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LEDucation Success Meets Mounting Growing Pains

On the first day of LEDucation, there was already talk on the show floors of attendance reaching 10,000 — and if you navigated each of the various ballrooms, you certainly didn’t doubt that number when it was officially released by organizers. There is another remarkable thing about that record-setting number: an overwhelming majority of those attending were highly qualified professionals in the architectural design trade, and exhibitors could not be happier. In fact, every exhibitor I spoke to already signed up on the spot for next year’s edition.

Are there any downsides to such a highly rated show? There is one. For the past 10 years or more, LEDucation has been on the cusp of outgrowing its space, and the 2024 edition of the LEDucation Trade Show and Conference seems to have reached the tipping point.

Organized 18 years ago by the Designers Lighting Forum New York, LEDucation has already moved once due to space constraints (it was originally held adjacent to Penn Station at the Hotel Pennsylvania). The show’s relocation to the New York Hilton Midtown provided more breathing room for exhibitors and attendees as well as additional exhibit space. Now the show is experiencing the same challenges.

Rumors of adding even more exhibitors in 2025 – reportedly a waiting list of nearly 75 companies was whispered about before this year’s show opened its doors – made many attendees that I spoke with concerned that it was going to become an overwhelming show to efficiently walk in a short period of time, which has long been the charm of LEDucation.

So, on the positive side, this year’s show received unanimous rave reviews about the high quality of both products and attendees. On the down side, there was collective frustration over the navigation issues that come from holding a growing show in a series of ballrooms on multiple levels. Some aisles became nearly impassable due to the crowds, and some exhibitors said they were disappointed that they could not hold in-depth conversations in such a crowded environment. 

One attendee told me, “I’m someone who likes to step back and look at a product, and here you are right on top of it. It’s like trying to read with a book up to your face.”

Then there were the constant comparisons to Lightfair from both exhibitors and attendees. While this is understandable since Lightfair has also been held regularly in Manhattan in the spring, there are important distinctions to keep in mind. The size of Lightfair has necessitated the need for a large convention center and, by default, incurs convention center pricing. LEDucation, on the other hand, is run as a non-profit event, whose proceeds support a variety of industry grants, scholarships, and programs.

Eric Borden of Verozza reported strong interest in the company’s latest products.

Another difference: LEDucation’s manufacturer exhibit space is divided by rep groups serving the New York City area. With Lightfair, regional representation does not play an equivalent part in deciding booth space and manufacturers pay handsomely for prominent spots. While it is fair to make comparisons to Lightfair, it’s not exactly apples to apples.

Attendees and exhibitors alike unanimously agree that the absence of Lightfair this year had an influence on the enormous number of participants at LEDucation.

It was the first opportunity for many in the architectural community to see WAC’s new Colorscaping line in person.

“This year’s LEDucation was as well-attended, if not more, than previous years,” notes Tom Lillie, Director of Specification Sales for WAC. “As in year’s past, LEDucation had a large presence of sales representatives, however, this year there were that many more. In the past, rep attendance was made up of many ‘east of the Mississippi and Canada’ territories whereas this year there were sales agents from all over North America. The majority of our 105 North American agencies were in attendance, but this was far from a ‘rep show.’ Without Lightfair happening in 2024, I believe that drove the attendance of specifiers and lighting designers, not only from the New York or northeast part of the country (as in previous LEDucations), but from many areas of North America.”

Lillie enjoys the LEDucation format from a set-up standpoint. “We are able to put up and tear down our booths without being inhibited by costly union help and the restrictions that come along with it. Another great thing is that the amount of people you are able to see is that much more because they’re not being tied up inside the large booths of other shows,” he says, adding, “The downside is that it is too busy. In a sense, it is a good problem to have; however, it does get crowded with the narrow aisles and I’m constantly seeing people at the corner of my eye, pausing at the booth and passing by because it can be two to three people deep sometimes when they’re trying to get closer to the booth. We have many people manning the booth, but in reality, there’s only so much space to cover in a small footprint and it becomes a challenge to ensure there’s enough employees to help while having space for the attendees to approach the booth.”

Those who did stop by the WAC and sister company Modern Forms’ booths were impressed with WAC’s new Colorscaping (RGBWW landscape) product line. “It was the hit of the show,” Lillie says. “Attendees were very excited to see that we’ve developed a system where they can use their existing wiring set up on their property and tie in those two wires into our transformer, change over their existing fixtures to ours, and create a beautiful, functional and robust landscape lighting experience. They can utilize our app for endless capabilities, or tie in with a DMX controller and utilize one of 16 various presets we’ve established.”

 At the Modern Forms’ booth, there were two categories that received a lot of attention. “The first being all of the nature-inspired materials we’re using, including the authentic Spanish alabaster on our 8-foot to 20-foot beaded necklace-like pendant. The second show-stopper was the new Spinster 60-inch smart ceiling fan. This was one of two smart ceiling fans we had on display, and I believe we were the only ones at the show to be displaying ceiling fans.”

Andrew Knapp and Amy McGuire of Hubbardton Forge were on-hand to discuss custom capabilities.

It was the first time that Vermont-based domestic manufacturer Hubbardton Forge had a separate booth manned by members of its corporate team, after years of exhibiting as part of its New York area rep firm Enterprise Lighting Sales (ELS). 

Amy McGuire, National Sales Manager, notes, “We were pleased that we had considerable brand recognition. There was a steady flow of people at our booth, and we were pleased with the quality of attendees.  Best of all, we were able to directly answer any questions regarding custom designs and specific design needs on the spot. We’re already booked for next year and planning a larger presentation.”

Remarks Steve Parker of Lighting Network Group, which specializing in bringing top architectural lighting manufacturers from around the world to the North American market, “We had a great showing from the architectural community; the people who visited our booths were very tech-savvy and knowledgeable.  A lot of visitors knew our brands quite well and many made it a point to find us at the show. We even had visitors who came from as far away as Hawaii. We find LEDucation provides the best ROI among any of our marketing expenditures.”

Steve Parker of Lighting Network Group shows off the incredibly small downlights from B Light.

It was the first time that LED Inspirations (LEDI) exhibited at the show. “First and foremost, we were there to support our agents (SDA) and we were happy to be there as a resource for them and their customers,” states Mike Hadank, National Sales Manager. “We had agents bring architects and designers by who were working on projects; those were especially good meetings. LEDucation has become the place to be for the commercial spec space.”

Those who stopped by the LEDI booth were impressed by the company’s new Inspire 120VAC RGBW Neon Flex featuring extra-long lengths and robust construction. “People told us it was a game-changer for outlining building façades,” Hadank says, adding that attendees liked the fact that no drivers were needed.

The LEDI team reports that its Inspire 120VAC RGB Neon Flex was especially popular at the show.

Lighting designers in attendance, such as Alecia Wesner of George Kovacs Lighting (part of Minka Group), raved about the large assortment of product designs and technical innovations on display. “When I look back on my early years attending LEDucation, it was small in comparison to what it has become — especially this year with so many companies and such a wide variety of LED technologies and applications. There were so many people attending this year, which seemed like a significant increase from previous years. I was surprised so many of the talks and presentations were full/sold out when I registered – especially since they were in large ballrooms – but I think the evolution of LED technology across many industries has also created a larger demand. I will be registering far earlier next year.”

Lighting designer James Solecki, Managing Director at Island Villa Lighting, made the trip to LEDucation from his home base in the Turks & Caicos Islands. “Small is finally powerful,” he says, of the technology displayed by several exhibitors that featured small downlight apertures of half-inch (CSL) and ¾-inch (B Lighting) that packed a lot of “punch” in light output.

“This show re-energized me,” Solecki remarks. “Nothing beats discovering new product in the flesh; hands on beats online every time. I found a plethora of new product and manufacturers at LEDucation plus made some great connections.”

All in all, there were 470 manufacturer exhibitors at this year’s show, and all indications are that every one of them will return next year. If the rumors are true that the 2025 edition will be even larger, then LEDucation will indeed maintain the momentum it has  achieved for being a  can’t-miss event for the lighting industry. Now if only something can be done about creating more space.

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