The O’Blaney Rinker team reunited (with safe social distancing) to raise their glasses to O’Blaney Rinker Associates’ 10 year anniversary. In a large spaced-out setting at an Upstate restaurant, the ORA team surprised James O’Blaney and Caroline Rinker with a bottle of Rare Champagne to celebrate the special occasion.
According to Jessie Grillo, Inside Sales Manager, “What James and Caroline have achieved through careful management of this company and our team is much like the methodical development of fine Champagne. The grapes of any great vintage must persevere through harsh conditions of drought or cold. Like vintners, James and Caroline have blended and tended their company, adding just the right elements at the right times for taste and effervescence. They offer a singular, sparkling presence in our lives as employers as well as in the lighting industry.”
The scene is a crowded, crazy Greek restaurant in New York when James made an ambitious pitch to Caroline: “What do you think about becoming partners in our own lighting agency?” After some thought, Caroline agreed. Both quit their respective companies and on September 10, James, his wife Diana, and Caroline officially formed O’Blaney Rinker Associates, forging ahead armed only with industry contacts and positive attitudes.
Working out of a friend’s apartment, they put together a business plan with lots of assumptions, and headed to the bank to ask for a loan. James and Caroline remember, “sitting in front of this poor guy at the bank and explaining our business plan and what we ‘think’ we’re going to do. He kept looking at one of us and then the other, saying ‘How do you expect to make money? You don’t touch the money? You don’t buy or sell anything? You don’t have any lines, whatsoever?’ He thought we were out of our minds!”
Needless to say, they didn’t get the loan.
James reached out to Ed Bauer from Leviton Controls with a proposal to represent the line in NYC. Though Ed refused James’ offer, he did provide them with office space at Fifth Ave. and 28th St., with the understanding that they sell Leviton products. It was a just small room with a table and some chairs, but it was a solid launchpad for the partners.
They acquired their first exclusive line, National Cathode, and soon after, Modular International, which O’Blaney Rinker still represents today. A few years later, James and Caroline partnered in a working agreement with Electric Lighting Associates for specification work. This partnership enabled ORA to service design firms and lighting specifiers with a full range of lines and options.
Forward to 2020
Ten years and five office moves later, James, Diana, and Caroline keep going and growing. They’ve settled into two offices: their Midtown Manhattan location and an office in Paramus, NJ. Today, O’Blaney Rinker Associates represents 34 architectural lighting and controls lines and continues to expand. James confessed, “When we started, we thought 15 lines was ambitious.” The two are proud to employ a talented and dedicated team of eight, with Dave Wallace being the very first hire back in 2011.
James and Caroline credit much of O’Blaney Rinker’s success in the New York market to their volunteer work with the DLFNY and IESNYC. Caroline was president of the DLFNY 10 years ago, and remains an active member as co-chair of LEDucation. James is well known for hosting, entertaining, and creating videos for the IESNYC Lumen Awards since 2013. They have provided sponsorships for different local lighting events since the founding of ORA and often reached into personal funds to support a particular industry effort. O’Blaney Rinker is currently a corporate sponsor of DLFNY, a platinum sponsor for LEDucation, a silver sponsor for IESNYC, and a bronze sponsor for IALD-NY.
A 10th anniversary is celebrated with tin or aluminum to represent the durability and flexibility needed to sustain a partnership. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved a formidable challenge, as it has for many in the lighting industry and for New Yorkers, in general. The O’Blaney Rinker team transitioned quickly to working remotely. They seized on digital opportunities to keep designers plugged in to the latest products with ORA Short videos hosted on their website and their YouTube channel. Weekly luncheons and coffee chats online maintain the team’s easy camaraderie, and have strengthened relationships in tough times.
Raising our glasses
“We feel very lucky and thankful to those who believed in us and gave us the opportunity to prove they were right,” James said. Caroline added: “We are grateful to our staff, clients, manufacturers, and colleagues throughout the lighting industry. We remain strong and look forward to what the future might bring.”