Up Close with Chip Israel

by | Jun 2, 2021 | News

If you are reading this, congratulations are in order. 2020 is long gone and the war with COVID seems to be turning towards recovery thanks to both vaccines and therapeutics. The lighting industry is also looking upwards, after a year-long battle. Many of the lighting firms that specialized in exhibits, live performances and even hospitality applications were hit incredibly hard. Manufacturers seemed okay as they had a strong backlog, but as that pipeline tightened, the outlook for the end of 2020 and even 2021 had a downward trend. During the previous year, there were proposals, but most of them failed to be executed. Since the beginning of 2021, though, we have hope. The RFPs are coming in and projects are being awarded, meaning there are additional orders on the horizon for manufacturers. In addition, the new administration is looking towards more stimulus packages and more importantly, new infrastructure programs, which could benefit the lighting community.

So as we look to the future, what should your next steps be? How can you strengthen your firm, your profitability and your staff?

The first work is diversification. All firms discuss the need to not have all of your eggs in one basket. Reality says, this is harder said than done. How can I get projects in these other fields without a portfolio to present? I am currently swamped with work, albeit all in the same classification, but how do I do it all? Do I turn down work? The real truth is, when you are the busiest, you must market. If you wait until you slow down, it will be too late. This is most strikingly true for developing new markets. It takes time, sometimes years, so you need to plan sooner rather than later. Consider collaborating with other designers or firms to get an introduction into these new fields. Use your creativity, not for design, but to develop new business practices.

With this new year, your staff may or may not come back into the office. In the beginning of 2020, I think everyone enjoyed the freedom, the reduced commuting time and even not being surrounded by their peers or bosses every moment. However, as time passed, we began to miss the banter, the collaboration and the opportunities to learn. I personally feel that design is an interactive process and there are some definite benefits to adjacencies. If you agree, what do you need to do now to adapt your office space for when the staff returns? Yes, hand sanitation stations are a good idea, as is custom masks with your logo. What about transparent dividers between desks – do you need them? Or can you stagger attendance, or separate the desks? Do you want to assign one way travel directions for corridors? What about the copy machine, printers, the coffee bar? Do you need to assign a cleaning regiment? Or would you consider UVC lighting. These should be considered and implemented now. If your answer was no, and you foresee a remote work force, what steps do you need to plan for? Is your IT security up to date? Do you have the correct digital communication tools and more importantly, the skills to use these seamlessly? If the staff stays remote, what are you doing to make them feel part of the corporate identity?

You need to plan for your firms financial independence. Do you owe back rents? Some may be delayed but most are not forgiven. As times are still tough, communicate with your landlord and create a workable plan that benefits both parties. A good tenant with a repayment schedule is much more attractive than an empty space. Are shared workspaces an ideal solution, as the potential germs from many guests could be an issue? Can you discuss payment plans for other expenses too? A good financial plan includes a financial line of credit, but the sad thing is that you cannot get one when you need it. So now is the time to plan, apply, and prepare for the next crises that will come. History does repeat itself.

Finally, think about your employees. How do you continually train and mentor them? Is it with daily calls, or have you given them newly found independence? How are you going to attract new employees, who in my opinion, really need the daily exposure to senior designers and firm leaders?

“I believe it comes down to getting involved in the greater Lighting Community. Volunteer. Teach. Mentor. Join a committee. These are all ways that we can assist the entire lighting industry, and as a result your own firm will benefit too.”

This article was originally featured in the April issue of designing lighting (dl)