Like many attendees, I was a little disap-pointed in the showing. Several categories were lacking, and there were too many 'off site' product launches. There is a definite buzz about Lightfair becoming a biennial event. But before we all jump off the cliff, the industry should examine what Lightfair means. Lightfair was created to replace Lighting World, a trade show that had grown into an annual event out of demand. And throughout the booming 1990s, no one seemed bothered by Lightfair's annual cycle.
So what is really happening here? It seems logical that because of the economy, manufacturers have slowed their R&D and product innovations. But in my view, the threat of Chinese industry capturing the North American and European lighting market is real. Innovation is our strongest defense, and so we should not wait two years to reveal exciting new products.
Perhaps it is cost. In Oregon, the economy is still floundering; other lighting designers across the States are also finding it slow. Manufacturers are below targets. Trade show presence is expensive, especially for larger companies. And for attendees, Lightfair means non-profitable days, on top of airfare, hotel and conference fees.
But I'll tell you what it really is: Our industry is struggling. Construction is down. Steel prices are going through the roof, and corporations are holding back. Outsourcing is just one example of the economic forces working on us. In other ways, industry has shown its reluctance to build, encouraging telecommuting and 'hoteling.' Internet purchasing has reduced the demand on 'bricks and mortar' stores.
Lightfair has always placed lighting design at the heart of its existence, offering the best seminars from the world's best designers, teachers and scientists. Lighting design is the engine of innovation and change, and yet, even lighting designers seem to be dragging. Lightfair is the symbol of our fast times and phenomenal past, and maybe we just don't have the energy and passion for it anymore.
It is likely that Lightfair will change and quickly. Everyone should remember, though, that the show's past success has provided profits that support much of the IESNA's and IALD's annual incomes. In other words, Lightfair is the financial engine of two of the lighting industry's most important organizations. The industry forces that want a biennial show have not taken this into account. Canceling Lightfair in the even years would ensure the end of the IALD and severely reduce the services and capabilities of the IESNA. So before we carelessly discard what in many ways is the heart and soul of the North American lighting industry, we should consider the consequences. Without a market for innovation and domestic quality, how do the companies pushing these changes think they are going to survive in the long run?
(See Industry Exchange, page 72, for additional opinions about Lightfair's frequency.)