It's not unusual for a company to restructure or alter its strategy. It's very unusual, however, when a lighting industry firm comes up with an entirely new model for doing business. That's what happened in the latter part of 2000 when The Altman Agency was formed.

The company is the brainchild of Bob Kliegl, formerly director of sales at Altman Lighting, and Steve Castellani, former co-owner (with Scott Thurm) of Empire Lighting. “We are the sales and marketing arm of Altman Lighting,” explains Kliegl. However, he adds, “The Altman Agency is a separate company from Altman Lighting; Steve and I own it separately.” Furthermore: “We do not buy or sell products. We go through the dealer network.”

In other words, Kliegl and Castellani have formed the company to develop new customers, whom they then refer to existing Altman dealers. To this end, they are spending much of their time meeting with designers and consultants, listening to their needs, and trying to sell them on using Altman products. In response to the observation that this is an unusual arrangement in the lighting business, Castellani says, “It's a unique situation in any business.”

In fact, the concept began, says Kliegl, with the notion that he could do better by “separating sales and marketing from the day-to-day business operations” at Altman. “We are not involved in what's going on at Altman anymore,” he says, adding that he and Castellani have weekly briefing meetings about the latest product developments. This way, he adds, “We can go anywhere, talk to users and dealers about problems, and report back with an unbiased opinion. We can argue for the dealers and designers a little bit more.” He adds, “We've gotten good response from dealers and designers so far. If they're upset about something, they can let us have it, and we'll get back to them right away.” Adds Castellani, “We're going to help the dealers grow their businesses.”

Although it is separately owned, The Altman Agency is based at Altman headquarters in Yonkers, NY; Kliegl and Castellani are currently on a two-year contract with the company. Says Kliegl, “We've chosen to stick with all of Altman's phone, fax, and e-mail addresses.” That way, he adds, if the arrangement is later modified, or even terminated, customers will still be calling Altman directly. “There will be as little confusion as possible,” he adds. “We're a separate entity, but it's a joint effort.”

In response to a question about future marketing efforts, Kliegl says, “Themed architecture has the biggest growth potential. It dwarfs the theatre and TV/film market. Every mall and every chain store in America is a possibility.” He adds, however, that aggressive efforts on the theatre, television, and film fronts are in the works for 2001.