Layoffs. Belt tightening. Consolidations. Projects tabled. Las Vegas troubled. The economic downturn of last fall seems to have affected the entertainment design and technology industry just as it has touched other sectors of the economy. Yet in speaking to various people, it is clear that not all is gloom and doom, as companies are figuring out how to move forward in challenging times.

“Altman has felt the downturn, I’d be surprised if anyone hasn’t. It’s a trickle down effect,” explains Mike Tucker, VP of sales for Altman Lighting. “In terms of receivables, everybody is doing what they can to bring money in. You have had relationships with people for 40 or 50 years in some cases, so there is some pressure but also compassion. It becomes teamwork with your dealers and distributors. You don’t want to be too aggressive and ruin the relationships.” For Tucker, business is always cyclical: “It’s an extreme juggling act, but we’ll come out of this.”

Tucker reports that Altman was in a strong position last fall, before the economy began to topple. “We had a consulting firm come in to take a look at our 55 year-old, family-run business,” he explains, noting that he works for the greatest boss in the world, in terms of Robert Altman. “The consultant came in and sat down with us and helped put a clear picture in place. It was fortunate timing.” Altman took a look at their current products—how to better make and market them—as well as new ones on the horizon.

“This is not a time to panic. It’s more important to have people out on the street and in the face of the distributors and designers,” says Tucker, who points out that Altman has recently added regional sales managers—including new northeast regional manager Bryan Reiss—as well as in-house customer service staff, and some of those positions may still be open, which means they are hiring in spite of the economy. “We want to be more proactive with the sales force,” adds Tucker. “We need to support the distributors and designers more. There is still work out there, you just need to analyze every dollar you spend.”

The recent restructuring has meant that some factory people at Altman were laid off over the past few months, yet there is an overall sense of enthusiasm about the future. “Everyone is really on the same page. It’s my eighth year here and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Tucker. “We have seen leaps and bounds in teamwork, as we learn to pull together and be lean, increase quality control, and become more efficient. The economic pie may be smaller, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a larger piece of it.”

Part 2 To Appear On Monday.

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