Designers of the Future

As the North Country embarks on a new age of growth and prosperity with innovative companies poised to locate in our region, it is worthwhile to reflect on the companies who have called Plattsburgh home for decades. These companies took root here for many of the same reasons our locale is desired today: proximity to Montreal and New York City; access to the U.S. market; a capable, trainable workforce; and the unparalleled beauty of our lakes and mountains.

Notable among these companies is a diamond in our North Country rough, Swarovski Lighting Ltd, formerly known as A. Schonbek & Co. Inc. In 1972 Arnold Schonbek, a descendent of the original Adolph Schonbek who founded the company in 1870, opened the company’s first and only U.S. manufacturing plant in Plattsburgh, New York.

After decades of industry leading chandelier design and production with the most exclusive of fixtures featuring Swarovski crystals, A. Schonbek and Co. joined Swarovski in 2007, establishing the Plattsburgh plant as the global headquarters for the Swarovski Lighting Company in 2010.

From 2007 to today, Swarovski Lighting, with Lee Ann Pray leading the Human Resources charge, has been a model corporate citizen, readily making the plant available for tours, attending job fairs and college career days and even donating spare parts to a local high school in support of a project-based learning class which affords students a glimpse into the world of manufacturing and supply chain management.

All of these activities and efforts do much to tell the story of how the famous Schonbek chandeliers are made, but little is known about how these famous fixtures are marketed and sold around the world. To learn that, we had to leave the staff at the Plattsburgh plant and turn to Cathy Miglorie, Head of Communications and Branding at Swarovski’s USA headquarters in Cranston, RI.

Global Effort
From the moment the Swarovski and Schonbek companies joined efforts, the company launched an effort to leverage its strong market positions, one in cutting edge crystal figurines, jewelry and gifts, the other in contemporary and traditional chandeliers. The result has been two distinct lines of fixtures: Swarovski Lighting featuring high-end contemporary pieces and Schonbek paying homage to its history of traditional chandeliers with features such as hand painted metal and bent glass tubing.
To support these two lines, the company employs an international sales team of six to eight Area Managers based out of the Swarovski headquarters in Wattens, Austria and a network of more than 20 product rep groups and more than 100 sales professionals throughout the USA and Canada who sell directly to lighting distributors who handle the face-to-face interactions with architects, interior designers and occasional private buyers who purchase these fixtures for hotels, restaurants, cruise lines, and private estates.

Thank you Dallas
Since 1957, the Dallas Market Center has served as the hub for a whole host of companies who have permanent showroom installations featuring consumer products of all types, including lighting, gifts and home decor to name a few. While closed to the public, the facility serves as a marketplace for buyers, interior designers, manufacturers, and industry professionals. To put it into perspective, the Dallas Market Center is responsible for $8 billion in sales transactions annually across countless industries.

For as long as anyone can remember, in January of each year, the Schonbek team has attended the Dallas Lighting Show to kick off annual sales efforts. In 2011, Swarovski and Schonbek opened a permanent showroom at the Dallas Market Center, revealing their respective lines to the attendees of the annual show and serving as a display showcase and meeting place for their many rep groups and salespeople to negotiate projects and finalize sales. In Miglorie’s words, it is the annual epicenter of the lighting industry and the cornerstone of the Swarovski sales process.

While marketing and sales work hand-in-hand to grow the market and drive revenue for the company, it can be argued that design is the heart and soul of Swarovski Lighting. Remarkably, it is a tightly knit team of three designers based in Plattsburgh who continually work to enhance and improve contemporary and traditional lighting lines, develop new, exciting fixtures along with one-of-a-kind products brought to them by their rep groups and sales teams, sometimes in the form of something as simple as a napkin sketch!

To be certain that the company stays current with interior design trends, Swarovski supports a Rep Council that meets once a year to discuss and share what they are seeing in the marketplace and entertain how trends should inform new product development.
Trend briefs of all kinds are also distributed by Swarovski headquarters to be certain that whatever is happening in the world, the designers and product development team are aware and folding them into new products and updates in their traditional lines. The impact of a changing world, our feelings about nature, visual cues in our environment, jewelry trends, interior decorating, design, architectural and technical advancements — all of these are important to Swarovski Lighting and in many ways end up affecting the styles of products we purchase, lighting included.

With the new lines of fixtures in development, the Marketing teams in Wattens and Cranston set about developing a steady stream of information to support and encourage robust sales. Print media includes Swarovski and Schonbek ads in Architectural Digest, Lux, Veranda and Elle Decor as well as regional publications found in the exclusive, luxury neighborhoods such as the Hamptons, Sun Valley and Aspen. Ads for Swarovski and Schonbek can also be found in industry specific publications targeting architects and interior designers.

To achieve better local market penetration, Swarovski invests heavily in a concept called co-op marketing which enables individual lighting retailers to advertise in their respective markets by providing Swarovski approved artwork, ad copy and financial support to ensure that customers are aware of the availability of their light- ing products.

99% Custom
What was most surprising to learn in my conversation with Miglorie is that 99% of the Swarovski and Schonbek products sold are in some way customized for the individual buyer. When an architect meets with a sales rep, or when a wealthy buyer consults with their interior designer, nearly every detail they desire can be selected for a truly one-of-a-kind lighting fixture. Paint, finish, size, crystal quality — they are all decided upon during the sales process. When the order is earned, the talented people working in Plattsburgh set about building that fixture — by hand!

Team effort
All of these efforts combined have resulted in a Swarovski Lighting that today is thriving. The Plattsburgh plant is hiring, production is up, deliveries are on-time, quality is unparalleled and sales efforts are outpacing annual goals.

So the next time you are on the Military Turnpike, take a turn down Industrial Boulevard and marvel at the facility featuring “Swarovski Lighting” signage. What may appear to be just another local factory is actually the birthplace of many of the most exclusive lighting fixtures ever built, delivered, installed, and enjoyed anywhere in the world!