North Creek, NY, located deep in New York's Adirondack Mountains, is a place defined by gorgeous mountain scenery, lakes, and rivers. About four hours away from New York City, the distance seems more like 40. This is the place for skiing, camping, kayaking, beautiful summer homes, and quaint bed and breakfasts. It's hardly the place that you would expect to find a major entertainment technology company, especially one currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.
But as you enter the handsomely designed headquarters of Creative Stage Lighting, with its beautiful cedar exterior in the Adirondack style, you quickly become aware that you're in a unique environment. It's not just the architecture. Creative Stage Lighting is a singular amalgam of manufacturing, wholesale distribution, and production services, an enormously complex operation with a remarkable record of growth. Not to mention those great views.
Of course, Creative Stage Lighting didn't start out among the lakes and fish; the Garden State provided the company's less-scenic birthplace. George B. Studnicky III, the company's president, began his career in the mid-1970s with Entertainment Systems, a New Jersey-based production company that serviced the concert industry. He began as a spotlight operator; within a year he was a crew chief. This was the 70s, however, and Entertainment Systems became more and more involved in sales and installation for the burgeoning disco market; Studnicky was more interested in live performance.
"I noticed that nobody focused on the supply end of the club market, which was very successful in the late 70s," he says, speaking of venues where live bands played. He founded Creative Stage Lighting as a place where buyers from New Jersey could purchase "perishable items," including gel, tape, and connectors, without having to make the long, inconvenient trek into New York. Soon he discovered he was drawing customers from Ohio and Pennsylvania, who found easy access to Creative's Mount Arlington location via Route 80. From a small company started with a $5,000 second mortgage, Creative began to grow.
Creative's identity began to evolve more fundamentally in 1981, when Studnicky relocated the operation to North Creek. His reason for the move? "Just looking for a more rural area," he says, adding that he chose the Adirondacks because his parents had retired there. He was also familiar with the area, having passed through while touring as a lighting technician with Pat Benatar and the Henry Paul Band. It was then, he says, that he "fell in love with the place."
After the move, Studnicky opted to reposition Creative's identity, abandoning retail sales to focus on mail order and wholesale distribution. This was, he says, "a slow adjustment." However, through word of mouth (and, he says, by using the Lighting Dimensions directory as a resource for clients), he began building relationships, creating in effect his own dealer network.
Studnicky started with a relatively small number of suppliers, including Altman for fixtures, connectors, dimming, and control; Sylvania for lamps; Lee for color (Creative was the first stocking Lee dealer in New Jersey); and a few others for an inventory that included cable and electrical supplies. Today, the list of manufacturers carried by Creative fills half a column in the Lighting Dimensions directory. Besides those mentioned above, it includes such well-known names as CM Lodestar, CSL, Cam-Lok, Litton Veam, Neutrik, Pyle-National, Socapex, GE Lighting, Osram Sylvania, Philips, The Great American Market, Rosco, Littlite/CAE, Wybron, Dove Systems, ETC, Clay Paky, High End Systems, Lycian, James Thomas Engineering, and Genie Industries. And this is a partial lineup.
Today, a dealer can obtain from Creative a range of products that includes lamps, cable, gels, patterns, fog and special effects, strobes, rigging, motors, truss, cases, and miscellaneous items such as clamps and tape. Tim Ellifritz, who handles project coordination, the computer network, and new product development, says jokingly, "We're the supermarket of lighting."
Correspondingly, the Creative facility has grown from its original 3,000 sq. ft. (914 sq. m) to the current 32,000 (9,754 sq. m), which greatly simplifies the company's operations. Previously, notes Ellifritz, products were stored in a series of nine tractor-trailers on the Creative lot. "We had floor plans for each trailer," he adds, describing a system designed to find products as easily and quickly as possible in what must have been at best a cumbersome situation. Nowadays, there is ample storage space, allowing for quick and easy access to the company's extensive range of products.
Studnicky calls Creative a "master dealer," a reference to that product line and the company's constituency of dealer-customers. But that term hardly takes in all of the company's functions. Starting in 1983, Creative also began manufacturing products, starting with cases and moving into electrical fabrication near the end of the decade. Its product line now includes lamps, cable, tape, truss, and electrical distribution. Possibilities for future products include connectors and other accessories.
Because of its middleman role, Creative is designed to offer something for everyone in the selling process. With all those products, it serves as a one-stop shopping source for dealers. On the other hand, because Creative has a network of contacts that extends into Asia and South America, it offers wider exposure in various markets for manufacturers with limited networks. In addition, Studnicky says that he often interacts with manufacturers, providing input and information that leads to new and better products. Furthermore, the rental division allows staff members the benefit of gaining first-hand technical expertise with the products they provide and recommend to their dealers. And Creative's dealers can also evaluate a product on a rental while making a purchase decision.
Offering examples of this interaction with manufacturers, Studnicky says, "We were involved in the development of Lee 181 Congo Blue. We got Sylvania to produce and manufacture 600W PAR lamps in 56 and 64 sizes; they then gave us a one-year exclusive on the product. We also got Hubbell to produce a line of all-black Edison connectors." Speaking of the company's own product line, he says, "We were the first to make entertainment multi-cable using paper-tape technology, replacing talc," a substance which, when inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large amounts, can be a health hazard. In another example, Creative was also the first distributor of CM Shop Star hoists. "We like to work as a partner to our manufacturers," Studnicky says. In some instances, Creative also provides components to manufacturers for products; those finished products are then sent back to Creative to be sold to dealers.
Along with the facility, the staff of Creative has grown; there are now 30 full-time members on the payroll, many of whom, Studnicky notes, have been with the company for 10 or more years. Other important players include Studnicky's wife Lily, who handles administration and the company's payables; his brother Stephen, in charge of inventory management and purchasing; and Wayne Bukovinsky, production supervisor for rental. The company maintains a relatively small rental operation, handling concerts by such performers as Paul Anka, Meat Loaf, and Black Sabbath--some of these relationships go back to Creative's earliest days.
Of course, as Creative has grown, it has moved beyond its original focus on the live music industry to include theatre and corporate presentations, among others. Looking further to the future, Studnicky outlines possible goals which include development of new electrical distribution products; providing a labor component along with products; and creation of new rigging systems. Creative also has a new website under construction, at http://www.CreativeStageLighting.com, and currently in development is a new in-house computer system that will streamline its inventory and project management processes.
In any event, one is likely to see more and more the strikingly unusual Creative logo on display as the company grows. About that logo: the word "Stage" acts as a base on which is balanced the word "Creative," which forms the shape of a luminaire projecting the word "Lighting." Studnicky says, laughing, that the logo, which dates back to the company's origins, was developed "in the intermission of a Journey and Starcastle concert. Chris Hess, a designer of the First Alert smoke detector, drew it. People keep telling us to change it." The complaint is, apparently, that it is too hard to read. Don't expect it to go away any time soon, however. The logo has presided over 20 years of success. There's every reason it should be in place for 20 more.