Spotlight Blog

Retirement send-off: Geoff Cox, TLA Associate Principal of Outside Sales

Mar 31, 2022 | News

By TLA Staff

 

Lighting isn’t difficult, it’s hard… when people ask what I do for a living and I start explaining all the nuances of how we go to market in the industry, their eyes tend to glaze over and then their next question is usually something like: ‘oh, wow… are you ready to go ride bikes?


Geoff Cox joined The Lighting Agency in 1991 when Art Fisher hired him.

This was Geoff’s fifth job. He had previously worked for Northwestern Mutual, Lithonia Lighting, and two other lighting reps prior to arriving at TLA.

This writer had the pleasure of sitting down for a virtual Q&A with Geoff spanning topics from how he came to TLA, to what it takes to not just survive but thrive in this high stakes, detail-driven industry.

What follows includes humorous anecdotes, career-building advice, and a snapshot of how The Lighting Agency has come to be Colorado and Southern Wyoming’s premier lighting manufacturers’ representative through the hard work, loyalty, and innovation of our best people.

 

A conversation with Geoff


Geoff, March 31st will be your last day in the office. Let’s go back to the beginning of your career and talk about what brought you to TLA.

I had known the Fishers for a long time before I joined the company. Art and my father, Garland Cox (an electrical engineer in Denver) worked together on countless projects over the course of their careers. We all saw each other socially when I was a kid—Jason and Shane included.

But when I got out of school, I started in insurance, which was not a good fit. At 23 I moved to Atlanta to work with Lithonia Lighting and became convinced that lighting was a secure, future-proof industry to build my career in, but being a young independent thinker, I wasn’t ready to buy into corporate life.

When my dad suggested that I talk to Art, I literally jumped at the opportunity—right off a cliff while skiing at Vail, in fact.

I met with Art, early in 1991, while still on crutches from blowing my knee out, and afterwards was offered a position at TLA, commencing on June 1, 1991.

 

Geoff retirement from TLA snow sports

 

It sounds like there is a lot of lighting legacy in your family in addition to the legacy at TLA. How has working for a family-owned business shaped your career? 

My mom, Carolyn, did all the bookkeeping for my dad’s electrical engineering business. Coming to work at TLA felt like going to work for my uncle—The Lighting Agency’s business felt like my business, and I liked that.

Looking back, it’s fair to say that I got the job with Art because of my dad, but kept my job and built a successful career because of my efforts.

Family-owned businesses allow you to get that familial bond with the owners and build trust through loyalty and hard work. This made me want to support the business not only through my sales results but by helping to build the TLA Team.

In fact, one of my best interior design clients, Kristin Murphy, came to me looking for a new career after leaving her previous job, and is now one of TLA’s top salespeople. Kristin’s story of coming to TLA is a parallel to my own. I helped her get started, but through her hard work and dedication, she’s created her own opportunities and success.

 

On the blog we’ve talked a lot about how construction is a very relationship and deadline-oriented industry. Why was building interpersonal relationships important to your career?

Selling lighting is a law of averages. You must maintain a cornucopia full of jobs and keep feeding it from the top to maintain consistent orders funneling down.

Staying visible and top of mind with clients is essential to keeping your funnel full. Go out to lunch with clients. See them socially. Travel with them. Be friends.

But most importantly, be there before they need you.

For years I ran what I called my “milk route” where I would make weekly sales calls to all my clients, schlepping along binders of sales materials, spec sheets and samples. Lots of weeks, I’d get little or nothing but other weeks I’d be so busy that I had no idea how I was going to get all the work done!

This job is not 8 to 5…it’s a 5 to 8 job.

My first advice to new hires is set up a home office. Speed kills (the competition) and you need to get there first with 100% accurate information to satisfy your client’s needs.

 

Timeliness and perseverance clearly have a lot to do with long-term success. Can you share a story about when everything came together for a memorable sale?

Years ago, I met a with one of my engineer clients who asked for my help in specifying a new product for a bid he was working on at StorageTek. I spent a week researching and putting together a presentation for the bid.

Well, we showed up for our meeting with the owner’s rep—there were about 15 people in a room with an 8-person capacity—all different types of vendors bidding on different aspects of the project. The meeting was an hour long so each of us only got a few minutes to deliver our pitch. When my turn came, I stood up and said my piece while holding up the sample product.

When I finished the owner looked at me and said, “That’s great, I like it, let’s do it. Who’s next?” Talk about a win—I got an $80k order for a week of research and showing up for a one-hour meeting!

 

You mentioned earlier how important building personal relationships with key clients is to keep your sales cornucopia full. What are two examples of how you’ve done this?

Prior to the work from home revolution and casual Fridays, I used to get dressed-up for sales calls. Not a full suit, but a nice shirt, slacks, dress shoes, etc. Over the years, I evolved my signature look to work casual but usually with a pair of fun, colorful socks.

One of my best client’s up North was a contractor in Loveland. Rod was extremely successful and one of the biggest contractors in Northern Colorado. Suzette his wife was also the bookkeeper for the business, so I saw her a lot and always engaged her in conversation.

One day she tells me how much she loves my fun socks. Then sure enough the next time I see Rod he says to me, “hey Geoff, check out these cool socks that Suzette gave me.” We had a big laugh.

 

Geoff retirement from TLA biking with wife

 

Second story is from when the market went south in 2000. A client of mine was looking to make a change in how he went to market for lighting. Now there are a lot of reps out there, but not a lot of key contractors. I relied on him for sizeable and consistent orders so wasn’t about walk away without a fight.

We sat down and I told him that I would commit to stepping up my game and to help him with the best price and service rather than going in a different direction. Because I had always come through when he needed me and demonstrated friendship and loyalty, he accepted my offer.

As an aside, I must say that having my friend Mike Barbalacci back in the TLA quotes department was one of the primary reasons I felt so confident in making my offer. Mike’s partnership over the years was an invaluable asset to my work as a salesperson.

 

In lighting, the architect and interior designer want it pretty, but pretty needs the engineer to make it work and be code compliant; the engineer needs the rep to find the right products for the design and application requirements.

 

Changing gears here, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the lighting industry over the years?

From a technology standpoint, LED lighting changed everything about15 years ago. The difference between talking about the type of light source vs. a signal, not to mention the efficiency and capabilities of LED products, really caused a momentous market shift.

How we go to market has also changed since COVID, but this has not been as significant a change as when the internet and email communication revolutionized everything. We went from physically taking books and catalogs out to customers, and all the manual work that went along with that, to having the ability to share the almost all information online.

It meant anyone could work from almost anywhere. Having this flexibility has made it possible for me to serve my clients faster and more effectively than if I had been working from the TLA offices alone. As I said before, I always advise new employees to set up a home office.

 

Speaking of advice, what pearls of wisdom can you bestow upon the next generation of aspiring TLA lighting professionals?

Get serious, commit, and give yourself time to build your career.

If I’m honest with myself, I was coasting for the first 4 or 5 years when I started at TLA. Then around March of ’96 I decided to get serious. I went to Art and told him that I wanted to double my income over the next year, but that he should tell me if I was wasting my time.

Art told me that it was about time that I “woke up” and proceeded to help me layout a roadmap to meet my goal. I did just that and the fruits of that conversation are benefiting me to this day.

 

What do you consider to be your greatest contribution to TLA? And what was the most important lesson you learned from your time with the company?

Here at TLA we have Monday morning team meetings—with the entire team. When Art ran the meetings, he would ride the sales team to the point that we were all nervous before the meetings. All of us would have so many jobs going at the same time—I had over 200 at my busiest—and Art would always come up with a probing question that you hadn’t thought of, and didn’t have the answer to, completely catching you off guard and leaving you feeling under-prepared.

No one liked it, but I think I was one of the first to take a proactive approach to logging all my jobs’ details in an easy-to-reference spreadsheet with job names, clients, timelines, products being used, and a log of progress and regress—essentially a precursor of the CRM programs that are considered an essential tool today. For me it was about data gathering and not being caught off guard at the Monday morning meetings.

Within a year or two, I noticed that I was getting picked on less, and became an example for how to do it right.

I also used to do Holiday Party roasts. I would have them laughing so hard they’d cry. This was such fun but also so much work to poke fun at 15-20 people through limerick and rhyme. As the company grew and we got busier, the tradition came to an end.

On a more personal note, I would like to mention that I was the person who introduced Ryan Stewart to his wife Amy. I know that meeting Amy changed Ryan’s life for the better and having Ryan with us at TLA has made the company better.

 

What will you miss most about working at TLA?

Not the Monday morning meetings! I’ll miss my colleagues and being in the office, but…

 

What I really love about my job is that “buzz” you get when you know you’ve landed the order. You know you won, and the sense of accomplishment that comes along with it feels great.

I’ve found so much value and satisfaction in helping clients achieve their goals and making their jobs and lives easier through my work. This is something that I know will carry forward to everything I do in the future.

 

Geoff retirement from TLA travel with wife

 

Speaking of the future, tell us about your plans for retirement.

Well, I’ve already got my rocking chair, and we have 10 cats on the way.

Just kidding. My wife Sheryl will retire from her role as a retirement fund custodian with Broadridge at the end of this year and we’ve already made plans for a month-long South America cruise and several cycling road trips, including to Seattle to see my younger brother and his wife. Sheryl and I are both very active, and thankfully, healthy so are looking forward to many adventures ahead. We have three grown children and will be welcoming our fourth grandchild soon so time with family will also be a priority.

Seeing friends and staying connected with my them is also on the list. My longtime friendships are among the things I value most. I’ll also be doubling down on my commitment to practice guitar for two hours a day, reading classic literature, and staying up to date on current events.

 

In closing, I’d like to impart some final words of wisdom…

Work hard, use your vacation days, and always go somewhere amazing. Stay physically active, contribute to your 401k, build relationships with your clients and co-workers, and be grateful for the people who support you throughout your career and in life.

Until next time,
— Geoff

 

Geoff retirement from TLA playing guitar on stage

 

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The Lighting Agency is a local construction allied company representing the premier lighting and controls manufacturers for Colorado and Southern Wyoming. We strive to be an integral part of the design process through our work with lighting specifiers, contractors, suppliers, and owners to create brilliant yet budget-sensitive results for projects big and small.

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