In 1987, Steve and Lori Leveen decided to go into the lighting business. It wasn't due to a lifelong devotion to lighting; it was more like a whim. Steve had read about halogen lighting in The International Design Yearbook and, having recently been laid off from his job at a software design firm, thought halogen lamps would be an interesting product to market. Lori agreed. She was pregnant, contemplating maternity leave from her job as a marketing consultant, and open to new career directions.
"We both liked the idea of selling a product instead of a service [such as consulting]," says Lori. "With only two people, we could see there was a limit to how much we could do in a service business. With products, there was no such limitation."
The potential may have been boundless, but start-up capital was not. They had retirement savings to help cover personal expenses, but their business fund consisted of proceeds from the sale of their 1985 Mitsubishi Montero, for which they netted $9,500. They used $1,500 to buy Lori's father's station wagon; the remaining $8,000 was used to start the business.
Levenger's elegant-sounding name (a combination of the founders' last names--Leveen and Granger) was perhaps the only elegant thing about the initial operation. The Leveens' apartment served as headquarters, while their neighbor's garage acted as a warehouse. Their catalog was a modest black-and-white brochure featuring a handful of halogen floor and desk lamps. "Frankly, it was just one large piece of paper, folded twice," says Steve.
Lack of glitz wasn't their only problem, though. Their first few ads drew only a lukewarm response. The Leveens had nearly resigned themselves to obscurity when inspiration struck. Maybe what they needed was a hook. The appeal of halogen lighting was its effectiveness, not just its good looks. If they could highlight function over fashion, perhaps customers would respond.
So, on October 12, 1987, they placed a 1-inch ad in The New Yorker magazine promising "Serious Lighting for Serious Readers."