Guangzhou lighting fair exhibits evolving market approach (MAGAZINE)

After years of being overlooked by Western lighting product developers, the Guangzhou International Lighting Exhibition has emerged to deliver new promise in the China lighting market, potentially even globally competitive products, observes Farola lighting manufacturer consultant Robert Cole.

Guangzhou lighting fair exhibits evolving market approach (MAGAZINE)
Guangzhou lighting fair exhibits evolving market approach (MAGAZINE)

After years of being overlooked by Western lighting product developers, the Guangzhou International Lighting Exhibition has emerged to deliver new promise in the China market, potentially even globally competitive products, observes Farola lighting manufacturer consultant ROBERT COLE.

Guangzhou lighting fair exhibits evolving market approach (MAGAZINE)Guangzhou lighting fair exhibits evolving market approach (MAGAZINE)

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Guangzhou International Lighting Exhibition. The first trade fair was held in 1996 and it grew in credibility. By the early 2000s, it had sparked the interest of buyers and producers alike. The buyers have been intent on finding credible suppliers - and the sellers focused on the enormity of the China market. These were exciting days peppered with challenges.

As the first decade of the 21st century came, it became clear that those who had hoped to sell in China had not done their homework. Showing the latest products was high risk and intellectual property (IP) infringement was rampant; expectations with regard to price and reliability were also significantly misjudged. A few exhibitors were successful: Some high-end brands dumbed down product specs to suit the China market; and BJB stood alone by managing to convince the entire world that without their lamp holders, a product was not of export quality. The fair began to change direction; it was abandoned by Western companies and reoriented toward the price-focused markets of domestic consumption and the developing world. The June event became the trade fair serious players were happy to forget.

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This year, the fair comprised 21 halls dedicated to lighting and controls, utilizing all three floors of the main exhibition center. The first thing to strike the visitor was the sheer enormity of the complex and the size of the branded stands. The focus was still domestic; however, most of the world's high-end LED brands were represented and displayed their latest products, indicating that quality of light was finally becoming a priority in the domestic market. The same could not be said for the world's driver manufacturers, who were in the main absent. China's expectations of reliability are lower than in the West; consequently, the price-driven market has difficulty accommodating the costs of many drivers. Tridonic, Helvar, and BAG were represented, all three believing that there is an increasing place in China for their level of product - a further indication of the maturation of the market.

My visit began with the branded-name halls; these companies are a good barometer for how the market is moving. An excellent example is a company I have had an association with for years called VAS. It is owned by a highly focused individual determined to be the best in his class. When we first met in 2004, his company had a 20m2 stand showing generic fixtures. Fast-forward 11 years and VAS has evolved. Throughout 2013, the company employed a Western design consultant to improve the company's understanding and implementation of excellence in design. This year its display contained impressive high-end products on a 300m2 stand presented professionally. Many of the products would not look out of place in prestigious environments. A little further into the hall and VAS' primary competitor had followed the same path with another enormous stand, investment in Western design consultancy, and equally impressive products.

As I explored other halls with an expectation of seeing the same lighting products on a hundred different stands, I realized that things were changing. Many stands displayed products that were aesthetically credible; some might be described as "inspired by" and others as "original design." My expectation of "copied from" was evident, yet much reduced even from last year. Many stands were displaying their pricing. Despite my best efforts, I could not fault the mechanical construction of an architectural downlight range I was offered starting at US$1.49!

This leads me to question: Should the Guangzhou exhibition remain on the "ignore" list? China has been through decades of internal construction and the domestic industry has focused on this easily accessed market. As construction declines, some manufacturers will start to refocus on export. While most of us have been away, some companies have seriously upped their game; the mechanical hardware is in many cases now up to "Western standards." The unwillingness to invest in the best control gear/LED combinations and high-end optics is all that is holding the domestic Chinese producers back. It is a short step to transform many of these products from domestic fare to credible export quality - to ignore this would be naïve.

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