Last week, we started talking about how Doug Wack, our VP of Visual Display & Channel Sales, got into LED. Read the rest of the story below!
When I got back to the United States, my relatives wanted to start a company together and become an LED distributor into the rental & staging market. I had been working startups throughout my time in China, so I looked at it and was unsure about working for another small company. I was looking for something a little more stable because I wanted to get my family rooted in the US.
I was going through the process of interviewing, and this family member was very persistent. I hadn’t started with another company yet, so I said I would consult for him. Because I had been managing Chinese companies for a decade, I knew I could help him out while I was looking for something.
We looked at several different suppliers, but ended up narrowing it down to about five. But I knew that we had to go see the manufacturers in person. Out of that trip to China, a few things became really clear. One, that the rest of the world was further ahead with the adoption of LED than the United States. But the Chinese manufacturers didn’t have any really good direct channels into the US market.
The other thing was that there was one company that I felt had the best overall offering. When I looked at everything in its entirety, including the corporate documentation and how they were structured, who their partners were, and how they ran the company, they had the most international business leaning company of all the companies I had looked at. They had the best quality systems by far at the time.
I’ve visited thousands of Chinese companies and typically they’re pretty cookie cutter. They typically have one majority investor and he’s typically the CEO or president and he runs the company. All decisions typically go through that person. While it’s a way for the company owner to ensure that you have your hands in everything that is going on, it’s also very limiting and constrictive.
The hierarchy largely has to do with relationships and not merit, because they’re not really measuring anything per se. The big boss makes all the decisions, so you’re not given responsibility and then measured on how you enact your policies and your processes and what the outcomes are. It all has to do with your relationship with the boss.
But Absen didn’t have that. Absen had a very international business kind of a structure, and you can tell that they let their people make decisions. It was very rare at the time. For me, that was a big indicator that they were going to be successful internationally. Which is why we ended up partnering with them.
It was that trip to China where I realized the real opportunity in LED. The Chinese manufacturers were pretty sophisticated and they were making a really good product. What they didn’t have was a sales structure. My partner had contacts in the US, which was perfect. We had these companies that were really poised to do well, that had all the technical capability on the one side. On the other side, we had knowledge of the industry in the US.
I also knew that market acceptance was pretty low at that point. So after we had a deal with Absen, one of the first of its kind, we set out to build our brand. We did so very successfully. We went to trade shows and presented to people in the industry. We had done our homework and had a compelling story, and we started to win. We started to win so much that Absen shifted their strategy. Where they had been focusing on fixed installations, they started focusing on rental and staging because we were having so much success.
I started at LED3, which I worked on with my partner, and then I came to Bluewater, over that time, the market acceptance of LED has been steadily increasing. You see it more and more. I switched my primary focus from rental and staging to integration when I came to Bluewater, and over the nearly three years now that I’ve been here, we’ve built up our portfolio of projects.
These LED projects range from the concourse of a stadium to corporate auditoriums to corporate lobbies, board rooms, outdoor sporting venues, and a baseball stadium. We’ve also done a NASCAR venue. This all comes at a time where the market finally understands the technology a bit, and they’re starting to desire it, which is great for us as a company.
On the rental and staging side, we’ve been able to continue to grow our inventory, which is a product that we own and use for various live events. We have over 4,000, rental panels in our LED inventory, which gives us great flexibility to be able to service what our clients want to do. We can now point to our projects and say we have the capability to do LED. Not simply that we have the equipment, but also the technical capability to do it.
Stay tuned for more on LED with Doug in the coming weeks! We are lucky to have him on board and are excited to teach you more about the specifics of LED. If you want to talk in the meantime, reach out!