And God said, let there be light; and there was light. — Genesis
YORKVILLE — Bob Cohen, president of Meyda Lighting headquartered in Yorkville (near Utica), advances the biblical idea of light a step further when he says: “The world needs light.” Where the Creator merely willed light, Meyda produces light by assembling a large staff of talented employees to design, shape multiple materials, assemble, wire, and ship the finished products.
“This is a complicated business,” says Cohen, a second-generation owner, “that deals with a lot of market segments including Internet dealers, brick-and-mortar dealers, designers, customers who buy directly at our retail outlets, and buyers in industries as varied as hospitality, restaurants, and restorations. There’s nothing about making custom, decorative-lighting fixtures that’s standardized. One day we’re manufacturing a 6,000-pound chandelier that stands 11-feet high and has a diameter of 35 feet. (The project is the world’s largest free-hanging chandelier: Meyda Lighting designed, engineered, and installed the chandelier at the Stanley Theatre in Utica.) The next day, it could be an order for a customer’s 65,000-square-foot home in need of customized fixtures … When it comes to custom lighting, either commercial or residential, Meyda is a household name.”
When Cohen says there is nothing standardized about his business, a glance at the 25,000 discrete items (up from 15,000 a few years ago) in the company’s catalogues confirms his statement.
“We keep expanding our manufacturing space to accommodate the growing demand for customized lighting,” notes Max Cohen, one of the president’s three sons whose primary role at the company is sales and design. “Just two years ago we occupied approximately 25,000 square feet for manufacturing. Today it’s closer to 40,000 feet.” He points out that the company inventories a wide variety of materials including aluminum, bronze, brass, copper, textiles, acrylics, wood, and even stone, plus a variety of lighting products to support the manufacturing operation.
To fulfill President Cohen’s axiom that the world needs light, Meyda, over the years, has made substantial investments in people, plant, and equipment.
“The company currently employs 75 people at the plant and retail store in Yorkville,” explains Bob Cohen. “Meyda also leases 1,600 feet in Old Forge for a retail outlet. The plant utilizes 144,000 square feet of manufacturing, inventory, retail, and shipping space sited on 8.5 acres. Founded in 1974, the operating company was incorporated as 55 Oriskany, Inc., and the real-estate company was incorporated as CMB Oriskany.” The Business Journal estimates the company’s annual revenue at $14 million.
Machinery & equipment
“To meet the demands for custom designs and compressed production schedules, Meyda has invested millions in machinery and equipment,” states Chet Cohen, the oldest of the three Cohen sons and the company’s production manager. “Just four years ago, we installed a new, hydraulic-press brake, which precisely bends all types of metals to create hardware and frames for a wide range of custom lighting and portable lamps. This piece of equipment bends metals up to 8 feet in length and is a CNC (computer-numerical controlled) unit, which allows our engineers to program the exact specifications prior to production.
More recently, we added a metal-spinning machine to make caps. And this year, Meyda expanded its custom capabilities with a new, state-of-the-art, laser-cutting machine that can handle a wide range of metal gauges. The machine cuts grids, straight lines, and contours in addition to piercing metals. The output includes metal cut-outs, components, decorative accents, and filigree. The finished metals are used as decorative accents, scrollwork, and components for custom-lighting fixtures. I’m very pleased with the quality of the machined pieces, our expanded capabilities, and the fact we have been able to cut some of our lead times from eight weeks to four weeks.”
Meyda spent more than $1 million to buy and install the laser-cutting machine. The purchase was funded without the need to borrow any funds. The new laser cutter also adds contract, metal-cutting capabilities for other manufacturers to utilize.
“Our investments aren’t confined to hardware and software,” stresses Max Cohen. “We spend a lot of time attracting outstanding talent who will help us grow. New hires include electrical and mechanical engineers as well as qualified electricians, machinists, and fabricators. Meyda has reached out to area colleges to build relationships with the faculty, administration, and students. One example of building these relationships occurred on a recent Manufacturing Day at SUNY Poly. Some engineering students lacked adequate space to build their projects, so we offered them space free-of-charge here at the plant. We even supplied support staff to teach them how to operate the laser cutter and other equipment we have on the floor. Some of the students were working on a bridge-building project, which I see as a metaphor for how Meyda is building bridges with our local colleges. The key to our success is to find talented workers and provide them with the tools to be productive.”
Lighting design is always changing, but some trends are cyclical.
“Stained-glass was popular back with Tiffany designs,” avers Bob Cohen. “It regained popularity in the 1930s and again in the 1980s and 1990s, which helped us launch our business. It seems to be back in style today. Other trends also seem to recur. Fortunately for Meyda, artisanal accents are popular today as are oversized fixtures that make a bold statement. We’re also seeing a revival of ‘warmer’ metals — bronze, brass, and those with gold tones — for hardware and light fixtures. In addition, pendant and industrial-style lighting are … [in vogue], and wireless lighting and security-control systems are in demand. But one trend that is not cyclical is the increase in LED (light-emitting diode) lighting.”
A report by Zion Market Research for the global LED lighting market over the next five years projects 13 percent compounded annual growth with the market reaching $54.3 billion by 2022. Last year, the residential segment dominated the market with a 40 percent share. Because LEDs are 10-times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, are more reliable, and have a longer working life, the continued acceptance and growth of LEDs seems assured.
“Following industry trends can be a challenge,” avers Max Cohen, “but we’re on top of the changes in our industry. I think a bigger challenge, sometimes, is responding to some designers’ and customers’ sketches asking whether we can produce the design. I’ve seen sketches on a scrap of paper, and I’ve even received verbal ideas of what a product should look like. We pass on the ideas to our engineers who somehow turn the concept into reality. It’s all part of the company mission statement: ‘We’re here to say yes, and to make it happen.’ “
“We didn’t start out as a business,” asserts Bob Cohen. “My mother [Ida] was tired of looking at ‘vintage cars’ in our backyard, which my father [Meyer] promised he would restore one day. While waiting for the promised restoration day to arrive, my mother suggested that Meyer install a stained-glass window to block the view. My dad was retired and a master tinkerer, so he and my mother took a course in making stained-glass windows … That was in 1974. My parents had fun making windows, terrariums, lamps, and planters in our basement, which they sold at area craft shows. Business was slow, and my father used to quip that our door only opened when the wind blew. Things changed in 1980 when a local Methodist Church ordered four stained-glass windows. I started to think of my parents’ hobby more as a business.”
Cohen joined his parents in 1975 while still a teenager.
“I helped out at the craft shows and watched the business grow,” recalls the company president. “Our growth was spurred by an interest in Tiffany designs that swept the country in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1995, we bought the Quality Bent Glass Co. which created custom-lighting fixtures, including the famous Coca-Cola chandeliers originally supplied to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studio in New York City. In the late 1990s, Meyda bought Mecco Art, a metal-art studio, and in 2009 we acquired Second Ave Lighting to expand our metal-lighting sales both on the commercial and residential side of the business. Our development has come from a combination of organic growth and acquisitions.”
While the Creator remains focused on celestial phenomena, three generations of Cohens have been concentrated on creating terrestrial light. In the process, the family has converted a hobby into a thriving business with a national reputation. Continued investments in people and machinery underlie the company’s growth. So does the company’s dedication to fulfilling Bob Cohen’s mantra: “The world needs light.” Meyda, as a leading manufacturer and designer of custom light fixtures, has lit up America for 43 years and expects to continue meeting the demand well into the future.
And God saw the light, and it was good (Genesis). To which the Cohens say “Amen.”