Lighting Partners 1991 - 2008

The next adventure

Cees van de Vrie was not only my father, but he was also the founder of Lighting Partner. We founded the company with him and my cousins Quinten and Wim. We worked day and night from my parents' attic room, contributing all of our skills to develop, produce, and market stunning spot collections for various customers as rapidly as possible. At one point, we were crammed into a 3 by 5 metre room with 6 other individuals, and other bedrooms and the dining room were also forfeited. The cables extended through the entire house in Goes' Beukenstraat at the time. We purchased a charming but small office on the Anthony Fokkerstraat in Goes in 1994.

The big breakthrough came when we persuaded Sylvania to produce a 50mm high voltage halogen lamp that could be connected directly to the mains. Quinten created the GU10 and GZ10 fittings and accompanying spots, while Syvania created the lamp. Sylvania made the first delivery on a Friday morning on October 8 1996, while we continued working that weekend so that the first truck of items could leave for Leroy Merlin in France on Monday. We purchased over 800,000 lamps the first year and quickly became Sylvania's top customer; in 1998, we purchased 58% of their GU10 production volume.

When Philips and Osram introduced a competitive GU10 light in 1998, Sylvania sought to maintain our volume and asked to purchase Lighting Partner. This occurred in 1999, and we created a technical collection for Lumiance as well as a consumer collection for Brilliant Leuchten. That was hilarious, because we had a different display at the Hannover Messe where we showed a groundbreaking consumer line wonderfully decorated with natural materials by Franca Houterman. Cousin Wim was in charge of production in Indonesia, and he was very fit at the time. Of course, he wouldn't let a competitor join the show booth, which led to some interesting debates.

In 2001, the Sylvania SLI entered Chapter 11 due to changes in the guard, too many acquisitions, and a drop in the market following the 9-11 attacks, and we were forced to buy the company back to ensure the safety of the employees and the value of the company. At the time, Sylvania was responsible for 60% of the company's revenue, and there were millions in outstanding debts that could only be settled with GU10 lamps. Fortunately, we were able to quickly and effectively sell those lights. With our strong team we continued under our own steam and within two years we were as successful as before, and we relocated to a beautiful office at the Amundsenweg in Goes.

LED had been introduced in the meantime, and we were quickly on the scene. We produced collections for a variety of clients, including Regent, Trilux, Solar, Aric, and later Philips.

Lighting Partner and Insta (Germany) collaborated on a series of floor spots known as EYEleds at the end of 2003. At the time, it was still possible to send emails to potential customers, so I was working around the clock to bring these products to the attention of flooring companies, architects, installers, and others all over the world.

We sponsored the Dutch "parquet-laying championships" with EYEleds lights at the Düsseldorf flooring fair, and as a result of all the hard work, passion, and effort, we had even more hits per day on our website than Philips in a short period of time. In just three years, EYEleds had country representation in 43 countries, including New Zealand.

When Philips acquired Lumileds in 2005, with only 5 months till the Light & Building expo, Lighting Partner was asked to create a spotlight series. SpotLED 1 was built around the first high-power LED, the K2. Within a year, 100,000 products were produced in Thailand, where Lighting Partner already had an aluminium turning and milling operation.

Following this success, the SpotLED 2 and 3 series were added, and we generated quite a stir in the market as a supplier to Philips. An American company came to meet us shortly after Philips purchased Massive and Modular. They'd heard about us, and once she paid us a visit, they had no choice but to purchase us.

We weren't too excited after the Sylvania experience, but I agreed to accompany Quinten to New York, where we were greeted on the top level of a lovely skyscraper facing the Trump Tower. What we saw there was unfathomable to us; there was a group of ten American lighting greats who explained in great detail how they would become greater than Philips in 5 years and how they required us to govern the European market. The corporation offered us an offer that we could make a lot of money if we completed a stock swap. To become bigger than Philips with the help of those Americans seemed to be a fun challenge, we wanted to be a part of it.

In the end, the Americans' effects were not as positive as we had been led to believe. They were far more interested in lining their own pockets than the lighting, and a lot of money vanished along with their share price. They were unconcerned about customers or our employees, so we didn't want to be associated with them for more than the one year agreed upon at the time of sale.

After 18 years of working as a family, everyone went their separate ways in 2009. My father Cees, who was 74 years old, had severe metastatic prostate cancer and had to let go of every-day things due to his illness. Wim went to Indonesia to study Nanotechnology. Quinten started Illuxtron, and I founded Luxexcel to develop new technologies, 3D printing lenses, and LuxImprove to provide project lighting in the Benelux. In this way, the "younger" Van de Vries found new challenges.

In retrospect, I believe we can all be proud and grateful for what we accomplished at Lighting Partner. We certainly didn't do it alone, but with the help of a fantastically strong team. I have fond memories of that time.