The following two interviews resulted from visits that my sons and I made on a trip to a video game conference in Milwaukee. We visited two DJ industry members: One of them, Full Compass, has been around since the ‘70s and is a full-line dealer of DJ gear, sound equipment, lighting and more; the other is Blizzard Lighting, a growing DJ lighting company, which we’ll take a look at first.
When we visited Blizzard Lighting, I was able to spend some good time talking with Will Komassa and Bob Mueller about business, seeing some new products, and generally having a relaxed time. For the interview, recorded the following week, their partner Frank Luppino III joined us. Knowing Frank for around 15 years and just getting to know Will and Bob over the last 2-3 years, we had a lively discussion. I could see they have a real heart for the industry and are working to become the next big DJ equipment manufacturer.
R B: Tell us, one of you, in a tag team, how you guys got into this wonderful industry.
Will Komassa: Bob, you tell him. You do the best job.
Bob Mueller: We got into this industry because we like lights. We enjoy lights. We’re into lights very deeply. We used them out in the field long before ever being involved directly in the business. It was a passion that goes way back, particularly for Will. We’re all musicians. We all use the stuff and we thought we could make a better widget. And that’s what we try to do every day.
W K: And I have to inject some humor. I think that we’re in this business because Bob’s lazy. Because the way this got started was Bob and I played in a rock cover band together for about five years. And like Bob said, I’ve always been really interested in lighting, gosh, ever since I can remember. I remember when I was in like middle school, I asked for Christmas a gift certificate to the local DJ shop in Milwaukee called The Scratch Pad. And I went out and bought myself four used pin spots and a little chase controller, and ever since then I was kind of hooked on it.
I did technical theater stuff in high school and college; did some lighting design, took some lighting classes, stuff like that. Bob and I were in this band, and I was always bringing different lights, and he and all the rest of the guys in the band Frank would always complain because they were big and heavy and nobody liked to carry them.
So…I guess I started to experiment with the LED stuff. And it was a hobby for a while. I had a “straight” job, and lost my job. And while I was looking for another straight job I started delving into this more. And two and a half years later, here we are.
Frank Luppino III: And as you might or might not know, I’ve been doing this for 20-plus years and I was excited to find people that share the passion for lighting and customer service that I have. The customer service out there I find is lacking from a lot of other companies.
W K: Yeah…I actually knew Frank by reputation before ever meeting him with Blizzard. And when we met him, we definitely hit it off right away. We were standing in Frank’s warehouse in Illinois and…we were doing a lot of laughing and a lot of smiling and realized that we probably had something pretty special.
R B: Blizzard Lighting came into this right as LED was taking off; perfect timing because the new generation of lighting was hitting. Tell us about your first product or two.
W K: The first product that we ever had was the Flurry Wash. That was the one that started it all. And actually I had been doing a ton of research and I had been speaking with a manufacturer in China who made a similar product. And I made a few suggestions, ideas about what I thought might make it even a little bit nicer, which turns out it’s pretty difficult to have someone do. They agreed to make a very few of them for me and they shipped them over and I showed them to Bob.
And I said, check this out. Look at how this thing is unbelievably small, it’s unbelievably bright, and it’s really cost-effective. And he said, that’s really cool. That’s exactly what we need for our band. And gosh, it’s just something that’s so useful in so many different situations. And so that’s where it all started, was with that little moving head. And we’ve been kind of trying to come up with new and better and unique stuff since then.
F L: We’re small enough and passionate enough, we’re able to bring new and innovative products to market real quick. And if the Flurry Wash was the first item, the Puck really put us on the map. It was truly the first lay-flat uplighting product in the marketplace. And we’ve expanded extensively on that category. And hence, the best form of flattery is other companies copying our products.
W K: I don’t know if it’s the best form of flattery, but yeah. (Chuckles.) When we got the first shipment of Pucks, which I think was in May or June of 2010, and showed them to Bob, and like, these are going to be hot; these are going to be incredibly popular. They checked every box at that point in time. They were super-affordable. They’re built really nicely. They had a lot of features that there was no other fixture out on the market that had. It definitely seemed like something that was going to be really useful for DJs.
You know, uplighting, like you said, Ryan, was really, really starting to be- come a pretty big deal right about then. And so yeah, we were definitely in the right place at the right time. And since then we’ve been trying to stay on the front end of things; and in some ways we’re trying to create markets, too…
R B: Now you have, what, a couple dozen high-quality products? Where do you see the market going…what direction will you be headed?
W K: I’ll say like five things and then Bob and Frank definitely can say something, too. I guess I’ve never really thought about myself as being strategic before, but over the past probably year, we’ve really been working on exactly that question: What do we think is next? And we’ve been trying to plan our strategy, which is subject to change at a moment’s notice, but we do have thoughts about it.
We are working on expanding into some other areas. We recently released Eclipse DMX, which is a software controller for the USB and DMX hardware piece. We’re working on some kind of unique atmospheric products; foggers, hazers, stuff like that. We’ve been expanding into the DJ laser class of products. And there are definitely some other things in the pipeline as well. But we do have a pretty strong core of LED color changer products, which we are continually working on, improving and evolving as well.
F L: And expanding on that, as I said earlier, we’re small enough that we’re able to react and see what the market is looking for and really bring it to market faster than anyone else can, and that’s one of our benefits. And when we come out with new products, we test the waters, see what people think and expand on that.
R B: When I was out there, you were showing me some new products in process. We were also talking about your Wicicles—. the wireless DMX system. Tell us a little bit about how those are making things different for DJs doing uplighting.
W K: Well, the Wicicle does something that there are a lot of different products out there that do the same thing…If you think about it as just taking the place of a DMX cord, that’s really the easiest way to think about it. The biggest thing that the Wicicle has that no other products out there have is the form factor. It’s really small. It looks basically like the end of a DMX cable with an antenna on it, which makes it really convenient to use…[what] I think is sort of a defining idea behind us, is that we’ve constantly decided there are other companies out there that have built-in DMX wireless things. We really like the Wicicle and we really like its ability to plug directly into a bunch of our fixtures.
Like most of the Puck line now does that and we’re going to be expanding into other fixtures as well, like our new I60 moving head wash. It’s going to offer this functionality where you can plug the Wicicle directly into it. It won’t need external power. It’ll feed power directly from the DMX jack. So what it allows you to do is have a wireless DMX-capable device that you can purchase just the fixture first and then add on to it later without having to go through a whole bunch of additional hassles.
Most people don’t have unlimited budgets to buy light fixtures, so you can limit your initial investment. And then when you do have money down the road, if it’s something you want to do, you can do it. But they are very reliable, too. The range is just excellent on them. There’s no delays or anything like that…
R B: What else do you want people to know about Blizzard?
F L: Well, we’re very strong on support, whether it be in our forum or on Facebook. We really try and show—you know, product videos—we really try and be friendly with everybody. And that’s a key. Our customers, the DJs, the clubs, they’re not just a number on a computer screen. They’re part of our team, our family, when they buy a product. They’re getting something that works.
One thing that I always stress—some people don’t believe this, but we do it— every single item is QC’d in our facility before it ships out. So we make sure [every] product leaves our facility working, because we’ve tested every single one of them.
R B: What’s the best way for people to get ahold of you if they have questions about Blizzard Lighting?
W K: …definitely check out our Facebook page (Facebook.com/ BlizzardLighting). We’re running some contests…that should become a pretty regular fixture on the Facebook page.
F L: And just to add on the YouTube, there’s a lot of time and effort, especially by Will, put in with tutorials on how to use product and how the product interacts. So YouTube is a great avenue to learn about the products…
W K: If people have suggestions I personally love to hear them as long as they’re not, “You know, you guys suck.” If it’s not that, I love to hear it. And Facebook is a great avenue to do that…I always like to read people’s posts and constructive criticism and suggestions. We definitely take them to heart. They’ve formed the basis of some of the changes and enhancements that we’ve made to the products, even in the past six to eight months…
B M: And one thing I’d like to add… You know, given the nature of the business, given the nature of the manufacturing, just like Coach bags and iPhones, everybody wants one to look like something else—like the original. And our Puck, for example, may look like a lot of other products out there that came after the Puck. Because there’s a lot of stuff out there that looks like ours, and we absolutely make every effort to make it better the minute we get it into our hands and get it manufactured better for all future fixtures.
R B: Fantastic. Bob, Will, and Frank, the partners in Blizzard Lighting. Last-minute words on anything?
W K: No, but thanks for taking the time to chat with us. It’s been fun. And thanks for coming to visit, too. Sorry we didn’t have any, like, big cakes or anything. But next time. (Chuckles.)
Filed Under: Exclusive Online News and Content, Issue #143, Lighting, Profiles
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