December 7, 2016
Aesthetics, design, flair, anchored in his community, these are words easily associated with Jean-Claude Calabro, President of LumiGroup, a manufacturer’s agent for lighting and control products. His business model is that of a contractor — one who has evidently done well since LumiGroup is on an exclusive list of Canadian companies experiencing the most growth over the past five years.
Located in the heart of Montreal’s Mile-End, LumiGroup has a 10,000+ square foot showroom on two floors. To mark the company’s 20th anniversary, LumiGroup opened “Le Studio” in spring 2016, a contemporary gallery-like space where you’ll find an international collection of luminaires.
LumiGroup has thousands of projects to its credit: office, commercial and industrial projects. The Montreal and Quebec cityscapes showcase the agency’s expertise. I often see members of the LumiGroup team at conferences and trade shows, always on the lookout for innovations and trends in lighting and control.
I recently met with Jean-Claude Calabro to learn a little more about the man behind LumiGroup’s success and the company that contributes so actively to charitable organizations in local communities.
From electrical worker to boss
Jean-Claude Calabro is from a family of electricians and is himself an electrician. “My father and my grandfather were electricians; my brother-in-law and my cousins are also. I worked in my father’s company for five or six years, especially in commercial projects, and this is where I developed a taste and passion for lighting.”
To become a better entrepreneur, he returned to school, enrolling in the HEC Montreal business school. “Once out of university, I had two choices: either work at Hydro-Quebec, or start up my own company. I did an analysis of who I was and where I came from, and I chose to become an entrepreneur electrician specializing in lighting.”
This brings us to 1992 and there are energy saving programs in place for converting luminaires from four to two tubes. “For five years all I did was convert fixtures in businesses and shops in the greater Montreal area. We studied energy efficiency with Hydro-Québec and went in search of subsidies. I had 20 electricians who worked for the company and 5 reps.”
The program ended and the company went from five contracts a day to one a week. “It was radical. My business model was based on the energy subsidy model.”
Now it’s 1995 and Jean-Claude Calabro starts LumiGroup with only his cell phone, his car, and one manufacturer. “I didn’t want to work with electricity, but with lighting. “For four years I represented a single manufacturer, then I became more interested in design and the needs of lighting professionals and architects. I added other manufacturers to my portfolio.”
The company grows rapidly, works on major projects, establishes itself in Mile-End, and opens an office in Quebec City.
“When I started attending trade shows and large trade fairs in lighting, I developed a taste for design.”
Lighting controls — a new business model
“Lighting has become much more technical. We now have engineers on site to advise clients on control systems, and have a selection of systems. My business today is helping designers, architects, and engineers. We help them achieve lighting projects in the most energy-efficient way possible.
“We are now more focused on lighting effects, so that lighting serves a function beyond the sole purpose of illuminating. Systems are designed based on the needs of the customer. Relationships are becoming more and more important.
“Design is not only a question of calculations, it’s a question of feeling. We must communicate with the customer to understand and translate how they want to experience space into lighting solutions. What motivates me is finding new ways of doing things. We live in a world of change. Everything changes, everywhere, in all areas.
“There is a new generation who likes to do things differently, and lighting design is also completely different. Today customers understand better what they want, and our role is to advise on the products. We’ve moving towards more and greater integration of lighting controls. The product of the future is a smart product.”
Jean-Claude Calabro seems to be always moving forward, succeeding at transitions and following market trends with good spirits. He smiled at my comment. “In a company, it’s important to celebrate success. What hasn’t worked, we’re trying to forget. I tried things, partnerships that didn’t work. These are stages, not failures, and fortunately with age we make better choices. Choosing to be an agent is choosing to be an entrepreneur, and I think I am entrepreneur at heart. When we start a new year, we start at zero. Nothing is guaranteed, but it’s the same for an employee or any other company.”
Life outside lighting?
The spouse of Jean-Claude Calabro has been a shoulder to learn on since the beginning of LumiGroup, and joined the company full time a decade ago. His eldest daughter has also been working there during her studies. She has completed a Bachelor’s degree in marketing and international business, and is now studying law. The youngest is 14 years old. She still has time. In the meantime, she accompanies her parents who stop everything once a year to go on vacation.
“We always take three weeks of vacation at the end of the year and three weeks in the summer. When travelling, we visit many museums, it fascinates me. It allows us to better understand where we come from.”
Calabro and his wife are passionate about jogging and cycling. Many charitable activities supported by Calabro and his company involve physical challenges, including, for four years running, the 48-hour ride for Make-a-Wish/Fais-Un-Voeu Québec, which takes place every September on behalf of sick children.
A source of inspiration in his life? Great entrepreneurs such as Pierre Karl Péladeau, Paul Desmarais and, of course, those in his own community.
Line Goyette is Managing Editor of LDS; firstname.lastname@example.org.