Company: Justice Design
Interesting Fact: Brandon, as the third generation of a family business, is a skilled businessman and very much in tune with the lighting industry. However, he has a side to him that some of his close-knit company may not even know. “I love heavy metal music. There are a number of bands from Finland which I happen to like and I have a particular affinity for Scandinavian Viking death metal. Fortunately, they have concerts in Los Angeles so I am able to attend them periodically. My brother and I are probably the oldest ones in attendance, but that is okay with me — I still enjoy a good head banging!”
We sat down to learn more about the family man, the entrepreneur and the music man.
Q – Tell us about Justice Design Group…
My grandfather founded a company in the 1950s in Compton, CA called Treasure Craft which manufactured ceramic giftware and kitchenware. My father took over that business in the 1970s and in 1995 he acquired Justice Design Group and brought the operations into the same factory that Treasure Craft used to occupy. In fact, many current and former Justice Design employees were also employees of Treasure Craft.
So, I do have a long-term connection to the company and to many of our employees. Our production process, called “Slip Casting,” is the same production process that has been used at our factory for over 60 years. We jokingly say that we used to make cookie jars and now we make cookie jars with light sockets in them.
When my father took over Justice Design in 1995, his key challenge was how to protect the company against competition, principally importers from China. What he did which helped save the company and then subsequently grow it significantly was to offer a product line that could not be produced in China. With the “Form + Finish + Function” product line that he developed, we are able to offer 250 shapes in ceramic, 30 different finishes and multiple lamping options. Manufacturing and assembling lighting products to order in our California factory gave us a leg up over imported product because when importing from China or Mexico, the minimum order runs required are quite high. This became our niche: providing premium, distinctively designed product that is made to a customer’s specifications. And you can order just one piece if you want.
When I joined the business in 2002, I saw a need to grow our product offering to be more competitive. In order to differentiate Justice Design from the industry’s established competitors, I wanted to offer distinctive product within a made-to-order program. This import program that we now call “Choices” adds to and expands the breadth of our ceramic marketing capabilities. In our Choices program, we offer multiple fixture families with different metal finishes, shade materials and lamping options (incandescent, LED, fluorescent, halogen). Then all final assembly is done in our factory in California. We took our business model of made-to-order ceramic lighting which was made domestically, and expanded that into an import program from China (and to a lesser extent Italy and Germany) to be able to offer a modular program that gives the customer the ability to create a lighting solution that meets their applications’ specific needs.
Q – How have you been groomed for this role and did you think about doing something other than work in the family business?
A – In fact, it was my intention not to join the family business. After college, I worked in finance for an investment bank and then for a publicly traded computer products retailer here in Los Angeles. I did that for three years and then went back to graduate school and got an MBA from Wharton. After working for a management consulting firm for a year, I realized that I do not enjoy working for large multi-national companies. I discovered I would much rather be a big fish in a small pond. The timing was fortuitous as my dad was looking to bring on an additional manager at the time, so I joined the family business as the Director of Sales & Finance.
Q – Was your family excited to have you back in the fold, so to speak?
A – My dad was thrilled and my mom was petrified. She had seen the struggles and the ups and downs that both my father and grandfather experienced. There are a lot of challenges in running a family business, but also a lot of rewards. You have to be willing to take the good with the bad and in the end, it has all worked out wonderfully. The business has grown tremendously and my father and I are closer than ever.
Q – Obviously your family has a great legacy in the manufacturing business. But there had to be some things that you couldn’t wait to do differently when you were in charge. Could you tell us about some things you’ve done? What have you put your stamp on?
A – In addition to the import program mentioned earlier, I spearheaded our expansion into the commercial and hospitality channels. At the time I joined, we marketed mainly through showrooms and ecommerce did not exist in any significant way. Because Designers generally do not like to specify cataloged product that you can find everywhere, our distinct product lends itself very well to interior designers/architects/lighting designers and works great for jobs like high-end homes, condos, hotels, and assisted living facilities. So I started putting together a specification sales force to supplement our showroom sales. This has proven to be successful as about 25% of our business now comes from this specification channel (we have approximately 25 independent specification rep agencies throughout the US & Canada).
Q – What are you seeing that’s most popular in the marketplace right now and how are you responding to those things?
A – My background is not product design – that was one of my dad’s strengths. It’s funny – as an architect by training, my father like me also did not plan on joining the family business. He worked for a few years as a practicing architect before joining my grandfather. I guess we all try to not to join the family business but get roped into it anyway! It sure has worked out well for both of us, though.
My father’s design aesthetic is very architectural with strong geometrics — solid, beefy styles which resonate well for many residential and commercial customers. Part of my vision for design is to supplement that look with a softer, more contemporary and streamlined aesthetic.
We are definitely getting stronger in this contemporary space. In January 2016, we had our largest contemporary new product introduction in the history of the company and so far it has resonated very well with the market. And of course LED has helped enable this change as we can now offer a much sleeker look than we previously could with incandescent and fluorescent lamping options.
Q – Your company is based in California. It’s fair to say the area a company calls home has an influence on it. How does California shape your brand and company?
A – Well it is the middle of winter now and it is 75 and sunny today, so that generally puts a smile on people’s faces. In fact, I believe Southern California develops and attracts a population that is dis-proportionally creative, which allows us to work with a broad pool of creative designers that would be far more challenging to source in other parts of the country. The same goes for the wonderful people that work in our factory. They have skill sets that are difficult to find elsewhere. California offers a large employment base of very qualified talent. This helps as every one of our forty member strong team is important to our success.
Q – Here’s your crystal ball. Now can you tell us what lighting in the home will look like in 20 years, or maybe when your kids are ready to take over the company?
A – Design aesthetics will of course change and I think that lighting and home controls will be an important change, as well. This would include things like dimmers, Internet control systems, etc. that will affect our industry. From a design standpoint, trends ebb and flow. Fortunately, from a product life cycle standpoint, it is not as much of a fad as say clothing, but it does alter over the years. Of course the continued improvement of LEDs will be a focus as we move forward.
Q – We’ve seen a lot of companies that have branched out beyond lighting into furniture and décor. You’ve stuck with lighting. Is lighting still your focus and do you see that changing?
A – We’ve dabbled in decorative accessories in the past, especially with our ceramic products. We tried it and it proved unsuccessful. From a business perspective, we do not specifically target the furniture and home décor channels that are necessary to have success in that space. What I see anecdotally from other businesses that try branching out is that they often dabble in it and then go back to what their core competency is.
Q – Over the years, Justice Design Group has sort of become known for your shade materials. How did that evolve as an area of focus for the company? And how are your shades better?
A – That evolved when we started our import program and we were looking for ways differentiate ourselves from the bigger guys in the industry. We know ceramic really well so the question was, what else can we get into? The first materials we explored on an import basis were translucent porcelain and faux alabaster. Porcelain is a type of ceramic that is processed with higher fire temperature than our domestic opaque earthenware ceramic. We took our design and sculpting abilities and expanded it to China and asked how can we make it different? We started offering many different shade shapes and sizes. And from there relief patterns were introduced such as waves, waterfalls and pleats. The relationship we have with our sourcing and design partners in China goes back to the 1980s at Treasure Craft so we have been fortunate to work with a skilled team of people whose integrity, product knowledge, and design acumen we can count on. We broadly define our shades as being made of “specialty materials” such as resins, porcelain, artisan glass from China and Italy, and alabaster rock. These materials combined with the modular program makes us unique to the market.
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