From the start LED Roadway Lighting recognized that, to grow its business, the Canadian market wouldn’t be big enough.
A year after it was founded by entrepreneur Chuck Cartmill in 2007, the Halifax-based company began exporting its LED-based roadway and infrastructure lighting products to the United States, the world’s largest economy.
“To be a legitimate exporter, you have to have business in the U.S.,” says CEO Peter Conlon. “If you’re not in the world’s leading market, you’re not really a contender.”
From there, opportunities came up in places such as France, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, Latin America, India, Australia and New Zealand and the Middle East, where customers are seeking out clean energy lighting solutions.
LED Roadway Lighting sought out regions where energy costs are high, and customers are willing to invest in a product up front that will save them money over the long-term.
“The company was very wise in picking its markets. The company looked for places where energy costs are high, where people are willing to pay for quality and where there are favourable trade agreements with Canada,” says Conlon, who was appointed CEO in 2014 as part of a management transition. Cartmill retained his majority ownership stake in the company and his position on the board of directors.
Seven years later, LED Roadway Lighting has grown to more than $60 million in annual revenues and its products are illuminating streets, buildings, bridges and roadways in 60 countries, including iconic structures such as Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Bridge, the Briton Ferry Bridge in Wales, Puerto Rico’s Capitol building in San Juan, the Delhi Metro Railway in India and the Punta del Este in Maldonado, Uruguay.
The company’s largest export markets today are the U.K., the Caribbean and Latin America, Conlon says.
Growth has been propelled by a growing acceptance of LED lighting outside of consumer gadgets.
“There were a lot of people who doubted whether LED technology was a legitimate technology for outside use. People have this vision that LEDs were the little red lights in your remote controls,” Conlon says.
A steady improvement in the technology, alongside lower costs and the promise of energy savings are helping to pave the way.
“LED technology has now become the standard for lots of lighting purposes,” Conlon says.
Still, challenges remain around convincing customers to make the upfront capital investment in LED technology, which is still considered relatively new.
“You have to go through the value proposition and help customers get their heads around how to source it, including what needs to be included in tenders and requests for quotations and other information,” Conlon says.
“There’s an educational component to it. The customer needs to feel comfortable that they’re looking for the right thing.”
Another challenge is understanding and complying with regulations, which vary in each jurisdiction. Conlon says that means being strategic about which market to enter and when.
“You can’t go to all places at once, because you’d go broke getting your system approved.”
Today, LED Roadway Lighting is a world leader in not only lighting, but also partnering with smart city/smart grid technology players. Conlon says its products help municipalities and utilities save an average of 60 per cent in energy costs compared to conventional technology.
The company’s primary manufacturing is located in Amherst, Nova Scotia and it has an operation in South Wales with manufacturing partner, Sony UK (Tec). The company also has manufacturing partners for the U.S., Mexico, U.K., Brazil, and Australia.