Bryan and Donna Scott – Barn Light Electric
[ By Eric Wright ]
When Bryan, an air marshal and Donna, a registered nurse, left their professional careers in 2008 to run their fledgling business full-time, their dream was to revive the art of manufacturing porcelain enamel lighting in this country. They saw their dream come true when their first fixtures came rolling out of the porcelain oven they purchased in Italy and were assembled in their Titusville based manufacturing facility. Today, Bryan and Donna Scott’s company brand, Barn Light Electric, much like Kleenex or Jacuzzi, has become the universal descriptor for the style of lighting they make. Recognized for its unique and high quality American-made products by numerous organizations including the Martha Stewart American Made Awards, Barn Light has been featured by both CNN and CNBC in stories focusing on how the Scotts turned their one-time hobby into a successful business.
In the Beginning
Bryan: We were both into antiques and enjoyed estate sales and auctions, but I always had a passion for old lighting, particularly the old porcelain outdoor lights. Most were manufactured in the 1930’s or 40’s and it looked as good now as it did then. Whenever we found something that fit into that Warehouse Shade or Gooseneck Light style, we would buy it, fix it up and resell it. The hobby became a small business. We created a website and the demand was growing so fast we started the move towards manufacturing.
Donna: The manufacture of porcelain lighting was all but dead. People basically told us, you just can’t do it anymore, it was extinct. We could get things in that style, but it wasn’t porcelain.
Bryan: Our customer base liked the idea of “Made in America.” Also manufacturing ourselves was the only way to maintain the high quality that we found in the historic products we had been attracted to that would last 100 years.
Bryan: We worked out of our house the first year, selling used fixtures, making our own and assembling lamps from companies we had private label agreements with. We never anticipated the success we have had (today that number is well into eight figures).
While I was still an air marshal, I would take a flight from Orlando to Boston and when I landed I would have a dozen phone or email messages from people wanting information or to purchase our lights. Soon I realized I needed someone to run the office side so I could focus on production. Donna took a leave of absence from nursing and never went back. About six months later I realized I needed to leave my job as well.
Donna: Looking back, we started in 2008 which wasn’t the best of economic times. Brian was in law enforcement all his life and now worked for the federal government and I was a nurse; it is hard to get more secure and stable than that.
Bryan: We did $1.2 million from our spare bedroom that first year. I call myself, “The accidental business owner,” because we never thought it would grow into what it is today.
Donna: Neither one of us had a business background, we had to learn as we went.
Managing the Growth
Bryan: We realized we had to consolidate our operation and move it out of our house and barn. We rented several bays in a warehousing space to do manufacturing and we leased a building downtown where we ran the administrative, design and marketing side of the business.
Donna: This was all in the first year and half. Then we bought a building, which is now our showroom on US 1. It was simply a shell when we got it, which we had to completely gut and rebuild. At that time, we thought we could move all our operations under one roof, but we couldn’t have been more short sighted. I remember when our biggest overhead purchase were two Apple computers. We were buying and assembling parts from other manufacturers, but at every stage we were asking ourselves, “How can we bring that in-house.?”
Bryan: Early on we were moving so fast we didn’t have time to worry about a lot of the business nuances. I started banking at Regions because they had a sign on their marquee in Mims that said, “Free Business Banking.” Then one day I was in making a deposit and the teller said, “Mr. Scott the bank president would like to meet you.” I was in shorts and a tee shirt and didn’t know what to expect. He said, “Hi, we see your business is growing along with your deposits; we want to do whatever we can to help.” That’s how our banking relationship started.
While we were building out the US 1 building, we realized that wasn’t going to be large enough, so I started looking for a manufacturing facility. I bought the building we now call “The Brix Project” which used to be a lumber company and now has been refurbished for our Playalinda Brewery.
My passion was always to bring back porcelain enamel. We had a company in Pennsylvania that was doing some manufacturing for us, but unless you control that process, you can’t control the quality. I contacted a guy at the Porcelain Institute, which I didn’t even know existed, and that led us to the purchase of porcelain oven in Italy, which was over $1 million. Then I had to find a building to house it in, which we did in Mims.
Donna: We are the only lighting company in the U.S. to make porcelain lighting.
A Uniqueness They Never Outgrew
Bryan: I remember when we were trying to figure out what to call these lights. We found that a lot of them were pictured on barns, so we came up with the name ‘Barn Light.’
Donna: Now other manufacturers are identifying their products, which share a similar style, as ‘barn lights,’ that is now the key word. We feel we coined the name.
Bryan: Also, to be a legitimate lighting company, we learned that component manufacturers didn’t recognize you unless you had a lighting showroom. Up until that time we were strictly Internet and that is still the largest part of our business.
Donna: When we were starting, you would see this kind of lighting in restaurants or business offices, but we brought it to individual homeowners. Now the popularity of this style is starting to soar.
Bryan: At first our customer base was our Internet retail market, the individual homeowner, now things are expanding rapidly towards the commercial market. We have a team of salespeople that sell to clients designing and building everything from chain restaurants to commercial spaces that want our historic and authentic look.
Donna: Now our commercial side is growing faster than our retail business. We have clients that will buy a half dozen or more lights that go into a chain of stores or restaurants, which can number in the 100’s.
Working Together, Working It Out
Donna: We have and continue to enjoy working together. I think the biggest challenge for us is learning to turn it all off. We have to make sure we cultivate our life and interests outside our job. I suppose Bryan is like the gas and I’m the brake. He is the catalyst for change and growth. I am the check at times.
Bryan: She is very good at paying attention to detail; I might come up with an idea, she is great at figuring out the right colors and styles. She has a great talent with marketing and interfacing with interior designers, whereas I’m like, “You want it galvanized or black?”
Bryan: From the beginning, we were blessed in that we brought on some key people. We hired an out of work electrician friend, Mark Liefland, now he runs the plant, as well as our R&D department. Cracker was an ex-con who had turned his life around. He started out part-time; now he runs our machine shop and is the porcelain paint area manager, which is the heart of our business. Ashley, our daughter-in-law, we hired right out of college and now she is one of our VP’s and runs the corporate side of the company. Today we have 130 employees.
Donna: Now they’re the kind of staff that not only runs the business, but they are growing the business without our daily involvement. That takes a lot of pressure off Bryan and I.
Bryan: We continue to add critical systems, processes and personnel that keep raising the bar. While looking at what the future will hold for us personally and for the company.
Brian and Donna Scott are being recognized as this year’s Founder of the Year, by the Founders Forum.
The event will take place at
6 p.m. Tuesday, September 20th at the Hilton Melbourne Rialto Place. www.foundersforum.com/schedule
For more information:
Barn Light Electric
or call 800-407-8784