It was an impressive moment even for established lighting professionals. When MK Illumination, the European market leader in the field, lit up Frankfurt’s MyZeil shopping center with thousands of lights at the end of November last year, this catapulted the demands placed on seasonal lighting to a new level. MK Illumination created an enchanted forest of oversized proportions for MyZeil. Four- to six-meter-high luminous deer jump from the facade right across the avant-garde shopping mall with tremendous momentum. This opened a new dimension of fantastic, lifelike Christmas scene setting both with regard to the design of a “story” and the technical implementation of lighting décor. It is sure to delight and inspire MyZeil visitors years to come. “It’s rare that we can go on a creative romp on such a—in the truest sense of the word—phenomenal scale,” said Thomas Mark, President of MK Illumination, at the official presentation.
“Consumers are paramount in everything we do. It’s all about them. About how we can reach them and how to make them more loyal to the shopping center,” added Klaus Mark, founder and CEO of MK Illumination. And Klaus Mark can reach. He has been working on festive Christmas lighting for 20 years now. Shopping centers and their possibilities for individual staging have appealed to the clever Austrian. “Festive lighting and decoration can set a shopping center quite significantly apart from the competition,” said Klaus Mark. “We guarantee our customers individual creative concepts. We do not want the same illumination to end up at the neighboring center. That is part of our corporate philosophy,” said the Tyrolean. It’s quite an ambitious undertaking, but ambition is probably one of Klaus Mark’s essential characteristics. After all, he has led MK Illumination from being a one-man operation to a global organization in just 20 years.
Klaus Mark was in second chance education when his son Markus and daughter Maja were born. Since he was still in education at that point of time, he had to find part-time work to provide for his young family. So for a small enterprise in Innsbruck, he carried out the installation of fairy lights during the Christmas season – a subject that was to become his passion down to the present day. Although he worked for yet another company after completing his education, he continued to be intrigued with the thought and potential of festive lighting. In his spare time he was busy working on a new fairy light prototype in his small garage convinced of being able to create a higher quality light chain.
Four years later, in 1996, he decided to fully concentrate on the subject of Christmas lighting and, together with his wife Marie, he founded MK Illumination. Half a year later, his twin brother Thomas also joined the company, who remains to be the third partner and shareholder to this day. The Mark family managed to convince surrounding towns of the beauty and appeal of Christmas lighting – at that time, something not yet appreciated and not in demand everywhere in Central Europe. So the first projects were successfully implemented in Innsbruck, Wattens and Obergurgl (see interview).
In 1998, the entrepreneurs succeeded in bringing the first of MK Illumination’s own light chains to the market, which over the years set the quality standards in the field of illuminations to this day. The first of MK’s own designs could be manufactured and carefully crafted once the company opened its own lighting production facility in Slovakia 1999. While the factory initially covered just 200 sq m, it now boats an area of 9,000 sq m and more than 300 people now build light designs at the seasonal peak for projects all over the world, whether for amusement parks, hotels, cities, towns, airports or shopping centers.
Storytelling as the alpha and omega
“For all these projects, it is important to have a theme. We want to tell stories,” says Thomas Mark. The long lead times demonstrate how sophisticated these can be. Six to 12 months generally pass from the start to the implementation of a shopping center project. “We deal with a lot of individual steps: from the idea, to the design, visualization, and choice of materials, to detailed planning including all technical aspects, right up to manufacturing, installation, dismanteling and storage. We encourage center managers to start thinking about the next Christmas in the winter. That’s when the brainstorming actually already has to start,” said Thomas Mark.
Klaus Mark explains the significance that festive Christmas lights can have for shopping centers these days: “For our Christmas concepts, we always ask our customers where visitor flows should be steered. Christmas decorations have been shown to be able to nudge visitors in certain directions. It’s measurable. Certain highlights can shift streams of customers. In MyZeil, for example, customer frequency overall rose significantly during the decoration time.”
Interactivity for a new generation
More than just the accuracy of “attractions” has improved significantly in recent years. Linking Christmas decoration with social media and interactivity is almost a “must” for innovative center decoration. Klaus Mark sums up what ultimately counts: “We want our customers to have the greatest success thanks to what we are doing.” It seems to be working: Today, 20 years after its founding, MK Illumination operates 29 subsidiaries on every habitable continent.