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Tuthill still shines in specialty lighting

Other businesses have come and gone while Tuthill Lighting Design Inc. has been on Monroe Avenue for some nine decades.

The specialty lighting firm, which does business as Tuthill Lighting, supplied light fixtures for George Eastman when it was under the helm of G.B. Tuthill in the 1920s. It officially opened in 1924 and today is run by Bruce Bellwood.

The firm is located at 1689 Monroe Ave. in a 5,000-square foot-showroom; it was located at 905 Monroe Ave. until 1960. 

“My mother has always brought me up the idea of take care of each customer one at a time and there will always be a tomorrow,” owner Bruce Bellwood said. “To see it carry on is very rewarding. To see it have a place in the community—we’re the longest sponsor of Brighton Little League … things like that, it’s amazing.”

Bellwood is the grandson of Tuthill. He took over the firm in 1980 after graduating from SUNY College at Geneseo. His mother had taken over the business in 1959.

Women make up more than 80 percent of its clients, Bellwood said.

Stacey Spall Smith and her business, Spall Realty Corp., have been a client of Tuthill Lighting for the past 15 years.

“He bends over backwards to make things right and make our customers happy,” Spall said. “Bruce does a great job with our customers, working with them after hours so they have his full attention.”

“I think that he provides something that is needed here in the Rochester area. He’s not just a big box store. He really focuses on personal service and getting things done right,” she added.

The firm owns its own building outright. It was purchased for $28,000 in 1959, which allows the company to put extra funds to its changing business needs.

Customers see the worth of the long-standing business.

“He was by far one of the best vendors that I’ve dealt with in terms of customer service,” said Robert Klimasewski, a retired longtime local business executive and a client of the firm. “(He has a vast) knowledge of lighting, how to maximize the ambiance and the lighting characteristics of the home. He also knows his product extremely well.”

Today the Internet is king—a fact that has changed the specialty lighting business in unpredictable ways, Bellwood said.

“The biggest change I’ve seen, the biggest challenge, is the Internet,” he said.  “All through the years and decades I’ve been in business we’ve competed against local stores for business, where now we’re competing against everyone in the U.S. In the lighting business, everything I sell has an item number on it, which can be easily Googled and UPS-ed from anywhere to anywhere.”

“(For us it is) the idea of extreme personal service. So it’s worth their time coming from home rather than just clicking,” he added.

Though competition is tough, there is always room for quality.

“The home centers and the Internet have just changed things so much and my feeling is you can’t butt heads with them in any way. You’ve got to be the opposite of them—just special, personal,” Bellwood said.

A major change in the way business is done is the changes in distribution channels. It used to be customers would go to a lamp store to purchase a lamp, but now they can go anywhere.

“It was so segmented,” Bellwood said. “The channels of distribution used to be so cut-and-dried and the manufacturers actually held those lines.”

In recent years, the concept of lighting design has been the focus at Tuthill. Instead of thinking about the lighting source on its own, the firm helps clients assess the entire room and how lighting could complement the layout.

“Lighting design is the future that we’re being driven to,” Bellwood said. “The idea is not just selling a light to go into a home or a room or a space. It’s the idea of designing the entire lighting for that space. That’s where we could really stand out rather than someone buying a light on the Internet.”

Bellwood sees another 90 years in the company’s future, he said.

“Light attracts the human eye, so wherever you go in the room you’re automatically noticing light sources,” Bellwood said. “We look at lighting as a mixture of art and science.”

“We are enjoying the place we have in Rochester, but we are never content and always wanting to be forward looking,” he added.

7/24/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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