SESCO Lighting Inc.
SESCO Lighting leverages its resources and expertise to expand throughout the Southeast.
By Chris Kelsch
Sometimes you can be the biggest and the best. When Todd Langner came aboard SESCO Lighting in 2008, it was already one of the largest lighting manufacturers’ representative firms, dominating the southeastern United States. Langner had a vision, one that would entail launching several new divisions and hiring noted experts from outside the company. “When I interviewed with the company’s leaders, I knew I wanted to be involved and make it grow,” Langner recalls. “I had two great mentors in Marshall Graham and (founder) Mike Segal.”
Langner originally came on board as vice president of business development but ascended to president and CEO in 2016. The company has seen nonstop growth since then, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017. “When it comes to lighting, with the resources we have created coupled with our vast footprint, my goal was to ensure there was only one name associated with lighting in the southeastern United States,” Langner says. “And that’s SESCO.”
Founded in 1967 by Mike Segal and Murray Graham in Orlando, Fla., SESCO Lighting started out like any manufacturer’s rep, adding lines and building relationships. In 1973 a major lighting manufacturer asked the company to represent it in Florida, and then another huge break came shortly after.
SESCO became a primary source for lighting for Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, and with it came the company’s new-found strength and expertise in lighting. That led to expansion across the southeastern United States, and today, SESCO is the nation’s largest and most successful lighting manufacturer’s representative company.
The Next Level
When Langner came aboard in 2008, he outlined an aggressive strategy that launched several divisions and expanded SESCO’s capabilities. The first was to actually enter the manufacturing sector. SESCO, despite its overall strength, lacked expertise in the decorative lighting sector. Langner opted to start Better Designed Lighting (BDL), an adjunct business to SESCO. Essentially a partnership between designers and craftsmen, the venture has increased SESCO’s presence in the decorative lighting field. “BDL is a virtual manufacturing company,” Langner explains. “Everything is contracted for offshore manufacturing and we (SESCO) are responsible for sales and marketing.” Langner also notes that with contract manufacturing, SESCO eliminates costly inventory. “We don’t want to be in the inventory business,” he explains.
The Energy Division also has grown under Langner. Started before his arrival, this division has grown significantly as it has focused on retrofitting commercial buildings with energy-saving LED lighting.
In addition to retrofitting, the Energy Division also focuses on lighting for countless new construction projects, as LED lighting has slowly come to the forefront of modern building. “When we quote projects through our Energy Division,” Langner notes. “we always want to show our clients the cost-saving opportunity with LED lighting because it is a disservice to them if you do not.”
The third division that has seen marketable growth under Langner has been the Distributor Solutions Group (DSG). The mission of DSG is straightforward: to solidify relationships with electrical distributors and effectively compete for distributor stock and discretionary business. This is done by making regular appearances at the distributors’ places of business, educating them on which products offer the greatest opportunity for additional sales and profit. As one could imagine, forming relationships is key in the repping business, and SESCO has long relied on a key manufacturer: Philips.
“We have been invited to rep the entire Philips package,” Langner states. “For both the traditional stock-and-flow piece and for the discretionary business as well.”
The National Accounts Division also has flourished in recent years. The goal of this group is to focus on sustainable, repeat business, whether it be new construction or retrofit contracts for large customers in retail, hospitality or entertainment.
“Many of the customers have locations with one consistent look,” Langner explains. “They all look the same and have the same lighting, so there is tremendous opportunity for repeat business.”
A newer division for SESCO is the Public Sector. Even though SESCO has done work in the public sector before, it has not been a traditional focus for the company.
“We focus on two main areas,” Langner notes. “The first is traditional Department of Transportation work with highways and bridges, and the second is contacting municipalities directly for either retrofits or new construction.”
Additional business is also obtained by forming relationships with utility companies that purchase lighting for various projects, typically public works in nature. “This is a division that was started five years ago,” Langner recalls, “and it has really exploded for us.”
With deep pockets and an unmatched ability to attack diverse market segments, SESCO has clearly put major distance between itself and the competition. For many of these divisions, SESCO had to start from scratch and hire experts from outside the company. Langner notes that while sales are made at the branch level, the expense of staring these divisions is absorbed at the corporate level.
“This helps individual sales, which come through the branches,” Langner explains. “It builds continuity and a team approach.”
As just about any successful company in the manufacturer’s rep business can attest, the whole industry is about relationships. SESCO has mastered that element, including with its employees. In 1996, SESCO formed an ESOP, meaning the company is 100 percent owned through employee stock. Employees are fully vested after six years of service, and having ownership encourages long-term commitments.
“Every employee is an owner,” Langner says. “It promotes cohesiveness and teamwork.”
Another key separator for SESCO Lighting is the “SESCO Guarantee”. Several years ago, Mike Segal, founder of SESCO Lighting, implemented the “SESCO Guarantee” which simply states, “If there is a problem related to a SESCO product that you specified or we supplied, we will fix it…PERIOD!” Langner says. “As an ESOP, our guarantee really cements the teamwork and collaborative environment to ensure the job is done right. As owners, we all have a stake in this to make sure our customers are happy and that we’re easy to do business with. Our guarantee not only gives our customers additional confidence but also SESCO employees know that when mistakes happen, a great company has their back and will make it right every time.”
With its new divisions and sound corporate structure, SESCO recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with an all-expenses-paid weekend for employees and families to Disney World in Orlando. About 700 people were treated to a weekend at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. For Langner, it was an opportunity to say thank you.
“To be in operation for 50 years is a rare achievement in any business,” Langner says. “All of the employees have an opportunity to grow and share in its success.”