After the INCubator: Outdoor Lighting Perspectives

Holly Ashley

Year Founded: 2011

Place Founded: Chattanooga

Founder: Joe Bozich, MBA

Graduated from INCubator: 2016

Q: Tell me about your business.
A: We are a local franchise of Outdoor Lighting Perspectives, which has more than 50 locations across the United States and Canada. We design, install and service outdoor lighting components including landscape, architectural, deck and poolside lighting. Our team even designs and installs holiday lighting for a limited client list.

Q: Who are your competitors?
A: Most of our competitors in the local market are non-lighting experts such as landscapers and even some electricians. There is also one outdoor lighting specialist that recently moved here from Nashville. Other than those providers, there really isn’t a whole lot of competition in Chattanooga.

Q: Which of your completed projects are you most proud of?
A: We have several. One that a lot of people notice is a private estate that’s visible from I-24 as you’re traveling around Moccasin Bend. It’s our largest project to date and is quite beautiful. We’ve also worked on the Fairyland Club on Lookout Mountain and another private estate on White Oak Mountain that overlooks the valley.

The Early Years

Q: How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
A: I lost my pharmaceuticals job during the recession and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I listen to Talk Radio 102.3 FM and I kept hearing this commercial with Bruce Krebs of The Entrepreneurial Source talking about franchising. I wrote down his number, but then I let it sit on top of my desk for weeks and eventually lost it. When I finally heard the commercial again, I reached out to Bruce to see what he had to offer and how the process worked. I’m not sure I was really that serious about being an entrepreneur at first because, to me, it represents a lot of risk and I’m pretty risk adverse. But I went through the process anyway and Bruce gave me about seven different businesses to review and consider. Ultimately, I couldn’t find a reason to say no to this one. The business model made sense, the investment made sense and I guess the rest is history.

Q: Talk a bit about selling luxury goods and services during a recession.
A: This franchise was not growing during the recession and many franchisees in general were hit hard during that time. But at the point that I purchased this business, we were starting to come out of the recession. My perspective then was, as a business, there was nowhere to go but up. I also have to say that the affluent consumers, the people who had money, still had money. And let’s face it, outdoor lighting is definitely a luxury item. Our typical customer has a home value of $400,000 or greater, with most of our business coming from Lookout and Signal Mountains, East Brainerd neighborhoods like Council Fire and the Riverview community. So there was less risk involved with this particular franchise.

Q: You were a client at the INCubator and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) in the Hamilton County Business Development Center (BDC). How valuable was that experience to you as a startup?
A: I would say the number one benefit of being at the BDC is the community of other small business owners and entrepreneurs. Having other people to bounce ideas off of and share discoveries with is invaluable; you really gain a sense of community. When you’re starting a business, you don’t really know anything about running it yet and it can be scary. If I had opened an office without going through the incubation program first, I would have felt really isolated and all by myself. But the BDC has the TSBDC right there under the same roof. You simply make an appointment and they’re willing to help you. I think I went to every one of their seminars and workshops that first year at the BDC.

Q: How has the Chattanooga community contributed to your success?
A: I think the Chattanooga community as a whole, and really the Chamber of Commerce, is very supportive of small business. Everywhere I go, people ask me, ‘how’s business?”. If I go to a Chamber of Commerce meeting I get that question all the time. I don’t think they’re saying it just to be social; I think they really care.

Doing the Work

Q: Discuss your initial return on investment and subsequent growth.
A: The first year seemed like it was too easy, but then we didn’t see a whole lot of growth the second year. Fortunately, we were mostly getting out of the recession after that because by the third year business took off and the fourth year saw gains as well. We saw an average of 25% growth in our third and fourth years.

Our franchise started with just me and an installer. I handled all the design, sales and running the business while my part-time installer did most of the installations himself. When he needed help, I was there to help. Now I have two full-time installers and a full-time administrator who is a hybrid of an administrative assistant and online marketing manager.  

Q: Your online customer reviews are very complimentary. Talk about how important customer service is to your brand.
A: First of all, I have high expectations when other people come work on my home. I expect them to do what they say they’re going to do, at the price they quoted me. I expect them to be professional and I expect my property to be in the same condition or better when they leave than when they arrived. I have those same standards for my staff at Outdoor Lighting Perspectives. Our products and services range from a cost of a few thousand dollars to upwards of $20,000; they are not cheap. Our clients deserve to have excellent service.

You know, we aren’t perfect. We have warranty calls just like anyone else, but we don’t look at it as something to run away from. We look at it as an opportunity to build a better relationship with our customer. Oftentimes it leads to more sales because they purchase more product from us later or they refer us to someone they know. The reviews that you see online are real. Every customer, after they’re invoiced, receive an automatic request for a review. If there’s ever an issue, it gives us an opportunity to make it right.

Q: What has surprised you the most during this venture?
A: That it could be so much fun! I’ve enjoyed most of the jobs I’ve ever had but this is really the most fun job. It feels easy. It feels like I’m working less than ever before, even though I’m working all the time. I think that’s just because I like it so much.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of the venture?
A: Trying to find the silver bullet for marketing. We spend a lot of resources on marketing and a lot of times there’s little to no tangible result. So trying to find where to invest that’s going to provide the best return on investment is a constant challenge.

Looking Forward

Q: What business trends are you noticing in this industry?
A: Lighting control automation is a major trend. We can program lighting systems to turn on and off whenever the customer wants. Our systems can control the landscaping lights, carriage lights on a front porch, even a lamp in your living room and the technology is becoming more and more advanced. A customer can be in China and turn their lights on and off with a simple app. Color changing light is also becoming popular, though mostly only in commercial settings.

Q: Any advice for other startups? Recommended reading?
A: Don’t take it lightly, do your homework and talk to the folks at the TSBDC before you invest. Also it’s important for any entrepreneur to find out what their skill set is and, if they don’t have a skill set, decide who they are going to hire to help them achieve realistic goals. It takes more than loving something to make it a legitimate, profit-generating business.

For reading suggestions, E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber is a great book.

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