William M. Brown launches Bill Brown Sales (BBS) with his wife, Norma. At the beginning, BBS represents Adam Metal Products, Aetna Pipe Products, Canning Pekara Metal Products, H.H. Fluorescent, Skol Manufacturing and Sylvania Starters. To help make ends meet, Bill moonlights at the Skokie Post Office.
Growth comes as the firm takes on new lines, including Steel Craft Fluorescent (now A.L.P.’s Steel Craft brand). Bill spends more time on the road, building relationships with new customers. As the decade ends, BBS has moved out of the apartment into a small storefront office in Chicago.
Throughout the decade, Bill Brown kept his car on the road and his feet on the street, representing a solid group of complementary lines. Bill’s energy and enthusiasm evolved BBS beyond the scope of a typical rep firm. Bill used Chicago as a hub to go anywhere there was an opportunity, from Detroit, throughout the Midwest, to Denver and large parts of the Southeast and Southwest.
BBS was unusual in another way. Most rep firms handle a relatively small number of manufacturers’ lines and try to reach out to as many customers as possible. Bill Brown successfully reversed that dynamic. He intentionally limited his customer base so that he could learn as much as possible about each customer’s business, and sell the right products from a very broad roster of lines. He frequently brought new and different products to his customers’ attention – often items they didn’t know they needed, which proved to be of tremendous value to their business.
In 1961, Bill began a very important relationship that continues to this day, when he joined the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). He served on the society’s Board of Directors from 1963-1965 and 1992-1995. He recently received the Louis B. Marks Award in recognition of his exceptional service to the IES. In announcing the award, the society said Mr. Brown had “enthusiastically served the society as a leader, mentor, ambassador, promoter and friend to many.”
After parting company with one manufacturer, BBS began a relationship with Carolite, which proved to be a major turning point. Carolite told Bill Brown that they didn’t want to engage him as a rep, because the involvement of BBS over such a large portion of the country could create conflicts with their other rep firms.
Instead, Carolite offered to manufacture products for Bill’s firm to sell on a private-label basis. This required the establishment of a separate “buy and sell” distributorship, so in 1972, A.L.P. was born. The new separate-but-equal “BBS/A.L.P.” entity moved into a new home in Skokie, Illinois, and opened a second “A.L.P. West” facility in El Monte, California.
A major growth phase began in 1977, when BBS needed a new supplier for parabolic louvers. To meet the need, A.L.P. began a private-label sourcing arrangement with a small producer. Before long, sales and demand for A.L.P.-brand parabolic louvers exploded. A.L.P. added internal resources to develop new designs, and acquired the molding and metalizing resources to manufacture product independently. From there, the company continued to expand its own capabilities and open new facilities, moving toward its current status as a design, engineering and manufacturing powerhouse.
In 1978, David Brown became the first of Bill and Norma’s sons to enter the business. He worked, learned and earned his stripes in several departments while attending Loyola Law School. After passing the Illinois bar exam, he joined the company full time in 1980. As time went on, he held a variety of international positions, and demonstrated a gift for improving the company’s processes and operations. He is currently A.L.P.’s Chief Operating Officer, and has served as President of the Energy Efficient Lighting Association.
In 1980, Steve Brown joined the company in August after graduating from the University of Illinois and passing the CPA exam. In the beginning, he focused on sales and marketing, frequently drawing on his father’s expertise in those areas. In 1985, he became West Coast Regional Sales Manager. In 1988, he returned to the brand-new BBS/A.L.P. corporate headquarters in Niles, and became A.L.P.’s Chief Executive Officer.
The different but complementary skills of Bill, David and Steve Brown have provided a solid core leadership. But the Browns chafe at references to A.L.P. as a “family company.” They have never hesitated to go outside the family to find the right people to infuse new young leadership at all levels at all the company’s locations.
During the decade there were numerous advances in lighting technology which dramatically changed the needs of A.L.P. customers. The company responded by introducing a comprehensive selection of versatile components to support the transition from T12 to T8 lamping, and accommodate new induction sources. A.L.P. also introduced its first vaportight fixture kits, which led to the launch of the Sentry line, which is now an industry leader in the category.
A.L.P.’s manufacturing capabilities continued to expand, with the opening of a new plant and distribution center in Lithia Springs, Georgia, specializing in metals production and fabrication.
As the new millennium began, A.L.P. accelerated its pattern of steady growth in response to changing and growing customer demand. The century’s first seven years saw the company undertake one of the most successful manufacturing transformation projects the industry has ever seen.
A.L.P. went international, opening our first European location in Birmingham, England, as well as strategically located facilities in Mexico.
A.L.P. acquired Steel Craft Industries, which had been represented by Bill Brown Sales since the 1950s. Steel Craft’s manufacturing operations moved to Atlanta and Monterrey and its line of unwired white goods evolved into the A.L.P. Steel Craft brand.
A.L.P. purchased Spectrus, Inc., a company composed of Genesta, PSI, and LexaLite® plastics manufacturing operations.
A.L.P.’s growth during this period also reflected the Brown family’s strategy of finding great people and letting them grow into leaders. A hungry sales manager by the name of Donny Wall was hired, and is now the presidents of Bill Brown Sales (BBS).
The company’s evolution continues. Bill Brown indulges his passion for sales and marketing, while Steve and David Brown take on increasingly important roles in the day-to-day operations. During this decade, the business and the Brown family achieve some impressive milestones.
Among the honors and accolades, Bill Brown is presented with a lifetime achievement award from RSM US and receives the Louis B. Marks Award from the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). Additionally, Bill and Norma’s grandson, Jason Brown, is US National Champion in men’s figure skating and earns a Bronze Medal at the Sochi Olympics.
From a broader perspective, the early promise of LEDs is driving a full-scale lighting revolution in the lighting industry. As it has from the beginning, A.L.P. is continually re-adapting products and strategies, and creating growth opportunities by listening, learning and finding new ways to meet customer needs.