast the widest net with the least amount of cost built in. Our business model is to create real value in the product with the quality of materials, detail in engineering and design—we don’t skimp,” she said.
“Our customers need unique options to differentiate from other lighting vendors in the big-box stores.”
As for the tough economic climate, “it’s really a good time for us because owners of all kinds have to take a closer look at business and protect margins,” Wang said. “We have a great margin story to tell. When you can’t make it on volume, make it on margin.”