TEA Connect Blog

31 May 2016

TEA Advantage: Steve Birket, Pat Gallegos and the strobe light that changed everything

Because themed entertainment providers serve overlapping sectors, members of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) are liable to find friends or colleagues wherever they go - and that network of relationships can lead to real business. Years before he became TEA International Board President, Steve Birket of Birket Engineering was an involved member of the organization and reaping the benefits. Steve shared this story from 14 years ago that was important to the diversification of his company’s product line and is a good example of what we call "The TEA Advantage."

TEA International Board President Steve Birket of Birket Engineering
with lighting designer Traci Klainer Polimeni of Luce Group. A new
strobe lighting fixture designed by Birket's company propelled them
into the lighting market and gave rise to a new company division.

"In 2002, Birket Engineering developed a DMX-controlled strobe light. At the time, we were an established provider of control systems for the themed entertainment industry. This was a new direction for us: our first lighting product. But how were we going to sell it? The lighting industry was a new territory for us and we didn’t know where to start. 

"At that time, Birket had worked on theme park projects around the world, including Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Japan and what is now Disney's Hollywood Studios. We were well-versed in the theme park business. I had been to IAAPA a thousand times, but we thought this new strobe product had wheels outside of the theme park market.

Patrick Gallegos helped Birket
identify his new lighting market

"I headed to a lighting industry trade show in San Francisco. It was not a theme park show. It was certainly not a show targeted to life-safety control systems for rides and shows. My attendance there was a grope in the dark. I wish I could convey my feeling of being completely lost and out of place when I showed up there. Everything felt very foreign to me. I didn’t know how this industry was put together.

"I was walking around with a strobe lamp in my pocket [see photo, below]. Five minutes after I hit the trade show floor, I had a stroke of luck – I ran into Pat Gallegos of Gallegos Lighting, a longtime friend from the TEA and one of the more experienced lighting designers in the industry. [Note: Patrick Gallegos served as TEA International President in 2004 and 2005].

The strobe light

"When I saw Pat, I had this great sense of relief. I approached him and asked, ‘Can I just walk around with you Pat? I don’t know what I am doing.’ He was curious about what had brought me to the show. I explained that we had developed a strobe product and I was looking for a path into the larger lighting market. He looked at it, and to my complete amazement, said he was at the show to find that exact type of lamp fixture. 

"That meeting and conversation effectively launched Birket Specialty Lighting Division. Pat specified over 1,000 of them for a casino project and we were off and running. The same fixture has since been installed around the world, and led to a suite of companion products and the formation of our creative lighting group. So I found my first customer in this new market, and Pat Gallegos fulfilled his mission of locating a particular product to serve his client - both because of TEA.

"Could this story have happened today? In the 14 years since, a lot of functionality has crossed over from control systems and hardware so that a controller today may have more applicability across lighting, A/V, animation, and other non-life-safety show control projects. The systems are designed to be more usable by the widest audience possible, to sell more gear. But there is still a pretty good line between hardware that can be used for life-safety applications (applications where people are in the machine, meaning stunt shows, rides, etc.) and hardware that cannot. A lighting person might still go to a lighting show looking for lights, or a tech show for ways to integrate their lights, or a theme park show to sell their design services, but it is less likely that a controls person would go to a lighting show, especially a controls person from a controls company specializing in life-safety systems. I still depend on TEA as a business networking community."

Posted by Judy Rubin

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