Task Lighting shines a light on life’s dark spots
Tight spaces and dark places call out for lighting. When surroundings and settings sync with light, people work with more focus, play with more zest and relax in more comfort. Task Lighting design specialists advise people to “Get out from under the glare of fluorescent bulbs and into the scope of lighting designed for your space and your needs.”
Over the last 30 years, Task Lighting, a Kearney, Nebraska, company, has distinguished itself as a leader in the design and manufacture of LED (light emitting diode) lighting products, as well as its Angle Power Strip. The company manufactures a variety of cams, pucks, bars, rods and power strips to illuminate even the most difficult lighting tasks.
Task Lighting launched in 1985 after founder and CEO Ken Anderson discovered he had a problem with fluorescent lighting. “When I am in a room lit with fluorescent bulbs, my eyes pick up a continuous flicker in the bulb,” says Anderson. “The flicker is subtle, yet for me and approximately 10 percent of the population, the flicker causes headaches and sometimes vertigo.” He also noticed the large and bulky shape of fluorescent fixtures, and the time and expense required to change burnt-out fluorescent bulbs.
A solution flashed into Anderson’s mind following a conversation with a friend who owned a NAPA parts business. His friend showed him a new product in the automotive parts business, an incandescent low voltage bulb. Ken’s genius quickly translated the bulb from one designed for automobiles into a light bar designed for use in buildings. He embedded the tiny low voltage bulbs into a simple-to-install aluminum bar, and the invention became a product.
The next step was finding an application for his product. He showed it to his customers, electric contractors and kitchen and bath builders, and they were impressed. They liked the clarity of the light, ease of installation, and function. The bar focused light directly onto the task and the price was right. Anderson had a company, a product and customers.
First lessons in entrepreneurship
Anderson credits his dad for his first lessons in entrepreneurship. As a young child when he ran into a difficult situation or problem, his dad would say, “Think son – think!” He would screw up on a solution and try again and again to figure it out. “My dad allowed lots of wrong answers, and I never felt discouraged for trying and missing,” Anderson says.
Today he hears a complaint, and he sees it as an exercise in problem solving. “The problem/solution ratio makes conversation fun and brings life to the product,” Anderson says. “When a customer asks, ‘Why?’ we take the question as an opportunity to account for our products and our systems. All of our employees need to know why we do what we do here.”
Opportunities for growth
Task Lighting customers like the products, and they like the service that accompanies the sales. Customer service is ranked as a high priority for Anderson, and his team handles it well from the first phone conversation to shipping product in a timely and efficient manner. That even involves Tootsie Rolls, which are included in every shipment. The treats are tucked into the instruction envelope. “We are well known for shipping Tootsie Rolls,” says Anderson, “and we build relationships with customers with our Tootsie Rolls.”
Customers tell Anderson, “We like how you do business. We want to buy all of our lighting products from your company.” When customers asked Task Lighting to become a lighting distributor, the company did just that. Today Task Lighting distributes a wide variety of lighting products used in the building and electrical trades.
Time and again Task Lighting has taken advantage of opportunities for change. When LED lights were implemented into lighting fixtures in 1990, the lighting industry was transformed. “The lighting industry popped when LEDs were introduced,” Anderson says. “LED changed the lighting world, an industry that hadn’t changed since Edison developed the candescent built 125 years ago. LED lighting is more efficient, emits more light, reduces voltage, the quality is crisper, and the color quality appears more true.”
Task Light can attest to the advantages of LED color quality. When Task Lighting installed LED lighting in the Classic Car Museum in Kearney, the results were eye-opening. The museum was retrofitted with high quality LED lighting. Once the LED lights were switched on, museum technicians were stunned to find that a classic car always described as black was suddenly showing its true color, forest green.
Replacing fluorescent lights with LED lighting products also makes cents, Anderson says. Switching pays back 100 percent. “In an industrial complex, consider what it takes to service the old fluorescent lights in the ceilings, the tall ladders required, and staff time,” says Anderson. “In 10 years the change is paid for because LED lights use one-fifth of the energy and require less service.”
A problem with a solution
Task Lighting again found itself at the front of change in 2003, when Anderson noticed kitchen designers were setting ceramic and metal tiles as back splashes above counter tops, and then cutting holes in the tiles to install electrical outlets. When kitchen designs were photographed, those outlets were camouflaged with a plant or a bowl of fruit.
As Anderson puzzled over this, he realized it was because the outlet looked bad. He saw a problem, and two years later the company rolled out the angle power strip. “With the power strip, designers can place outlets where they are needed and we can match colors, and construction materials with the kitchen design,” he says.
In 2005 Jay Bartek came on board as operations manager at Task Lighting. He had a degree in business and technology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Then the recession hit, and businesses began focusing more on price and competitive bidding. “When five of our top 10 customers closed their doors, and 90 percent of our business no longer existed, we had a problem,” says Bartek. “Ken and I sat down and examined all parts of the business to find a solution.”
They noticed that their competitors had pulled back on research and development. “We did the opposite,” Bartek says. “We pushed forward into research and development. Ken and I worked on how to design more LED lighting products for use in the building trade. We sat down with our design team, and in 2010, Task Lighting was manufacturing LED light products that transformed the company.” The company expanded from producing three models to 15.
That move meant Task Lighting was primed for the next upturn in the housing market. “From 2009 to 2012 the faucet turned on again in the building industry, and Task Lighting hit the market with new products,” Bartek says. “Most important, we were in production and prepared to market the new designs.”
Looking where others had never sold before
The Task Lighting business model focuses on residential and commercial electric contractors —specifically kitchen and bath distribution centers. They demonstrate their lighting products at builders’ shows and kitchen and bath dealer shows. “No one had ever tried to sell lighting to kitchen and bath dealers,” Anderson says. “Task Lighting products attract an eager audience in the building trades and kitchen and bath dealers because lighting changes the landscape of every room.”
Anderson was inducted into National Kitchen and Bathroom Hall of Fame in 2008. “Task Lighting was the first to introduce task lighting into the kitchen and bathroom design business,” says Anderson, “and it is a nice honor to know someone from a small town could make an impact on a national scale. We don’t have to be in New York to generate ideas and products.”
Anderson sees a bright future for Task Lighting, with even more innovations ahead. And he knows his team will be up to the task. “We see many more things to accomplish and money to be made in designing and marketing of lighting for kitchens, bathrooms, workrooms, closets, and commercial spaces,” he says. “Our team of people handles the work, and it is a joy to be part of this company.”