April 10, 2024   

Reassessing the Current HLI / GLI Brand Unification Narrative

2024 04 Current HLI GLI consolidation.jpg

Two years on:  Market consolidation for GE Current and Hubbell Lighting in US and Canada has been selective, not automatic


In recent years, the lighting industry has observed a significant trend toward local market consolidation, particularly among brands affected by manufacturer consolidation. This movement has been visible over the last couple of years with numerous agent changes by Current causing the merger of HLI and GLI brands under unified sales agents in various markets throughout the U.S. and Canada.  But these Current agent representation unifications have seemingly been selective, not predetermined or automatic.

The backdrop to this evolving landscape was set two years ago when GE Current, a Daintree company, acquired Hubbell Lighting, leading to the birth of Current GLI Brands from the former GE Current lighting product families and Current HLI Brands from Hubbell Lighting brands. Despite GE Current management's assurance in 2022 that it was "business as usual," with a clear message to the marketplace to continue treating the product families independently, the industry has been rife with speculation about potential consolidation.  Current executives maintain that the company does not have a representative consolidation strategy for GLI and HLI.


Historical Context and Market Responses

The lighting community is no stranger to consolidation narratives. More than two decades ago, Hubbell Lighting's acquisition of Lighting Corporation of America (LCA) and subsequent market-by-market, agent business plan “bake-off competition” resulted in strategic agency consolidation throughout the US and Canada. Similarly, Philips' eventual merger of its "Red Team" (Lightolier) and "Blue Team" (Day-Brite) despite years of promises to maintain brand independence has made stakeholders wary of similar outcomes. This historical backdrop has fueled speculation that the local market consolidation of Current GLI and HLI brands was an inevitable endpoint.

But now 26-months post-acquisition and contrary to these expectations, the anticipated consolidation has been selective, with certain markets like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles, British Columbia, and South Carolina witnessing the merging of GLI and HLI brands. However, certain major markets such as New York City, Boston, Miami, Denver, and Chicago have remained untouched by this trend, challenging the prevailing assumption of a North American-wide consolidation.


Current Context

When we interviewed Current CEO Steve Harris in February, he emphasized that the company’s ongoing intent is to fully manage HLI and GLI separately in the two agent networks.

Another factor that could influence Current's approach is the perception of HLI brands as a portfolio of specification-driven and commercial project-centric architectural brands. In contrast, GLI brands, known for their high bays, professional LED lamps and drivers, are seen as more desirable for distributor-focused agents and general lighting needs. Oftentimes, the best local agent for the HLI brands is not the best match for its GLI brands and vice versa.


The Latest Divergence: Chicago

The latest narrative deviation occurred in Chicago, a key market where the Current HLI brands, historically struggling in this Top 5 market under the Hubbell Lighting banner, gained significant ground after partnering with leading agent PG Enlighten in 2016. The recent decision by GLI brands to switch representation after a three-year association with electrical supply rep Mulcrone & Associates was a prime opportunity for consolidation with PG Enlighten. However, in a noteworthy move, GLI brands chose to align with Illumination Technology Group (ITG), an entity already entrenched with notable general lighting lines like Cree Lighting and LSI Industries.

Chip Taylor, Current's Chief Commercial Officer, expressed enthusiasm about this new partnership, “We are looking forward to partnering with Illumination Technology Group and are eager to collaborate closely. Illumination Technology Group’s history in the electrical industry combined with Current’s broad portfolio of lighting and controls solutions enable a best-in-class experience for our valued customers in the Chicago area.”


This deviation from the possible consolidation path in the Chicago market is in line with CEO Harris’ description of the overall HLI & GLI strategy. Will the Chicago decision set a precedent for more independent strategies, or is it merely an exception in an otherwise consolidating industry? As lighting people ponder these questions, the Inside Lighting I-Team remains dedicated to its excruciating coverage of this dynamic arena of strategic partnerships and market positioning.