Grand Stage Chicago: Stronger in partnership

Date Posted: 12/15/2016

Grand Stage Chicago team

Written by Marshall Bissett

When companies join forces, the outcome is never certain. In the case of Chicago’s Grand Stage Lighting and Chicago Spotlight’s merger, everything points to an unqualified success. When we caught up with them at ETC’s Rep and Dealer Workshop this summer in Madison, Marty Lazarus, the previous owner of Chicago Spotlight, called it the “smoothest transition I have ever seen.” New company president Greg Becker added: “If there are problems, we have been too busy to notice them.” 

In the merger, both companies relocated to new joint premises, but retained a storefront near the Loop for the walk-in business that – to everyone’s surprise – continues to grow. Happily, in today’s challenging job market, virtually every employee has stayed with the new 25-person company, giving it considerable depth of local knowledge. 

The company is crafting a new vision that will be far from business as usual. Becker explains: “In my father’s day, we actually ran as five different companies under one roof: retail, systems integration, manufacturing, rental and contracting. That worked really well for the customer, but is unmanageable today.”  

Now the focus is on building a sales team nimble enough to adapt to a rapidly changing market. Facing the challenge of losing boxed goods and console business to Internet sales is near the top of the list. Becker lays out a familiar scenario where a 20-year client can shop online for the best price on a lighting console, but will still expect free support from the local dealer. 

However, Becker is encouraged by the upsurge in local projects whose budgets are slowly being released for capital purchases. Lazarus sums up new technology in typical businesslike fashion: “I see 10 to 15 years of retrofits – hotels and museums are perfect crossover venues where we can offer systems integration. Electrical contractors will need the networking and integration skills we can bring to every job.” 

Becker jokes that his team includes “a great mix of fresh faces and industry veterans,” and Lighting Quotations Manager Todd Koeppl wears his 38 years in the industry with pride. Alternating between academic and professional theater, he has previously worked for both companies, as well as being active in ESTA, USITT and a writer for PLSN and Stage Directions magazines. He works seamlessly along with project manager Curt Frisinger, who spearheads electrical systems installation. Sales Manager Hope Kass takes care of the Boxed Goods and Expendables departments. 

The prediction of retrofits is coming true. A recent flagship project, the Lyric Opera of Chicago upgraded their Unison Paradigm® house- and worklight control systems. Other notable recent projects include control of the 820 lights of the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain by an Ion® RPU and relighting “SUE,” the world’s largest T. Rex exhibit at the Field Museum with ETC ColorSource® PARs and wireless control. The nearby Goodman Theatre also received multiple Paradigm upgrades. The sales team has found a good combination in mixing traditional Paradigm control with a new ColorSource™ wireless system. Additionally, orders for ETC Source 4WRD™ fixtures are also brisk.

Strong relationships can often hinge on tiny details. Lazarus likes the way ETC recognizes its own weaknesses and listens to feedback, however small. “I remember asking manufacturing to supply three small screws in a kit even though the job only required two. Having field experience and a willingness to change, they understood that you might drop one.”

Pictured, from left to right. Front row: Curt Frisinger, Marty Lazarus, Gregory Becker. Back row: Todd Koepple, Hope Kass