Selecon's CEO Jeremy Collins got the theatrical lighting bug early: when he was a young man in New Zealand he received a technical internship at the country's largest theatre, the Mercury Theatre in Auckland. After spending six years lighting plays, musicals, and operas, he left his home hemisphere for the UK. However, when Walter Coleman, the president of Selecon, invited him to join the company in 1979, he accepted the invitation. In 1984, he and Andrew Nichols bought the company and Collins tried to continue his freelance lighting design the best he could but the rigors of the manufacturing world kept him too busy.
But what the New Zealand theatrical design world lost, the rest of the world gained: Collins has made sure that Selecon remains a major player despite the perception of being on the “bottom of the globe.” “Like many things in life it can be seen as an impediment or turned to an advantage,” he says of Selecon's relative remoteness. “While New Zealand is physically far away from our largest markets, the factors behind today's global economy have allowed us to successfully build our business in almost every market around the world.” With only 4 million people, New Zealand has a small local economy but it has proven to be a strong base for manufacturers committed to specialized markets, i.e., entertainment lighting. “The work of our tool makers, extruders, moulders, and other component manufacturers is as good as you will find anywhere in the world with the bonus that they have built their businesses around relatively small volume production runs,” he explains. “This provides us with a very supportive environment for both the development and production of high quality, but affordable, entertainment and display lighting fixtures.”
Without the comfort of a large domestic marketplace Selecon had to learn to listen very carefully to what its potential customers are saying and respond with products that meet their needs in an effective and timely manner. “In the last ten years Selecon has developed and launched more new fixed luminaires than almost all of our competitors combined,” Collins says. “This has been possible due to the combination of revenue growth from our growing markets, the supportive local manufacturing environment, and our decision to invest in and maintain an ongoing product development team, the only such team that I am aware of purely dedicated to the development of fixed luminaires.”
Luckily, the company has a geographic market spread that covers most of the world, so an involvement in both entertainment and specialized display lighting (museums, galleries, themed environments) has proved resilient to the ups and downs of specific markets.
Also, since Selecon focuses only on fixtures, it has remained out of the political fray and avoided some of the internal concerns that beset the larger companies in the European and North American markets. “Our physical separation from our key markets could lead to a mental separation and eventual ‘getting lost in the antipodes,’ an outcome we work to protect against by establishing our own market managers in key markets and lots of travel,” Collins explains. “As designers and the theatre lighting fraternity around the world get to know us, the trust builds and with that come opportunities to take part in larger and more exciting projects.”
Having stock available in the company's key markets has also been key to Selecon's success. Over the past two years, the company has made significant investments in warehousing stock in the US and UK, and that investment will continue so that Selecon can support its network of dealers, according to Collins. Soon, Selecon will implement a net-based ERP system that will eventually link its factory, warehouses, and dealers around the world.
Like many businesspeople interviewed for this column, Collins treats customers like he wants to be treated. “This means all our team taking on the personal responsibility to see that their part of the service commitment to our customers is fulfilled,” he says. “In the office the customer service team shares a commitment to responding to all our customers the day the inquiry is received, even if this can only be an acknowledgment and a commitment as to when the information they seek will be sorted and sent to them. If something goes wrong, fix it immediately and sort the details after. Our customers are always under pressure and we don't want to add to it!”
Asked about Selecon's future, Collins responds simply with “More of what we are doing.” He explains that their customers are seeing their budgets tighten so the company has begun to respond with new products that are easier and safer to use so that rigging, focus, and maintenance times are reduced. “Delivering more cost-effective fixtures through lower cost of ownership over the life of the product that means less maintenance and down time as well as more efficient luminaires reducing energy consumption,” he says. “And of course, continuing the search for products that provide new opportunities for our designers, such as the Pacific 45-75.”