Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

May 18, 2020

Sarah SilversteinBlake Marchand

Sarah Silverstein is a principal with Liteline along side her two brothers Mark and Daniel. Together, they lead the company founded by their father, Steve Silverstein, who retired in 2018.

Although she initially pursued a career in outdoor education, Sarah was instrumental in the company’s expansion into architectural lighting and the U.S. market. She joined Liteline as a project manager in between stints working in outdoor education. Now she leads Liteline’s U.S. distribution arm and marketing department.

Not exactly accustomed to office worklife, she went into Outside Sales calling on distributors in the Toronto area, which bridged into the architectural sector. They didn’t have any salespeople working that market segment and Sarah took on the challenge of building their client base.

“I started calling on architects and interior designers, but we didn’t really have the products to service that market, at the time. So, I was going out and calling on them and figuring out what they wanted,” she explained. “I was able to bridge the gap between product development to make recommendations on what we should be developing and building to serve that market. And that’s been a huge growth for us in the last 8-9 years.”

They launched A-Line, their architectural product line, in 2010. Sarah was able to bridge the gap between sales and product development, allowing Liteline to develop products tailored to that market.

When she wanted to take on more responsibility, she proposed they expand into the U.S. Something the company had considered in the past.

“We had tried over the years but didn’t really have to much unique to offer – back in the 80s and 90s.”

At the time, they had launched their A-Line and introduced their SlimLED line, so they had an architectural product offering that would allow them to stand out a little more.

Sarah began reaching out to sales agencies in the U.S in 2015, growing their network to 44 rep agencies.

Along with managing their U.S distribution side, which they incorporated last year, she has taken the lead on Liteline’s marketing. Something she is really enjoying.

“I love getting creative, I like trying to find the easiest way and the simplest ways for people to understand what they need, what we offer and how to use it. The user experience is fun and exciting and it’s different.

“I had all these great ideas of what I wanted to do and now its great to implement them, and I have an awesome team that’s been super helpful and supportive in that.”

On their success as a company

“We’re lucky, my brothers and I, to have 40-years of a company behind us – but the recent success over the years is our excitement to grow the business. We’re all super eager, we’re all really engaged, really involved. Each of us has our own individual skills that balance each other out and we’re all really passionate about it, about growing the business and meeting change.”

“There’s a lot of moving pieces in the industry, we’re all sitting at the edge of our seats watching what’s happening and trying to guess the next move and be part of it.”

Meeting that change in the industry, as Sarah explains, also needs to be reflected internally. Not only to attract talented professionals, but to foster an innovative mindset.

“We’re modernizing our organization, we’re improving our corporate culture to attract young energetic people, passionate people and thought leaders.”

From Sarah’s perspective, you spend half your life at work so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy your time there. Particularly, when it comes talented professionals who have plenty of options. Developing a strong, vibrant corporate culture goes a long way differentiating a company. Which is a major factor for attracting and retaining people, as well as motivation and productivity.

“We’ve done that successfully, its been a bit of a change, changing from a 70’s run organization, that mentality to more of a start-up culture in the last 5-10 years, and I would say we’re there now.”

“We have in-house massages every other Friday, ice cream trucks every long weekend, we’re in a company wide competition right now that runs all year...”

“It took some time to make that change happen, but we’ve made it happen and its fun.”

Growing into the IoT field

“Energy became a major topic when we switched over to LEDs, circadian rhythm was a main topic over the last two or three years, now its all about PoE and IoT. The internet of things is huge, that’s where everyone is going, that’s what they’re talking about and how all that connects to energy, to circadian rhythms – its all interconnected, so that’s a major focus for us right now in R&D. It’s a really fun field to follow what’s happening and to turn your house over IoT. And that’s what is going to keep us leading. I can’t tell you too much about what we have in the works for that, but…”

Liteline has really turned their focus to innovation. IoT is tying all these major trends together… energy efficiency, lighting control, human centric lighting. “For us to remain independent and growing we need to focus on bridging that gap a little bit.”

“The Luna series has been a major product for us. We’re putting a lot of effort into growing that product line. Edge fixtures are changing the way troffers or panels are done.” And they also have a new step light released last year that molds into the wall.

“So, lots of fun things coming out.”

Challenges

When it comes to being in a leadership role for Sarah, “The biggest challenge is finding the right people.”

When you have people working remotely, finding people you can trust can be difficult because its harder to integrate into the company culture established at headquarters.

“Finding people who are as motivated as you are – nobody’s going to be as motivated as you are if you’re running the company – but people that can work with that level of excitement and energy everyday, and do it from their remote office, can be tough.”

“The excitement that we all have in here, that honestly radiates through the organization. Everyone in the headquarters, here, is excited about what they do and feel the pulse of it. We have a lot of really engaged people. I find it hard to find people that are working remotely that can get that level of engagement. It’s hard to do that remotely.”

Coming into a new industry is always a challenge, for Sarah it was understanding the business models.

“I’d say the products was probably the easiest part of it for me. But Just understanding how the decision-making channel works was tough at the beginning. But even for us as a company, we weren’t in specification at the time, so we were all kind of learning that together.”

Another challenge for her personally was being a young woman in the industry, particularly being in sales. She was 23 at the time she went into outside sales calling on electrical distributors that, for the most part, were used to a different demographic of salesperson.

“It was uncomfortable at times for me to assert dominance and develop those relationships with people who were 3-times my age, mostly male, and used to a different type of person coming in to pitch them. It had its challenges.”

That was part of the reason she wanted to go into architectural sales and grow that client base. An area that has really taken off for Liteline.

And now, being in a leadership position presents a similar challenge. But one that Sarah hasn’t shied away from.

“It’s just being confident, knowing yourself and knowing the company. And knowing that you can’t control others or their perception. You just got to do the best that you can, do the right thing and do it the right way and that comes across to people,” she said.

It can be easy to second guess yourself in the uncertain territory of a new position, company or industry. But focusing on what you can control and working hard ultimately translates into the confidence required to excel. Something Sarah has clearly done.

Given her experience and success, Sarah’s advice for young women in this industry is: “Be confident.”

“If you know your stuff, nobody’s going to question you in what you’re doing. Be knowledgeable, get back to people, show up, respond, and the right people find themselves to you.”

“You kind of have to let some things roll off your shoulders, as well. It can be tough, but its rewarding if you work hard.”

Blake Marchand is Associate Editor with Kerrwil Electrical Group

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