Judd Belson: Life with a Lighting Sales Rep
Judd Belson, president of Belson Guinn Group of St. Louis, has been a manufacturer’s representative for specialty lighting manufacturers and importers for over 41 years. He began his career in the lighting field at Lightolier in 1964 and has been a force in the industry ever since. We thought it would be fun to learn a bit more about some of the esteemed reps who have made Global Lighting such a success so we’re making interviews with them a feature on our blog from time to time. We hope you enjoy reading about Judd, who we so highly respect for his passion, integrity and just all-around likability!
GL: Having been a rep in the lighting industry for quite some time, I imagine you’ve seen some significant changes in the field over the years. Do any stand out?
JB: Technology is probably the most significant factor in the changes that take place in the lighting industry. Every so often, there’s something new introduced that makes a larger impact than at other times. For the past five years, it has been environmental issues and energy efficiency.
Looking all the way back to when I started in Lightolier’s Chicago office in 1964, there has been a significant change in the way spaces are lit. Back then, they thought the more light you pumped into a space, the better, which they found out later on, of course, was such a fallacy. Before I was in the lighting business I was in a brand new state of the art building and it was so bright and glare-y, I turned the overhead lights off! Everyone has definitely become more sophisticated since then, and now we have lighting designers, which weren’t even around when I first started in the industry.
GL: Anything about your career that surprises you from the vantage point you hold now?
JB: I guess the biggest surprise is the changing client roster over the years. For a long stretch of time, our biggest niche was the hotel industry. Covering Memphis, we sold to Holiday Inns and a number of other spin-off organizations doing hotels until Holiday Inns was bought by an English company and moved out of our territory. After that, low-voltage lighting became popular, and we sold it to casinos and high-end homes. The latest change has been to LEDs as part of the energy concerns held by specifiers, end users and the government.
The change in the way business is conducted has also been a continual surprise, especially where technology is concerned. Before computers, we’d have to handle rush jobs over the phone. Gone are the days when someone could say, “You said you’d pay for the shipping on that” because everything is in writing now! I look back to my first job and thought having a Xerox machine was so high tech: now we have tiny smart phones that can do much more than those big machines could! Even with presentations, I had equipment to take close-up photos of catalog pages and do the presentation with a slide projector. Next we could pull images from our factory websites and put them into a PowerPoint. That meant hauling around a laptop and projector. Now most of the specifiers have a flat screen or projector in their conference room so all we need to do is plug a little USB drive into their computer. Also, we spent a good deal of time keeping people’s catalogs up to date, now many of them just use the web, and we work hard at keeping our website up to date and interesting.
GL: Is there anything that stands out in your career as memorable to you?
JB: During the 1990’s, I traveled the country training reps and it was a memorable time because the experience took me all over the US. There were a number of times my wife would join me, and we visited some great natural locales and National Parks in places like Colorado, New England and the Northwest. We enjoyed getting to see different parts of the country, especially New England.
As far as products are concerned, when Casablanca fans first came out, they were half our income for quite a while.
GL: Is there anything you might say you’ve enjoyed the most about your job?
JB: I’ve had fun working with interior designers, architects and lighting designers because they are such creative people. The products we’re providing are now going in casinos, restaurants, hospitals and high end homes rather than industrial type spaces so we’re adding spice to spaces rather than just providing light.
GL: Any advice you’d give to anyone hoping to have a career on par with yours?
JB: Prior to going into the lighting business, I worked for an ad agency. It was an interesting job but there was so much politics working in an office for a large company that I decided to work for smaller firms. I’ve enjoyed working with the companies I’ve called on for so many years, though there have been quite a few of them gobbled up by bigger entities and that seems to be more prevalent as time goes on. Other reps have told me they wished they’d gone the route I took and worked with smaller firms.
Being a rep is very volatile. You’ll have some good years and some slow years so you’d best leave yourself something to fall back on in the lean years. I think that’s the biggest and most challenging lesson I’ve seen reps have to learn over the years.
GL: Anything else you’d like to tell Global Lighting Blog readers about you or your history in the lighting field?
JB: I guess this is when I should launch into my version of Sinatra’s “My Way,” right? No, trust me: you wouldn’t want to hear me sing! Other than the fact that I don’t think of myself in grand terms, I think that’s it!