The Early Years

DVI Lighting was founded in 1968 by Adam Altenberg, a holocaust survivor who brought his family to Montreal from war-ravaged Europe.

At the time, the company was called Dominion Ventures and it sold lighting parts to the many lighting manufacturers in the Montreal area. Operating out of a small warehouse, the company specialized in selling the components necessary to make a light rather than the complete lighting fixture. Dominion Ventures was developing an expertise of knowing lighting “from the inside out” and offered a complete, North American made line of parts to offer to the trade. At the time, most Canadian homes were decorated with Canadian-made lighting produced by relatively small manufacturers, and Montreal was the centre of the home furnishing industry in Canada.

By the mid-1970, The FLQ crisis and the increased flow of immigrants to Toronto both impacted on the emergence of a home furnishings industry outside of Montreal. Toronto had become the new manufacturing centre of Canada and so Dominion Ventures rented a small warehouse in a run-down section of downtown Toronto at John and Adelaide Streets.

Adam Altenberg, now joined by Sam Wineberg and David Elman, operated the same business out of the Montreal and Toronto locations through the 1970’s and 80’s. Adding new capabilities on over the years, Dominion Ventures retained a brisk business servicing the lighting manufacturers in Toronto, Montreal and even a few in Manitoba and Western Canada.

NAFTA and China

If you were to look at the lighting industry in Canada in 1994, very little had changed from when Adam Altenberg had started the business in 1968.

Canadian consumers still bought lights made predominantly in Canada, from small lighting retailers, including the Living Lighting and Lighting Unlimited franchises across the country, and from department stores like Eaton’s, Simpson’s and The Bay.

However, two major changes were occurring. The NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and far Eastern manufacturing were both changing Canadian consumer tastes as well as stripping the small Canadian manufacturers and retailers of the protection they had previously enjoyed.

In late 1980’s, there were over 300 lighting showrooms in Canada. In 2012, there are less than 150 still in business. In the late 80’s and early 90’s the first “Big box” stores emerged in Canada with Aikenheads, Kent Building Supplies, REVY and RONA, and later with the arrival of Home Depot, and Lowe’s from the US. In 1996, there were only 35 big box stores in Canada, mostly in the big cities. By 2006 there were over 150 and by 2012 there were over 300 all across the country.

The product offered in the big box stores fundamentally changed what Canadians were buying. Ignoring the small Canadian manufacturers, the big box stores took early advantage of access to overseas production and began to offer product to the consumer at roughly half the price of the small lighting retailers. Faced with the pressures of competing with cheap Chinese imports in the box stores, more than half of the lighting showroom’s in Canada closed down, which in turn devastated Canadian lighting manufacturers. As well, thanks to NAFTA, retailers were now able to buy product from south of the border, and American lighting giants such as Quoizel, Murray Feiss and Schonbek became more affordable to Canadian homeowners, much to the dismay of premier Canadian lighting companies like Scorpio, Lampada and S. Thau, who all collapsed against the combined onslaught of American competition and offshore imports.

The collapse of the Canadian lighting manufacturers and the fundamental shift in the lighting business forced Dominion Ventures to adapt its business or die. The lighting parts which Dominion supplied lighting manufacturers for over three decades had been coming from North American manufacturers, creating jobs here in North America. Lamp sockets from Leviton, lamp harps from Angel Harp and cords from Cords Canada all became unnecessary with the collapse of the Canadian manufacturing network against far-eastern imports. Dominion Ventures was forced to adapt. First from the Philippines and Korea, then from Taiwan and finally from China, buying lamp parts overseas had taught the owners of Dominion Ventures about offshore production. Now under the leadership of David Elman and Sam Wineberg the company had to cease functioning as a lighting parts supplier and in order to survive started to design its own fixtures and use its relationships in China in order to adapt itself from a parts supplier into a fixture company.

First Steps as a Residential Lighting Distributor

In 1997, Dominion Ventures changed its name to DVI Lighting in order to reflect its new persona as a distributor of lighting.

At first, chandeliers were manufactured in Canada, but it became quickly apparent to owners Sam Wineberg and David Elman that manufacturing in Canada was unrealistic given the price points of lighting being sold in the marketplace. To survive production had to move offshore, and slowly, the DVI line became a line of imported designs developed in Chinese factories.

Training the Chinese manufacturer’s that quality had to take priority over mass production was an endemic problem then as it is now, but as the relationships strengthened between the Canadian designers and the Chinese manufacturers a harmonious relationship developed which still continues to this day. DVI’s first home grown designs hit the market in 1999, blending fashionable design with pricing competitive to mass produced imports. This earned DVI a firm place in the marketplace and allowed it to become a primary lighting supplier to retailers in the Greater Toronto Area for residential lighting.

Residential Lighting Industry Leader

In 2003, Robert Borg became Creative Director of DVI Lighting.

With hands on experience in handling the complexities of integrated operations between North American and overseas operations, and committed under his leadership to an aggressive program of annual design cycles keeping pace with fashion changes and consumer tastes, during the 2000’s DVI underwent an exponential growth phase. The company invested heavily in marketing its product to design media through product placement in television and print, thereby exposing the public to its product directly and attempted to create brand-name recognition of the DVI brand to the homeowner directly. This led to increased retail demand for DVI product and made the line extremely important for lighting showrooms across North America to showcase the DVI line in their showrooms to satisfy public demand.

Slowly, DVI expanded beyond its base of operations in Toronto and began to expand its market presence. Ignoring the big-box market and the poor quality, low-price mentality they operated under, DVI sought out relationships with premier lighting retailers, who were beginning to bounce back from the losses suffered when the big box stores attempted to destroy the industry but failed. First pushing into its historical home base in Quebec, and then expanding into the booming marketplaces in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, by the mid-2000’s DVI had become one of the major players in the Canadian residential lighting market.

By 2007, DVI had become secure enough to begin to explore entry in the American market. This was no simple task, as the US market for residential lighting was in frenzy during the last days of the real estate boom. Product could not be made or delivered fast enough to satisfy the pinnacle of the booming real estate market at the time. Fortunately for DVI, little progress had been made before the great recession hit the US in late 2008 and the home furnishings industry in the US went overnight from boom to bust and suffered through three of the worst years in its history.

2009-2011 has proved to be a daunting environment for growth in the US marketplace, but it actually proved to be a beneficial environment for DVI entering a very competitive arena. Fortunately, the great recession largely skipped over Canada. Because of that, DVI was able to continue to maintain its business model, and in fact continued to grow; emphasising the regular development of fashionable designs, maintaining a look that offered a greater perceived value that its purchase price so the consumer viewed the product as “better than its price tag”, and committed to maintaining a large inventory that ensured the product was available to the consumer when they needed it. These commitments were the cornerstones of DVI’s success in penetrating the Canadian market.

We think that Design, Value and Inventory are a winning formula. In fact, we named ourselves after those principles. By offering the same business model to American retailers, at a time when US competitors were pulling back on new product releases and inventory management due to the pressures of the troubled economy, DVI has been able to penetrate the US market and offer the same model of Design, Value, and Inventory that American customers has made us successful in the Canadian market.

DVI Today

Today, DVI is one of the major players in the residential lighting across North America.

With administrative offices in Toronto, sales offices in Toronto and Dallas, and warehousing in Toronto and Kentucky, DVI is positioned to offer product all across North America. DVI employs over 60 full time staff at the admin centre in Toronto, and has full time staff in Quebec, Kentucky and sales management in place in the US. DVI also retains a North American sales team with over 60 commissioned sales representatives from Alaska to Newfoundland, Puerto Rico to California. With Robert Borg as CEO and Creative Director, the company continues to build upon its three founding principles; a strong commitment to annual design cycles keeping the product line fresh and in fashion, offering pricing on product so average families can afford the line and feel that it has value in excess of its price point, and maintaining a fill rate for inventory so that retailers feel confident and trusting that when they need product, they will get it. We are committed to maintaining these values and continuing to work every day towards getting better.