With Savant’s GE acquisition, the IoT once again drives the lighting industry

June 1, 2020
The high-end home automation outfit could give GE Lighting its spiffiest polish since the bygone days of Jeff Goldblum’s dazzlingly cheesy Terry Quattro character.

Savant Systems, the self-professed “home automation brand of choice for the world’s most luxurious homes, castles, and even yachts” now has a chance to do what GE Lighting has struggled to do in recent years: Raise GE’s profile and presence as a provider of intelligent residential lighting.

In case you missed it, Hyannis, MA-based Savant has agreed to purchase Cleveland-based GE Lighting from its parent corporation, GE.

And in case you hadn’t really noticed, GE Lighting is the GE group that has carried on selling residential bulbs of all descriptions — yes, smart and dumb LEDs, but also fluorescents and halogens — ever since GE established the ill-fated Current group back in October 2015. From that point on within GE, Current took center stage in smart lighting, aiming it at the commercial and industrial market and rendering GE Lighting something of a poorer cousin as it poked around at “smart” with a line of bulbs called C by GE while also continuing with rudimentary LED and conventional bulbs.

LEDs Magazine has chronicled the fates of both organizations over the years. We won’t review the whole saga of Current here, except to quickly remind you that after persistently scaling back Current’s overarching digital and energy mission, GE finally sold it to private equity firm American Industrial Partners in April 2019. AIP has continued to reshape it, at one point in the last year subjugating Current’s brand image to the controls company that Current had acquired a few years earlier, renaming the company as “GE Current, a Daintree company.”

The new moniker reaffirmed the direction in which lighting is heading, in which the Internet connections that turn lighting “smart” are driving the industry (AIP hopes for more success than GE found). Networks are making lighting intelligent in many ways including both improving its control and enabling it to serve as a potentially valuable collector of actionable data. It’s all part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Chic outside, smart inside

That same sort of rebranding will now happen with GE Lighting, once Savant completes its acquisition. In an appellation that parallels Current and Daintree, LEDs Magazine has learned that Savant will rename the outfit as GE Lighting, a Savant Company. For all of its chic, high-end design and marketing of home automation systems, privately-held Savant is at its core a controls and software company. Savant uses its technology to support automation of fancy homes and luxury settings, including mobile phone and voice controls of lighting, heating and cooling, sound, home cinema systems, security, and the like.

A typical day in a Savant abode might entail a high-salaried woman waking as Savant opens the blinds, softly plays her favorite morning music via top-end speakers, and adjusts lighting and room temperature to desired pre-programmed levels. She can switch off the lights from her mobile phone as she leaves the house. While at her high-powered job, she can even use her phone to remotely open the garage door so that delivery services can drop off tables for the upcoming weekend’s party (Savant says so on its website). On the way home, she can phone the outdoor hot tub to set the right temperature for her brief plunge before guests arrive at dinner, where Savant will assure just the right lighting atmosphere. If the lights are a little harsher than imagined, she might even tell Alexa to warm or dim them. She could also ask Alexa to show a movie on the giant wall-mounted screen, with the surround sound set at just the right pitch.

And so on.

“Savant was founded in 2005 with the goal of providing the best experience in home automation,” the company says on its website. “To us, that means products that are inventive, easy to use, and future-friendly, so our customers will be able to enjoy them for years. As the first home automation company to embrace mobile technology, we understood early that the customer experience could extend beyond the home and open up new possibilities for control. Over the years, our technology has evolved and our company has grown, but our goal remains the same. We’ve become the home automation brand of choice for the world’s most luxurious homes, castles, and even yachts.”

Bulbs, bulbs, and bulbs

By acquiring GE Lighting, Savant gains access to a portfolio of smart LED bulbs including C, and design-oriented LEDs (such as vintage filament style) that fit well into its smart home mission, which on the lighting side has emphasized color, natural lighting, circadian rhythms, and wellness. Savant is a slick marketeer and has an eye for elegant product design. It potentially gives GE Lighting the marketing pizazz it hasn’t seen since the pre-Current days, when in 2014 actor Jeff Goldblum promoted GE Lamps via his dazzlingly cheesy “famous person” character Terry Quattro.

In addition to the technological role of GE LED bulbs in Savant homes, Savant also believes there is value in the GE name, which it has the right to use under the acquisition deal (AIP continues to use the GE brand as well with Current). GE has been making bulbs for around 130 years, dating back to its Thomas Edison days. It lists over 300 on its website, and that’s just some of them.

“We are committed to ensuring that GE Lighting’s long history of industry leadership continues, while bringing exceptional value and reliability to retail partners and consumers as the number one intelligent lighting company worldwide,” said Savant CEO and founder Robert Madonna. “Never before has connectivity, security, intelligent lighting, and entertainment, all enjoyed within the comforts of home, been more top of mind with consumers.”

What’s less clear is how the many other lamps in GE’s portfolio will fit into Savant’s plans. Those lamps include non-smart LED bulbs, as well as fluorescent and halogen bulbs. They are all part of what Savant acquired.

Savant said that GE Lighting will remain in the historic Nela Park building in East Cleveland, a suburb of Cleveland. Its 700+ employees will transfer to Savant once the acquisition is complete, which Savant thinks will happen in midyear. The employees will not be asked to move.

GE Lighting’s manufacturing operations include an LED lamp plant in Bucyrus, OH and a glass plant in Logan, OH. The company also outsources production. It operates distribution centers in Tennessee, Los Angeles, and in Oakville, Canada, a call center in Richmond, VA, sales offices in Charlotte, NC, Bentonville, AR, and Minneapolis, MN and a business office in Shanghai. Savant told LEDs that it will continue to run all those sites.

That’s GE Lighting’s understanding as well.

“Once the deal closes, GE Lighting will be a Savant Company and we will still operate as we do today,” a GE Lighting spokesperson told LEDs, adding that Bill Lacey will continue as president and that there will be no changes to employees including the leadership team.

Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed. A Savant spokesperson said the 15-year-old company has about 200 employees, but declined to reveal revenue, which various financial websites estimate at anywhere between $15 million and $75 million. It’s not certain how that breaks down between yachts and castles. LEDs suspects that a few more ordinary domiciles might also be involved.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.