WHEN I GOT THE CALL FROM LES Goldberg, CEO of LMG, Inc. — a national provider of video and audio support — I couldn't refuse his offer. He had grown a garage-based company into a multi-million dollar video and audio business and fine-tuned it for two decades. And in 2004, he was ready to take the next step…adding a lighting division.

Starting the division was a natural progression for LMG, positioning the company as a full-service audio, video, and lighting supplier for the event staging industry. The goal was to answer the needs of our clients, who want a one-stop shop equipped with high-quality services and advanced technology. Clients want the ability to make one phone call to find a technical supplier that can meet all their needs.

Building Success, One Truss at a Time

As you know, lighting gear is heavy and bulky when compared to audio and video equipment. Lighting equipment can make a one-truck show into a two-truck show, which requires more planning. Though space and logistics are issues to consider, creating a lighting department entails much more. From our experience, building a successful lighting department takes the following key elements:

Service and Quality: Taking the needed time to grow your department or business enables you to offer high-quality services and develop expertise. Superior service will land you return business and a strong reputation in the industry.

Talent: Finding the right people is essential in shaping a lighting department. A strong leader and dedicated, knowledgeable staff are key components of success. Even if you have to hire at a snail's pace to find the “perfect fit,” the return will be well worth it when your employees are out in the field. Good lighting technicians must have a vast knowledge base, a good attitude and the ability to interface with clients.

Investment: Although a lighting department may not deliver the immediate return on investment that video and audio departments do, the return over time is worth the wait. While it's hard to justify buying a lot of expensive “toys” at the same time, remember that few companies in the world have the capital to do so.

Do research so you can make smart purchasing decisions and continually invest in the right equipment to support your marketplace. For example, always do your homework and base purchasing decisions on industry data, equipment lifespan, capabilities, and your clients' requirements. Luckily, our industry is cross-rent friendly. So, as you're building your inventory, you can rent additional equipment from outside sources.

Interdepartmental Collaboration: To instill confidence in your customers, you need to make sure your sales team knows the lighting lingo. If they don't, your client may question your company's wherewithal no matter how talented you are. To combat this obstacle, we gave our team a comprehensive vocabulary “shopping list” so they knew lighting jargon and each piece of equipment's capabilities, inside and out.

Controlled Growth: Last, and often times most difficult, is controlling your department's growth. As companies explore new business ventures and expand their services, many encounter a common pitfall. They over-promise and under-deliver.

Challenges to Overcome

As you can see, starting a lighting department takes more than industry expertise — it takes business savvy. After considering all of the suggestions listed above, it's also important to address the following challenges:

Go for Broke: After deciding to enter the lighting business arena, you must allocate the proper resources to make it work. It's the only way to convince your clients that you are serious about this business venture. If you are too reserved and try to “test the waters,” most clients will call your bluff. In order to bring in business, clients have to trust that you're in it for the long haul. Once you land a few projects and clients see your high-end gear and professional staff, they will realize you are there to stay.

Streamlining for Success: Another challenge LMG faced was streamlining its multiple offices. This meant creating a single database for all LMG equipment so that the company operates as one company with a single extensive inventory. Now, LMG is able to tap into the resources of all three offices nationwide by searching its catalog. From coast to coast, clients can benefit from all that LMG has to offer nationwide, not just the local LMG equipment. Because it pulls equipment from different locations, LMG had to present a consistent package. All of the company's equipment is now sold, packaged, and delivered in the same way.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

At LMG, we are building a business, not opening a retail super center. Though we have evolved into a one-stop shop, we do not claim to be all things to all people nor do we want to be. Businesses that try to please everyone usually succeed in pleasing no one. Concretely define your business goals so that you don't spread your business too thin, and just because you can doesn't mean you should. With foresight, patience, and strategy, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Steve Bodzioch is the lighting services manager at LMG, Inc.