A Case for Slow Growth: Building a Solid Business One Install at a Time
Tate Leavitt, owner of Gemstone Lights, shares how he turned a home owner problem into a manufacturing, distribution, and installation business.Visit Website ››
5 Years Old
We profile Jobber customers and industry experts for #thedailyhustle to learn how they build and operate successful businesses.
Like a lot of inspiring startup stories, this one begins with someone trying to solve his own problem.
“A few years ago my family moved into a new house with a great big peak and a tall gable roof that’s hard to get to,” Tate Leavitt, owner of Gemstone Lights begins. “I’ve owned home inspection companies, so I’m pretty comfortable with making improvements, but as I was working on our new house I was getting really frustrated getting Christmas lights on. I remember thinking: There has got to be a better way.”
Then he had a light bulb moment.
Tate realized that if he was struggling with this problem, lots of other homeowners were too. So, he started researching possible solutions. “I found out that there were these new lights that, just by just mixing and matching intensity from the red, green and blue spectrums, you could create any color,” he explains. With that knowledge in hand, Tate started thinking of an easy way to attach the LED lights to his home. “That started two years ago, since then we’ve been developing that idea to come-up with the product we have.”
"As I was working on our new house I was getting really frustrated getting Christmas lights on. I remember thinking: There has got to be a better way.”
A look behind the design and manufacture curtain
While many of the components, including lights and controllers, are sourced from China, the Gemstone system design and process is proprietary. “We use a standard power supply but everything else we’ve developed into a way that it can be used for houses.”
Gemstone Lights easily attach to the soffit (aka the underside of your roof’s overhang) of any home using a unique track system that Tate designed. All of the wires are hidden inside of the seven foot tracks that hold the lights in place.
Tate also worked with a developer to build an app for iOS and Android that can be used to control the lights in a stunning array of combinations. “You can just sit around and say: I want these like to come on in red or green or blue, or to be in a pattern, or chase each other around the house—there are literally thousands of options.”
Year one: powered by word of mouth
Gemstone went live with its first customer just about a year ago. Since then, the company has grown quickly.
“After spending a bunch of time testing and trialing on my own house, I put it on my sister’s house in the southern part of Calgary. Before you knew it, eleven people just on her cul de sac asked us to come by and put lights on,” Tate recalls. “We’ve stayed busy just by neighbors talking to each other. That, putting a few pics up on Instagram, and a couple trade shows is really all the marketing we’ve done so far.”
Saying no to a big box opportunity
Word of mouth has been enough to create some impressive initial traction, locally and beyond. At least one large chain has already taken notice, and Tate expects there will be other opportunities to expand the business soon.
“We had a conversation with a big retailer in North America about putting our product into their store but we’ve decided not to do things that way just yet. For now, we’re hand-picking areas and local partners and doing distribution agreements,” he explains. “Landscapers, for example, have all these workers but once it’s winter they’re not doing maintenance anymore. So there’s an opportunity for those types business to bring in a side business installing Gemstone lights and and make a little money in their slow season.”
Staying on top of operations
“We have crews in Calgary and Lethbridge that are running now. I have somebody in Phoenix that’s running, and we’re trying to get into Edmonton right away, but really about eighty per cent of my time is still spent putting lights up on homes and doing product development.”
Keeping on-top of product design, vendor and partner management, and client relationships while managing Gemstone’s rapid growth has been challenging. Tate says it’s all been made much easier by using Jobber.
“We’re not only manufacturing stuff. We’re going out to sell it, and send out mobile crews out to put the product up on people’s homes. Jobber has been great all the way through for keeping our sales team and our installers all on the same page and managing the flow of everything. If we didn’t have Jobber that would just be a complete disaster.”
Keep your customers in mind and the rest will follow
Tate’s already learned a lot about his business from Gemstone’s early days. “We’ve learned better ways of doing things, ways to make the product look nicer, and be installed better. The most important we’ve learned, though, is not to be in too much of a hurry,” he says.
“Early-on, the need to generate money can kind of force you to do things a little quicker than you’d like. But at the end of the day it’s more important to take care of your first few clients,” Tate says. “I remember one of our first jobs, we got some lights that were faulty and we had to go back to replace them and make sure the client was super happy. That was extra work, but you want to make sure that you’re treating people 100% fair. That will help you earn those good reviews and get you set-up for success.”
“I remember one of our first jobs, we got some lights that were faulty and we had to go back to replace them and make sure the client was super happy. That was extra work, but you want to make sure that you’re treating people 100% fair. That will help you earn those good reviews and get you set-up for success.”
At the end of the work day, Tate goes back to the home where he originally drew his inspiration for Gemstone, spends time with his family, and sometimes finds himself reflecting on his client and what Gemstone does to make their own homes and family life better.
“It’s just so cool to put these lights on people’s houses and see them get so excited. The kids create their own programs for the lights. It just makes people happy,” he says. “We’ve had our struggles and our heart aches growing the business, but we love it and we’re going to be doing this for a very long time.”