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​Family business expands lighting offerings

Posted by

Jun 26, 2015, 6:00am EDT

Published in Atlanta Business Chronicle

Laura Raines

Contributing Writer

Joann Vitelli

CEO Doug Root and LED Project Manager Jesse Root lead the company their father Gary… more

What do you do when your family business is a leader in your industry, and the industry completely changes? If you are committed to your family, your business and your industry—you change with it.

What do you do when your family business is a leader in your industry, and the industry completely changes? If you are committed to your family, your business and your industry—you change with it.

“You can’t see it, but this company is a construction zone,” said Doug Root, CEO of Atlanta Light Bulbs Inc. in Tucker. “We’re shifting from being a commercial and industrial lighting and distribution company to being a turnkey lighting solutions provider. It’s what our customers need, and we intend to be here for the long haul.”

Gary Root founded Atlanta Light Bulbs Inc. in 1981 in Tucker, as a community lamp business out of his garage. His customers and specialty products grew steadily, as did his sons, who grew up helping with the business. In I998, the company launched its first website, moving to a national market. In 2008, it opened a 20,000-square-foot showroom and warehouse facility.

By 2013, it was a $10.5 million company, with about 40 percent of sales from national and international online customers. Gary stepped down from day-to-day operations and sons Doug and Jesse moved into top leadership roles.

Both had started at the bottom. “I knew I wanted to work in sales,” said Jesse Root, LED project manager, “but my father insisted I work in every position. He felt it was important to learn the business, the products, and to earn the respect of other employees.”

Knowing how things are done in all departments help Doug lead. “Being a small family company means you’re in charge of your own destiny. For everyone’s sake, you have to figure a lot of things out on your own. We all wear a lot of hats,” he said.

“It’s important to take care of family relationships in a family business. Appreciating each other’s roles and contributions makes a big difference,” said Gaia Marchisio, executive director, Cox Family Enterprise Center (CFEC) at Kennesaw State University. “Besides its obvious financial success, what impressed us about Atlanta Light Bulbs was the family’s positive energy and spirit.”

CFEC and Georgia Trend named Atlanta Light Bulbs the small business winner of the Cox Family Business Awards in 2014. The company also became one of the first “Small Business Rock Stars,” recognized by the Georgia Economic Developers Association and the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD). It received a GLOBE (Georgia Launching Opportunities By Exporting) Award in 2014 for its international sales. “The company’s export department had grown 400 percent in the last 10 years and they were contributing to their community and industry,” said Mary Ellen McClanahan, director of entrepreneur and small business, GDEcD.

To compete, the Roots made a paradigm shift in their company’s business model. It meant slowing growth to reinvest in new technology and people, re-educating staff and customers and putting new emphasis on services to increase sales.

“We knew LED was coming and that it was going to be big, but the timing, the research and development, making sure that we had the right people in the right jobs—that kept us both up at night,” said Jesse Root.

“The invention of the LED (light emitting diode) bulbs and other energy-saving lighting fixtures is a technological revolution,” said Larry Lauck, vice-president of communications, American Lighting Association. “There are new breakthroughs every day, a lot of new products, more lighting companies and a lot more competition. Everyone is retrofitting fixtures.”

Atlanta Light Bulbs launched a second web site, ALBEnergySolutions.com , to market the consulting and services side of its business, Doug Root said.

“We help customers find the right lighting solutions to fit their needs. We can analyze their energy needs, find appropriate energy-efficient products, install systems, help secure energy rebates and other financing and show ROI,” said Doug Root. The company is a sponsor of the Atlanta Better Business Challenge, whose goal is to reduce energy and water consumption by 20 percent in participating Atlanta buildings by 2020. ALB Energy Solutions staff hold classes to educate clients on new lighting technologies.

The Roots believe that their 34-year knowledge of the industry and trusted relationships with customers gives them an edge over newcomers. “Our proposals are customized based on customers’ real past costs and we can offer them more options,” said Jesse Root.

Stone Mountain Park is such a project. Atlanta Light Bulbs retrofitted its two largest buildings to be more energy-efficient.

“We’re using less energy and we saved so much on rebates that we are now retrofitting other areas of the park,” said Jeanine Jones, public relations manager. “What impressed us about Atlanta Light Bulbs is their passion for lighting.”

10 FACTS ABOUT FAMILY OWNED BUSINESSES*

  • 80% of the world’s businesses are family owned.
  • Family-run businesses account for more than half of the nation’s gross domestic product.
  • Nearly 35% of family-owned businesses are Fortune 500 and other large companies including Ford, Koch Industries, Cargill, Wal-Mart, Weyerhaeuser, Loews, and Ikea.
  • Approximately 60% of all public companies in the U.S. are family controlled.
  • Family-owned businesses account for 60% of total U.S. employment, 78% of all new jobs, and 65% of all wages paid.
  • Many family businesses were started after WWII.
  • More than 25% of family firms expect the next CEO to be a woman.
  • More than 30% of all family owned businesses survive into the second generation.

*Based on research conducted by the Cox Family Enterprise Center every year since 1985.
Source: Cox Family Enterprise Center, Kennesaw State University

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