Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Union Lighting featured in The Montreal Gazette Newspaper

The Montreal Gazette has published a beautiful feature about Union Lighting. Please read the story:
The Gazette de Montreal a publié ce bel article vedette d'Union Éclairage dans la section commerce.

Montreal Gazette     Homepage

Union Lighting has been brightening people's lives for more than 100 years

 Bram Naimer is the eldest of three brothers who own and operate Union Lighting, a business open for more than 100 years, now located on Décarie Blvd. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Few companies from Montreal’s horse-and-buggy days still are part of the city’s commercial landscape. 
That’s one of the ways 102-year-old Union Lighting stands out.
Another is its sprawling showroom at Décarie Blvd. and Royalmount Ave., a maze of galleries featuring everything from lighting fixtures and chandeliers to light bulbs and switches, but also bathtubs, furniture, appliances, blinds, mirrors, locks, fans and decorative items of every style and description.
To add to the selection, the store is surrounded by other shops catering to home décor. They’re tenants of Carré Union, the strip mall it owns and anchors.
“We turned it into the design centre of Montreal, residential and commercial,” said Bram Naimer, 49, president of the company now known as Union Luminaires et Décor. “The building is 180,000 square feet. Union occupies about 45,000 of them. There are 20 retailers here, all catering to homes. You can find everything in one place.”
As far as Victoria Montbriand is concerned, “l’union fait la force.”
She and partner Anne Hébert moved their design store BAB into the Union Lighting premises two months ago, after operating as a standalone store on nearby Paré St.
“It’s like day and night in terms of passing trade,” Montbriand said. “It’s constant here, because they’ve got everything. And there’s good synergy with the type of business we do. This really is a design centre.”
It wasn’t when it started in 1914. The business was known then as The Star Gas & Electric Co., opened by Romanian immigrant Abe Naimer in a small space on Craig St.
“In those days, you changed the filaments in gas lights,” Bram said. “He sold filaments, wires, transformers.”
One by one, Naimer’s five brothers — including Bram Naimer’s grandfather, Hyman — immigrated from Romania and joined him in Montreal. When they were all here, in the mid-1920s, the business changed names.
“They called it Union Lighting, because they were all united again,” Bram said. “And they ran it together, pretty much until they had all passed on.”
His father, Gerald, was from the second generation to operate the business, which evolved quickly to keep up with rapid changes in the lighting industry.
It relocated to its current location in 1954 — “before there was a Décarie Expressway” — after acquiring the land from the Bronfman family, Bram said. “It cost about $1 million to build, which was a lot of money then. They mortgaged everything.”
The project was not perceived favourably by all the founding families, and two exited from Union at that point.
By the late 1980s, Union Lighting had become one of the largest privately-owned, full-line electrical distributors in Canada, with annual sales volume in excess of $250 million.
But intense competition made the sector increasingly difficult, and Union Lighting’s braintrust eventually decided on a change in vocation for the company.
It downsized and reshaped itself to focus on lighting distribution, leaving the low-margin side of the business to the multi-nationals.
“The priority became service and having product you won’t find anywhere else. We’ve got fixtures from $50 to $50,000,” Bram said. “If you have a question about lighting — anything — Union is where you go for the answer.”
Sales today are a fraction of what they were in the 1980s, but the company is sounder and more focused, said Bram, who has worked at Union since his teens and became president three years ago, working alongside brothers Darren, 46, and Clifford, 44, who are vice-presidents. Their branch of the family is now solely in charge of Union after buying out another of the founding families three years ago.
“It’s a passion, still,” said Darren, who’s in charge of merchandise selection and buying. “A lot of what I do, I don’t consider a job. I happen to love architecture and creating spaces and creating mood within those spaces. I’m living that passion. It’s not a grind for me.”
The company, which employs 80 people,  recently opened offices in Quebec City and Florida and soon will have an e-commerce site.
“Looking ahead, we want to build our corporate/commercial department and cover more of the U.S. and Canada in retail,” Bram said.
The wholesale division, tailored for contractors, architects, property managers and designers and focused on residential, commercial and industrial clients, currently accounts for almost 70 per cent of total sales. Recent projects included Sports Experts stores from coast to coast,  the new McGill University Health Centre hospital and the Centre Vidéotron arena in Quebec City.
“Retail is still important for us, though,” Bram said. “The face of retail is changing but there will always be a need for bricks-and-mortar stores. People want to see and touch what they’re buying. I’m hoping we’ll be the equivalent in décor of my favourite store, Canadian Tire, where you always leave with something.”

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