A.C.T Lighting has been highly regarded in distribution since Bob Gordon founded the company 21 years ago, helping saturate the market with Wholehog 2 consoles in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and then again with grandMA and grandMA 2 consoles up to present day. As exclusive North American distributor for Italian manufacturer Clay Paky since 2010, the company expanded its areas of expertise, and now also represents Robert Juliat, MDG, Wireless Solution, and Reel EFX, and also provides custom cable assemblies and power distribution.
With additional offices now in Toronto and Montreal, and the appointments of Bill Gallinghouse as vice president of strategy and business development and Justin Lang as director of marketing just since the New Year, we caught up with company CEO Ben Saltzman about the company’s recent growth.In 2006, Brian Dowd joined the team to establish its first east coast presence, and a full office was opened in 2007, along with Saltzman’s appointment. “Bob saw it as a time to really give the products the support they needed, but we were still just very much a control company. We built a fair amount of cable and had product lines like MDG, but we were really the de facto MA Lighting North America,’” says Saltzman. “Around 2010, Bob and I saw this disaster on the news in Sweden—a chemical spill that shut the company down for months—and we really thought about what would happen if something went wrong with MA. It wasn’t some great plan or strategy and revelation. We just started looking around at additional opportunities.
“There’s a quote: ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,’” says Saltzman of taking on Clay Paky distribution in 2010. “Francesco Romagnoli at Clay Paky had been harassing Bob about it for maybe a decade. We took it on exclusively in North America and shared Canada for the first six months. We essentially doubled in size overnight. We had always wanted to make sure we had the infrastructure to support the product as well as everything else we did, but Clay Paky had also started manufacturing lighting that was going to change the industry—the first Sharpy—so the timing was perfect.”
Adding George Masek as vice president of automated lighting, two years later didn’t hurt either. “Part of A.C.T’s secret sauce is having subject-matter experts, and George has always been the North American authority on moving light R&D and manufacturing,” says Saltzman. “When we decided to take on a moving light line, we identified George as the guy we wanted on our team. We were fortunate that he saw our vision and shared our respect for who Clay Paky is, and he was as eager to join us as we were to have him. We did the same hiring Shawn Sack for rigging when we took on Chainmaster.” A.C.T also hired Matt Stoner on the east coast for moving light support.
Saltzman notes that another element in the company’s success comes from investing quite a bit in the manufacturers and representing the products as if they were his own. “We don’t just take orders,” he says. “We’re looking to institutionalize the success we’ve had over the years. A lot of people you talk to in our industry want to say how special or unique our industry is, and in some ways it is, but it’s still a business, and we’re making sure we are making the most of every opportunity.” Saltzman adds that training is also a huge component of what the company has done successfully, helping promote especially the console lines.
A.C.T doubled in size again between 2012 and 2014, which Saltzman says is due to how well his team promotes and supports the products, but also speaks to the overall health of the industry and the changing nature of live entertainment. “Ten to twelve years ago, you guys in the media identified architainment as a trend, and sure enough, shopping malls, car dealerships, and all sorts of new areas opened up that wanted entertainment technology. We see opportunities for further growth in the industry like this. People expect more—to be dazzled by even their airports—so building owners, architects, and designers look for their facilities to stand out. Entertainment technology is the way to do that.”
Saltzman doesn’t want to give away all his company’s secrets as to what trends he’s following, but he does say that his team is working with a designer on a Manhattan retail project where “theatrical and entertainment lighting will be a trademark of the place to really set it apart from other facilities. It’s what people expect.”
For more information, visit www.actlighting.com