September 12, 2023   

The Rise of Local Lighting Agent Events

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Beyond products: The experiential draw of agent events


In the lighting industry, the past years have witnessed a shift in how manufacturers connect with customers in local markets. Numerous approaches can be effective, but most lighting people would likely agree that the answer is not in a “free Zoom webinar” that promotes a company’s latest product.

The concept of local lighting agent events is not new or novel, but such events have matured into becoming invaluable platforms for manufacturers aiming to forge closer ties with local markets. With efficiency, intimacy and an experiential twist at their core, these events have become increasingly popular and more popular with those who organize and participate in lighting agent events.



The recent PG Enlighten Specifier Showcase

Last Thursday in Chicago’s Fulton Market District longtime lighting agent PG Enlighten hosted its second annual PG Enlighten Specifier Showcase. The event highlighted dozens of leading lighting and controls brands against the impressive Chicago skyline. was on hand to witness hundreds of lighting enthusiasts engage with products and enjoy adult beverages. The evening was a celebration of architectural lighting and controls amidst an elegant atmosphere of socializing and networking.

Feedback from specifiers, general contractors and manufacturers in attendance was overwhelmingly positive. Exciting raffle prizes and branded party favors rounded off a meticulously planned event by one of Chicago's premier lighting agents.



A local alternative to other industry events

Chicago, rich in its lighting community heritage, offers a glimpse into the evolving way that manufacturers connect with lighting decision makers. While LightFair made its appearances in the Windy City in 1995 and again in 2018, local events such as the LED Specifier Summit sprouted years ago to unite the lighting community. Yet, the journey was not without its bumps.

Over time, with the Summit integrating non-represented lines and a broader range of vendors, its value proposition faced dilution in the eyes of some. "We looked at it and said, we can do a much better job with taking less money from the manufacturers and really make it worthwhile for the specification community," shared Jim Haworth, PG Enlighten Principal, highlighting the need for a refreshed approach. 

Exponation, the organization behind the Summit hit financial challenges during the Covid pandemic and declared bankruptcy. Endeavor Business Media purchased the defunct company’s assets and attempted to resurrect the event with the 2022 LightSPEC Midwest, which ultimately never got off the ground. Endeavor’s 2022 LightSPEC West in Los Angeles was met with mixed reviews, but general satisfaction.


Positive Feedback and Value Proposition

The agent show is not just about lights, fixtures and controls; it's an experience. In a span of a few hours, lighting specifiers, contractors, distributors and other lighting decision makers can delve into the best of what numerous manufacturers have to offer, all the while networking and even enjoying catered food and beverages. Laura Roman, Senior Lighting Designer at Schuler Shook, aptly summarized this when she said the agent event “is a great way to see products and people” thanks to its consolidated nature. To many like her, staying local, rather than hopping on a flight to a faraway conference and trade show, is becoming a preferred choice.

Rachael Stoner, Senior Lighting Designer with EXP similarly extolled the virtues of these events. She emphasized the opportunity for networking, where lighting designers like her can potentially make a valuable connection with a potential client. Furthermore, she also mentioned that having project-specific discussions with numerous brands in one place was efficient and a positive advantage of the agent event.




Many different recipes can work

Different agents, different flavors. PG Enlighten's vision of an event is characterized by a streamlined, exclusive showcase. The emphasis? Quality products, in-depth conversations and a setting ripe for business and networking.

Other venues, including the ELS Expo in New York City, adopt many of these principles but take a slightly different approach. Gerry Trolio, principal of Enterprise Lighting Sales, said the biennial event, which began in the 1990s, was originally designed as a "mini LightFair" featuring many of the agency's top manufacturers. They held the event in years when LightFair wasn't on the East Coast. With the introduction of LEDucation, the ELS Expo remains unique, offering the design community a curated tour where fixtures are showcased more elaborately than at LEDucation.

In smaller markets, or for events on a more modest scale, the choice of venue plays a pivotal role in setting the ambiance. Instead of opting for the grandeur of lavish shows, selecting unique venues like eclectic restaurants, brew pubs, or even unconventional settings like axe throwing events offers both an uncommon experience and cost-effective alternatives to the pricier, more elaborate showcases.

In Atlanta, Lighting Associates Inc. President and CEO Doug Bogue sums it up nicely, “Our belief is that we can reach a large swath of customers while giving our manufacturers more high-quality exposure.”


A Select Guest List:  No social media pleas to "Register Now"

patti-geier-pg-enlighten-s.jpgThe PG Enlighten event, and others like them, treat the invite list as the mother of the bride might treat her invite list. Each potential guest is carefully considered and selected to receive an invitation. There are no online all-points bulletins inviting any local lighting person with internet access to "Register Now."

A well-curated guest list can make or break an event. Patti Geier, Principal of PG Enlighten, explained “Each PG Enlighten person is required to submit their personal recommended guest list that rolls up into the complete guest list for the event.” Curated invitees are provided their ticket, in the form of a non-transferable QR code, after their RSVP submission is cleared by the agency. Geier elaborated that the process “ensures safety in the space while providing our manufacturer partners an audience that meets their expectations for the time and investment they dedicate to our show.”

(Photo:  Al Uszynski of, Patti Geier of PG Enlighten)


Agents Accept the Responsibility (Burden) of Planning

Orchestrating an agent event takes hours and hours of time from multiple agent staff members. As Bogue explained, “It takes a tremendous amount of work to select the date, location, and number of manufacturers, and customers to invite.”

It can be akin to planning a grand celebration like a wedding reception. From pinning down the perfect venue to rounding up manufacturers and guests, it's a mammoth task. Essentials like name tags, timely email reminders, QR codes, and even amenities like parking vouchers or Uber credits become part and parcel of the process.



Venue Choices

The setting matters. Gone are the days of stereotypical hotel ballrooms being the preferred choice for agent events. Today's agent events opt for unique and memorable venues.

San Diego’s OCS Lighting & Control sets a precedent here with its Illuminex trade show. Its first agent event took place in 1993, and over the years the agency has dazzled attendees with distinct venues like the San Diego Air & Space Museum, and even the iconic USS Midway, not once but twice. OCS once hosted an event on the actual playing field of Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, which also served as the backdrop for a date between Charity Lawson and Brayden Bowers on the most recent season of ABC’s "The Bachelorette."


Attention to Detail: The Secret Sauce

As PG Enlighten's Geier highlighted, meticulous planning, personal touches and a keen emphasis on quality define these events. The team ensures that all details, from vendor space assignment to guest lists, are curated to perfection. Every aspect, from the choice of the venue to the overall vibe, reflects a careful balance of business and social engagement.


Still, Agent Events do have some limitations

Despite their merits, agent events do have constraints.

For some attendees, the absence of certain favorite brands that aren’t represented by that particular agent is noticeable. Others, like Ashley Mikels, Senior Lighting Designer at IA Interior Architects, while appreciative and complimentary of agent events, still expressed a longing for larger conferences that advance her industry and design knowledge with seminars and other lighting programs. Yet, it's clear that agent events aren't vying to replace these larger shows but rather offer an alternative, localized experience.



Local agent events serve as a nexus between manufacturers and local markets. While they don't aim to overshadow large national and regional expos, they offer a fresh, intimate experience – often complete with adult beverages, gourmet food, raffles, and gift bags. In essence, they're curating a unique platform that seamlessly melds business with pleasure, lighting the way for the industry's future on a local level.