by Mike Vogel
Updated 3 yearss ago
Keeping the lights on at any business is a challenge. The Lebersfeld family has managed it since 1924, through five generations, the Great Depression and the Great Recession.
Eric Lebersfeld, 47, a fourth-generation member in charge of sales and marketing at Capitol Lighting in Boca Raton, attributes the sustainability to the values passed on by his father, Herman, and uncle, Max, “the way they treated each other with respect and fairness and love.” And some business smarts.
Lebersfeld’s great-grandfather, an immigrant from Austria-Hungary, started the company while working as an electrician converting homes from gas to electric. His wife, Ethel, seeing all the conversions going on, had the idea of opening a store in New Jersey to sell electric light lamps and fixtures to plug into all that new wiring.
The business grew through the decades, but surviving the recent recession took some doing. Several hundred lighting companies closed in the last three years as the downturn swallowed up plenty of players in what’s still a mom-and-pop industry. “We’ve seen the carnage at the side of the road of what can go wrong in a family business,” Eric Lebersfeld says.
Beginning six years ago, the family began what was for it a drastic modernizing of the company’s structure and personnel, focusing on business goals and accountability.
The company, a “Family Business of the Year” in New Jersey in 2002, officially moved to Boca Raton in 2009. The title of “store manager” was replaced with “sales manager” to signify that success would be measured by sales. They cut the workforce. They decided to make new showrooms less overwhelming by making them smaller and displaying fewer products. They use technology to showcase a digital products catalog. W. Lawrence Lauck, spokesman for the American Lighting Association, says Capitol has done “an outstanding job strategically using technology to expand its consumer outreach.”
The company was preserved and has prospered. From 185 employees it fell to 140 but now is back to 175 — 55 of them in Florida — and has $31 million in annual revenue. It opened a Palm Beach Gardens showroom last year, its eighth, replacing one with a larger floor plan in Lake Park. It has one new showroom planned for 2013 and four for 2014, all in its home markets of New Jersey and Florida, and is hungry for the right workers.
Eight family members work in the business, with Ken, 51, as CEO. Maintaining a family business, Eric Lebersfeld says, is “just like a marriage; it’s always going to be a work in progress.”