Where they work affects how people work, workplace experts have long realized. Humans are extremely sensitive to their work surroundings. Workplace cultures where people feel happy, safe, appreciated and supported assist employees to feel empowered and productive.
The availability of light, natural or artificial, is one of the most important elements in creating a healthy people-centered environment.
RBW started its light emitting diode (LED) fixture company at an auspicious time, 2009. Large businesses were discovering the high rate of return on their capital by replacing incandescent lighting with LED lights, which were up to 90 percent more efficient, had a much longer lifespan, and threw off less heat. RBW calls its main products “luminaires.”
Starting as a design firm and a consultant, RBW began to design and manufacture LED fixtures. Its products, according to a weekly design magazine called Office Snapshots, made it a pioneering force in the use of LEDs in contemporary design.
“Today, through an experimental approach guided by technology, creativity, and simplicity, the studio continues to break new ground in lighting design,” the magazine, now based in California, wrote. “Products range from subtle to statement pieces, continually providing new solutions to architects’ and designers’ needs.”
Ulster County, which already boasts a number of lighting factories, has now added another. RBW held an open house on the Saturday of the Columbus Day weekend at its headquarters location, which was once a satellite building for the former sprawling IBM complex. Managing director Charles Brill provided three tours of the facility that day.
The Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce will be hosting what’s being billed as a ribbon-cutting and grand opening at 10 a.m. next Monday, October 24. Please respond to Jess Davis at Jess@UlsterChamber.org or at 845-338-5100, ext. 4.
The location of choice
The completely renovated space at 575 Boice’s Lane in the Town of Ulster will be the home base for about 60 employees. Managing director Brill and his partners, Theo Richardson and Alex Williams, have made a commitment to make its Ulster County facility the crown jewel of its identity, its world headquarters. They chose to locate here – a real community within a hundred miles of New York City. The architect designers for the renovated space were Neil Logan and Kingston-based Dutton Architecture.
Most of the RBW team now live here, though a few still reside in the Berkshires and northeastern Connecticut.
A slick new video sums up the choice of location. “A new chapter of innovation,” it says. “Kingston, New York.”
Brill’s main concern about relocating to Ulster County was that he might not find the kind of labor force RBW was looking for. It turned out that his concerns were unwarranted. He found the right people for the available jobs.
“Be a part of the driven team that’s working towards building a better atmosphere for tomorrow,” the company tells prospective employees in a section of its website.
The more-than-two-acre space on Boice’s Lane hasn’t been fully occupied for many, many years. RBW bought the building last year. For now, according to Brill, about 35 RBW manufacturing and office workers will regularly occupy the cavernous 60,000-square-foot south side of the building, with the other team members joining them at times.
A design firm’s space
A very large and high-ceilinged open space a few yards from the building entrance greets the visitor. As expected, there’s overhead lighting from RBW-made fixtures. On three sides, a series of conference rooms of varying sizes are separated from the main space by floor-to-ceiling glass, offering both privacy and transparency. On the fourth side is an innovation table where the firm’s six designers and anyone else who cares to can play with tools and materials in front of a wall of windows offering natural light.
A very large elephant ear in a plant pot is the sole object in the middle of the cavernous room. It makes for a dramatic sight.
The elephant ear too has a local history. It formerly stood for several years in the garden department of the Ulster Adams Fairacre Farms, Brill says. The Adams employees hated to lose it, but consoled themselves that it was going to a good home where it would be well taken care of. “Maybe they can come over on weekends to see it,” Brill offers.
Down a central hallway with a kitchen and bathrooms off it is another large room with a dozen manufacturing stations and other assembly desks on one side and neatly organized storage space on the other. For RBW, manufacturing and office space in the same building rather than separate is essential. They’re a single creative team, and being in a single space fosters more frequent communication between them.
The sales and marketing people are on the road more, but still have an attachment to the home base on Boice’s Lane. RBW has retained its showroom on Greene Street in Soho.
Employee pay and benefits are at New York City levels, not Ulster County levels. Hybrid or remote work when appropriate is encouraged.
A playful point of view
The company’s focus is on maintaining a strong relationship with its customer base, calling them every few months about their changing needs. Customer support is promised and delivered. The company, which maintains a robust Internet presence, offers 60,000 product configurations. It is willing to make what the customer wants, even if what is wanted has to be custom-made.
Here’s RBW’s pitch from its website:
“RBW is a brand for architects and designers looking for a higher quality of light. By listening closely to the needs of our customers, RBW’s forward-thinking, technology-driven approach invents lighting solutions that are out of the ordinary — products that take on unprecedented shapes, or make subtle upgrades on familiar forms. Each of our collections embodies a distinct personality while upholding the hallmarks of RBW’s family DNA: Intuitive ease and simplicity. Integrity of craft and material. High-quality lighting with a playful point of view.”
The message seems to be working. RBW has made the Inc. list of the 5000 fastest-growing companies in America several times.
RBW is a Benefit (or B) Corporation, a firm that promises to conduct an assessment every three years of social and environmental performance, voluntarily to consider the interests of all stakeholders (not just shareholders), and to offer a higher degree of public transparency of its activities.
Locally, RBW has established a relationship with the Kingston Land Bank to support that organization’s activities. Further afield, it has contributed $100,000 over the years to establish a $5000 annual scholarship at the Rhode Island School of Design, where the firm’s three principals met, to award in perpetuity to a student who is first in their family to attend college.