Northwest Business Magazine

Success Stories: Thayer Lighting Inc.

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Built on an emerging product, and led by a dynamic woman entrepreneur, this Rockford-area lighting specialist continues to wow customers. See how they’ve learned to shine.

Before Thayer Lighting brightened up the parking lot outside Alpine Bank's East State Street office in Rockford, the lot was dimly lit. Now, with energy-efficient LED lighting, security cameras pick up greater detail and employees report feeling safer at night.

Before Thayer Lighting brightened up the parking lot outside Alpine Bank’s East State Street office in Rockford, the lot was dimly lit. Now, with energy-efficient LED lighting, security cameras pick up greater detail and employees report feeling safer at night.

Thayer Lighting, 11707 N. Second St., Machesney Park, Ill., is shining the light on its bright future, with a new logo, website, brochure and sales presentation manual to reflect the ever-changing technology driving it forward.

Patti Thayer has been at the helm of the company since 2007, as president and CEO. She’s largely responsible for the steady growth of the business, which tripled its sales volume in 2012 and then doubled it in 2013. The company now services more than 2,000 customers.

“In many cases, when managing a turnkey project for customers, we’re able to cut energy costs by at least 50 percent, while improving employee morale and productivity,” says Thayer.

Kathy Velasco, president of V2 Marketing Communications, helped to fashion the new look for Thayer Lighting.

“Lighting is a whole new industry today, with the latest in technology, and we wanted to communicate that with a more updated version of what they had and a cleaner, crisper look that uses more contemporary colors, fonts and styles,” she says. “The up-to-date website allows people to request more information and see videos from any device,” she says.

Thayer says the company needed to update marketing materials to meet the challenges of business today.

“There’s a lot of competition out there and you have to look at business in a whole new way,” says Thayer. “You have to find a balance to remain competitive and not lose quality.”

Thayer says her company is all about delivering the best products, services and savings, and always custom-tailoring a job with a customer’s best interests in mind.

In business for 26 years and a leader in LED technology, Thayer Lighting specializes in retrofitting commercial lighting systems, indoors and out, to reduce operating costs, maximize energy efficiency and create a safer and more enjoyable environment for customers and employees. LED lighting is typically at least 80 percent more efficient per outlet and is one of the newest energy-saving technologies, with improvements being made all the time. Controls are also a key component to that technology and energy savings, Thayer says.

The company has upgraded more than 25 million square feet of space in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The specially trained staff begins with an on-site visit to assess a facility and conduct a complimentary lighting audit and a detailed cost savings analysis. Thayer provides state-of-the-art replacement products, coordinates the installation using only certified electrical contractors, and arranges for proper disposal of old systems. It also reviews electric and gas bills, provides bids from alternative suppliers and helps customers to lock in lower rates.

In 1987, Patti Gaspard’s future husband, Tom Thayer, was looking for a new career opportunity, when he met up with a family friend in California, who owned Parke Industries. The friend told Tom that the wave of the future would be in energy efficiency. Tom started Thayer Sales in 1987 and Thayer Lighting Inc. in 1988. Some consider him to be a pioneer in the industry, in this region, and ahead of his time.

Patti met Tom in 1997, when she went to work for him as vice president of sales and marketing. They married in 1998. He eventually turned the business over to Patti, who hit the ground running. She immersed herself in training and education to learn the business and to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology.

“It’s the most fascinating thing I have ever done,” says Patti. “I didn’t see myself in this business, but that was only because I didn’t understand the possibilities and the end results. The rewards are far more than I anticipated,” she says.

After rising through the ranks and establishing her credibility in management and sales, she set aside a successful commercial real estate career to be president and CEO of Thayer Lighting Inc.

Her sales presentation book is filled with dozens of testimonials from satisfied customers who admire Thayer’s work ethic, dedication to her customers, and the energy savings they get with improved lighting.

Randy Bridgeland, facilities officer at Alpine Bank in Rockford, said the bank is in the process of updating its lighting, which began with canopy lighting at the East State Street drive-up, and most recently included parking lot lights at the main bank on Alpine Road and the East State location.

“The first comments came from our security department,” says Bridgeland. “They were amazed at the clarity and detail being picked up from the surveillance cameras. It’s given our employees a heightened sense of security when leaving work and going to their cars at night.

“We could have gone in a lot of directions, but the LED market is booming and so we chose to look at that,” Bridgeland adds. “The results have been incredible and people are ecstatic. LED lighting is as close as you can get to true sunlight, and yet there’s a huge energy savings. Working with Patti and her office was a great experience.”

Electricity deregulation and legislation have paved the way for energy savings. Deregulation of electricity rates in 21 states allows customers the option to stay with their local utility company or switch to one of many licensed retail electricity providers, with no restrictions or fees from the local utility.

To promote energy efficiency, the U. S. Congress has passed various kinds of legislation, starting with the 2005 Energy Policy Act establishing minimum efficiency requirements, incentives and research dollars for lamps, ballasts, fixtures and LEDs. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act established minimum efficiency requirements for halogen, incandescent and fluorescent lamps, which began in January 2012.

In July 2012, the Department of Energy Regulations set a deadline for ending the manufacturing of all standard higher-wattage incandescent and many higher-wattage fluorescent light bulbs. The legislation also enacted a program that required utility companies to collect funds from all customers for the subsidizing of updates to commercial fixtures with newer, more energy-efficient lamps.

Thayer Lighting added another dimension to its business by partnering with a prominent utility broker to sell customers electricity and gas at competitive rates. This is a value-added service made possible by electricity deregulation in Illinois.

A born salesperson, leader, and advocate for women in business, Thayer saw an opportunity to make a difference – and everyone benefits.

“Integrity is everything,” she says. “I believe it’s important to treat others the way you would want to be treated. It was how I was raised, but it’s also just who I really am. I couldn’t function any other way.”

The most difficult part of doing business, she says, is recognizing when change must happen and finding a solution to doing things better, while meeting daily challenges.

“Releasing responsibility to other people is hard for me, but it allows me to be more creative and expand opportunities for the company, while giving back to my community,” she says. “When facing daily challenges, you have to remain optimistic and find your way. When you surround yourself with like-minded people with similar goals, it helps you to make good decisions.”

Jan Henryson was operations manager at Whitehead Realtors when she met Thayer. She was retired for several months when Thayer asked her to be the office manager at Thayer Lighting.

“She’s the only one who could pull me away from retirement, mainly because of my respect for her,” says Henryson. “She’s a very genuine and professional person and excellent when dealing with people. She really cares about her clients and wants to do the best for them. She knows a lot of people and has a way of bringing people together and making it a good experience for everyone.

“She has an amazing memory, never cuts corners, and always does what is right,” adds Henryson. “She gets things accomplished in the most pleasant way. People want to do their best for her because she treats people so well.”

In addition to her business success, Thayer is deeply involved in her community, especially the women’s programs at the Rockford Rescue Mission. She’s been involved with the Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce in numerous leadership positions, including serving on the Board of Directors since 2009. She will chair the board in 2015. Thayer has served on several other boards for the city and county, and has won numerous awards for her community service and business success.

“Patti is a small business dynamo,” says Einar Forsman, chamber president and CEO. “Her company has seen tremendous growth, largely due to her energy and experience. She is an active and visible leader. Anything she sets her mind to, she commits to 110 percent, with all her passion. She is a trusted voice in the community.”

Thayer is one of about 60 women invited to be a part of Lead 360, founded by the chamber in 2011 as a network for top-level women executives. She encourages companies to “step into the light” and let Thayer’s bright ideas save them energy and improve the bottom line.

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