Light Action Sets Stage for Future Growth

by Mike Wharton • in
  • Company 411
  • January 2019
• Created: January 14, 2019

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Artist’s rendering of the HQ buildings opening later this year.

New Headquarters Blueprints Include Plans for Pine Box Sound Stage

Light Action, the flagship of a group of companies including Applied Electronics, Staging Dimensions and Riverfront AV owned by Scott Humphrey, is moving from its New Castle, DE location to Wilmington, DE and doing so in a big way. Though a short distance between the two locations (a mere six miles), the 150,000 square foot facility, to be known as Pine Box, breaks ground this month and is expected to be completed by mid 2019. It represents a culmination in the journey Humphrey started in 1981 when he was working out of a van with a homemade lighting console.

Aerial view of the Pine Box and other buildings on the Light Action campus in Wilmington, DE.

As for the “Pine Box” name, Humphrey notes that it comes from an expression that his father, Jim, often used. “This is my last move before I go in the pine box.”

“For me, on a personal level I figure this really is my last move, so I kind of threw the name out there as a joke, but it stuck. The architect liked it, so here we are. I’m not going out on any crazy ventures after this.”

For the past three years, Humphrey has been looking for a larger facility with a warehouse. To create more warehouse space in the existing 40,000 square foot building during that time, he relocated the Light Action’s front office to another building he owned, which gained him about 7,500 more square feet.

The search was originally dedicated to a vision of finding a space big enough for Light Action’s present operations, with room to grow. “About ten acres would cut it, I figured,” he says.

Humphrey has made a habitual focus point of his businesses to give his customers more than they expect, rather than having them expect a lot more and not giving them enough. Coincidently, that is exactly how his search efforts played out with a call from the mayor of Wilmington, Michael Purzycki.

The two had developed a friendship over previous business projects during the renovation of the Riverfront area in Wilmington. Purzycki reached out to Humphrey about some land that had been sitting dormant for some 15 years, which he felt could be acquired at a reasonable price.

The problem was, the owners would only sell if Humphrey bought all 21 acres.

‡‡         An Idea Takes Shape

Humphrey had a dozen or so customers he was fairly sure could use a large space for pre-production instead of going to the expense of extra load in days for a build out. Rather than just construct a 125,000 square foot warehouse/office facility for the Light Action’s new location, Humphrey thought, “why not add another 25,000 feet for pure production use?”

Never one to rush into decisions — “I have always operated on a one step at a time kind of ‘walk before you run philosophy,’ he says — he told his customers “what I was planning, and asked them if they were on board with such a thing and they said sure we could use the Pine Box in a lot of ways.”

Just as his businesses have grown over the years by word of mouth, his plans for adding a soundstage to the new facility reached other ears in the industry.

“Our industry has a high demand for a facility that can bring all the components of a show or event together under one roof,” he says. “Corporate activations, pre production, and film often use various companies to create the event. Just look at Tait Towers and how successful their expansion in Lititz has been.”

Light Action projects (such as this installation for the Philadelphia Flyers) will benefit from the new Pine Box Soundstage.

Calling upon his own personal experience from working in, and launching tours, “the sound stage design is a combination of what has been needed for our current clients along with the experience of working at various sound stages ranging from Paramount to a rehearsal space like S.I.R. (See example from Flyers photo below…that could have benefitted from Pine Box)

Little nuances inside will be based on demand as needs continue to evolve, and smaller rehearsal areas for the local community, whether it is a local dance troupe, local band will be available.

The two cubes making up Pine Box and Light Action will be connected, but will operate entirely separately. The Light Action facility, measuring 200 by 525 by 35 feet (WxLxH), will house equipment, production offices, two pre-visualization suites and front office administration

Pine Box, the performance area with overlook lofts and balconies, will also have a separate dance studio, smaller rehearsal breakout spaces with kitchens and bathrooms and 5,000 square feet of office space. Overall, it measures 200 by 125 by 95 feet (LxWxH).

As with all his enterprises, “the Pine Box was an organic evolution of sorts,” Humphrey emphasizes. “Light Action was the first business I started, from there having manufacturing companies that supported the product line made a lot of sense. Riverfront AV was an expansion of what Light Action was already doing.

He started Staging Dimensions based on a need of meeting customer’s deadlines and quantities. “The lead-time on getting staging was just too long, and by building my own, I could guarantee consistent quality.” The connection between the four companies is that it allows for the “turnkey” or “one-stop” approach to work very efficiently.

Light Action has been working with the Mummers Fancy Brigade in Philadelphia for almost 20 years.

‡‡         Adding Jobs and Opportunities

Humphrey recalls with a laugh that when he started out, he was motivated by pure survival. “Having employees was the furthest thing from my mind.” He now employs over 130 people, some who have been with him as long as 30 years. People like Paula Deluca, VP of Light Action; Kim Moore, VP of Staging Dimensions; Andy Rougvie, Project Manager, Light Action; Tex Varney, Project Manager, Light Action; Dave Harris, Live Audio, Riverfront AV; John Donlevie, Video Manager, Riverfront AV; and Jon Lenard, Manager of Electronics at Applied Electronics provide the leadership that helps each of the business entities evolve.

“I’m very proud that we have people who have worked with us for so long. I cannot do this without their years of commitment,” says Humphrey. “It says something. I’m as proud of the fact that a guy has been working with me for 20 years, as I am of when we did an event for The Pope in D.C. Some one might say, ‘Well, The Pope, that’s a pretty big deal.’ But I think a big deal is the guy coming into work every day of those 20 years, and being able to support his family and own a home. I take that very seriously, and try to give them challenging work which results in more money each year.”

Wilmington, indeed the entire State of Delaware, has supported Light Action and Humphrey’s other companies through the years. Along with his gratitude, his attraction to the area goes back to his childhood days, when he and his father would drive past a road sign on the way to the beach which read, “Wilmington A Place to Be Somebody.” It left an impression on him, and in the back of his mind, served as some sort of inspiration.

“I always wondered, when we passed that sign, would I make something of myself?’” he says. “I think I have, but only because of what’s clicked for me here in Delaware. I’ve met some fantastic people here, and I’ve always gotten the sense that people are willing to help each other out here.”

He hopes the Pine Box will be able to reciprocate in some way by offering the region a new option for various projects. These could serve non-profits, public schools, and other groups who normally would never have access to a facility offering these types of options.

Just last year, “our company became associated with the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) internships program. We have students come to us to learn everything from manufacturing to design. Not only do they get school credit, but we pay them, too.”

A business philosophy that has served well for Humphrey time and again through years has been, “anytime we have been given an opportunity, we took that further than the opportunity originally offered.” His work with the Mummers for almost 20 years now clearly shows that ideology in motion.

Light Action supports the video, lighting, audio and staging needs for the Mummers Fancy Brigade.

‡‡         “Creative Clienting” Fuels Growth

Mummers are costumed entertainers that welcome in the New Year. This year’s event marked 119 years of the celebration’s existence in Philadelphia — making it one of the oldest folk festivals in the U.S. The parade, linked to Mummers’ play traditions with mid-17th century roots in the U.K., Ireland and elsewhere, involves floats built by the performers themselves who compete in a variety of satirical musical acts. None of the participants come from the entertainment world, be it artist or technician. They prepare elaborate costumes, performance routines, and moveable scenery, which take months to complete. The “clubhouse,” which serves as a social gathering place year round for the mummers to craft their costumes, write their skits and rehearse their performances. These performances fall into four categories known as The Wench Brigade, The Fancy Brigade, The Comics, The String Bands and The Fancy Division. They perform in the street as well as inside the Convention Center, and participants come from all walks of life and all trades and professions.

The Pine Box will provide rehearsal space for productions of all scopes and sizes.

“We started working with them on a very small level,” Humphrey says, “but I could see they needed someone to help them out. They were building everything out of wood and wheel dollies. When I showed them my bag of tricks, they were blown away. I saw an opportunity for them and at the same time they saw an opportunity for me. When you have a relationship that you’re so close to one another you take a positive advantage of one another.”

Humphrey first worked with the Mummers in 2001, delivering a van of rental lights. The 2019 event required 11 tractor trailers worth of trussing, video walls and a 200 moving light package for the convention center alone. Light Action provides all the lighting for television broadcast for the overall event as well.

Humphrey calls this type of growth “creative clienting,” where his companies “really try to make it a solution thing instead of a competitive thing. We’re not taking customers from other companies we are creating customers, and I think our group of companies provides the best tool box there is by meeting their needs as they go along.”

With the construction of Pine Box, Humphrey sees a way to further meet their needs by providing the 120-by-60-foot space they need to rehearse their performances, as well as accommodations to set up gear and construct all their production pieces.

“This is like theater on steroids,” he says. “It requires all the resources of the four separate companies, but the nature of the build involved a new learning curve for everyone. My guys working for me really had to think outside the box to meet the needs of this project, but the guys with theater background had a lot of fun with it, even throwing some of the rules out the window so we could improvise.”

Light Action also provides lights, sound, video, staging and effects for EDM festivals. Pictured here, the Moonrise Festival.

‡‡         A Valued Behind-the-Scenes Assist

As many people who know Scott Humphrey — musicians, the mayor, the group behind the Firefly Music Festival, music, film, and TV industry folks from coast to coast — there are many more who don’t. It seems that Humphrey prefers it that way. “I built these businesses up to stand on their reputation as a company, not as a monument about the person,” says Humphrey.

“Light Action flies under the radar consistently,” says Mike Rampmeyer, COO of Applied Electronics, “regardless of whether we are doing a complete lighting installation for Stephen Colbert’s show or delivering 120 trucks of video, lighting, and staging for the Pope visit in D.C.”

“When I talk about organic, I look at how Mike came into Applied Electronics with no manufacturing experience, but understood people and how to communicate with them,” Humphrey says. “He has characteristics that are very similar to my father, who was my business partner for years. Coming from outside the entertainment business, Mike brought new ideas into our world. I like to say, I gained five years of my life back when he came to work for the company.”

Scott Humphrey’s companies support a wide array of events.

For more information, visit www.lightactioninc.com.

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