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An Everlasting Kind of Light

Western Montana Lighting bids adieu to longtime design expert while confidently riding the wave of change

Western Montana Lighting has been in business for more than 100 years in Missoula. For the last 40 of those years, Scott Derenburger has been an upbeat fixture among the dedicated staff. If you’ve ever spent ten minutes with Scott, you’d realize that it's evident why customers have come to enjoy working with him throughout the years. Scott started at Western Montana Lighting in 1980 when he was just a senior in high school.

“I was mowing the owner’s lawn and got tired of that, so I asked him if I could have a job at his store. It was next to the Roxy Theater back then. I believe Dr. Zhivago was playing,” said Scott, with a wink. Along with that playful demeanor and his witty humor, Scott brought with him an eagerness to learn. When it came time for the industry to switch from analog to digital record keeping, he took the lead. “When inventory systems switched from paper to computers, I went to school to learn how to upgrade our inventory system,” he said. In the 1980s, Scott witnessed a renaissance in lighting as smaller vendors splintered off from the big companies. “They started breaking away from the big guys and became more creative. Before, we had maybe two or three product lines and a dozen manufacturers. Now, there are more lighting fixture vendors than ever.”

Scott’s expertise grew and he eventually emerged from the back office to the showroom floor. There, he discovered a joy in helping customers. “I enjoy helping people figure out what they want. I remember one couple who had a small cabin on Triple Creek Ranch, near Darby. When they were ready to expand, they tripled the square footage. They came to us for lighting, then kept coming in, wanting to do more and more. Later, the guy stopped in to visit. He said he would have never imagined that they would spend as much as they did on lighting, but that they couldn’t be happier with the result. He hadn’t realized how much lighting can change a home,” said Scott.

In addition to working with homeowners, Scott takes pride in working with local electricians to help bring a collective vision to life with safe, state-of-the-art fixtures. “Builders rely on us as a partner. I can translate the technical aspects to what they have in mind and help make the electrician’s jobs a lot easier. We get it done right the first time. Now, electricians, builders, and designers go out of their way to send people to us,” he said.

Owner of Western Montana Lighting Drew Mihelish sees those relationships as a high priority and part of the professional service that clients have come to expect. “We’re always building new relationships and working to maintain old ones,” said Drew. “Now we are adding to the equation the boom of people moving to Montana. It’s important to us to cater to the customer that’s been here with us for decades while communicating to the new market that we offer inventory comparable to any showroom you would find anywhere in the United States.”

Walking into their spacious showroom that’s dressed in a dazzling warm light and sparkling with a constellation of designs, it's easy to see why clients keep coming back. The atmosphere sings of possibilities.

“We have one of the largest varieties of fixtures,” said Scott. That inventory, plus 5,000 square feet of showroom space, has garnered attention from industry experts. In 2020, Western Montana Lighting received an award for best showroom from the Accessories Resource Team, an association of professionals in the home furnishings industry. They’ve been nominated again this year—an honor especially meaningful considering that the lighting industry is in the midst of another leap in evolution.

LED (light emitting diode) technology is changing everything. With an ability to diffuse light across almost any texture, LED lighting has redefined what’s possible. Previously, major design trends changed every two years. Now, innovative designs can emerge as rapidly as every 100 days. For Scott, it’s that unpredictability that keeps him learning and enjoying his profession. “What’s kept me in it all these years is that the industry is always changing. The customers change, the markets change,” said Scott, and his adaptability and open-mindedness has a reputation that is unparalleled.

In 2015, Western Montana Lighting underwent its own evolution with the sale of the business to Drew. Scott’s decades of expertise helped Drew translate her background in interior design to the lighting industry. “We developed a strong working relationship,” she said. “He took me under his wing and I’m grateful that I learned about the lighting industry through his expertise. We now have the most knowledgeable staff in the history of WML.”

From back room to inventory management, to consulting customers then training staff, Scott has helped guide Missoula’s most established lighting company through 40 years of growth and now he is transitioning into his retirement the way anyone should, with a supportive team that is confidently standing at the helm. Drew’s energy and enthusiasm for this market is ever bright and her dedication is unswerving, which is something that inspires her tight knit staff to keep growing and changing all while remaining true to their original character.

Western Montana Lighting 

3250 South Reserve Street

406.543.7166

WMLDesigns.com

"It’s important to us to cater to the customer that’s been here with us for decades while communicating to the new market that we offer inventory comparable to any showroom you would find anywhere in the United States.” - Drew Mihelish

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