Superior Lighting Inc.
Bill Swarbrick Jr. used to light the lamp as a productive forward on Northern Arizona University’s Division 1 hockey team, scoring 42 goals over three seasons during the 1980s. Since then, he’s done even more lamp lighting at Superior Lighting Inc., which has offices in Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa.
Co-founded in 1968 by Swarbrick’s father, a minor league hockey player whose long career included a couple of productive seasons with the Omaha Knights of the old International Hockey League, and a teammate known as Minnie Menard, Superior Lighting serves clients in eight states in the Midwest.
Today Swarbrick’s sons, President Bill and Vice President Rick, who also played college hockey, run the business, which specializes in commercial and industrial lighting maintenance, LED retrofits and signage. They’re proud of their family legacy, in hockey and in lighting.
A niche in LED lighting and signage
Superior Lighting started as a lighting maintenance business and has expanded from there. It does everything from small convenience store lighting upgrades to whole university upgrades. Its clients include grocery stores, convenience stores, school districts, distribution centers and more, and that flexibility keeps the company nimble.
One of Superior Lighting’s niches is in LED retrofits. It doesn’t do any new construction. Instead, it helps clients convert traditional lighting fixtures and neon signs to LED.
Superior Lighting does the lighting maintenance and signage work for all Walgreens stores, many convenience stores and other retailers in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri and provides lighting services for automotive dealers throughout the Midwest. It has three interior and exterior LED lighting retrofits in the works at dealerships in Omaha, and it has plans to complete four more car dealership projects in the coming months.
“We kind of use the tag line ‘Brighten Your Business,’” Bill says.
Staying at the forefront of LED technology
Bill acknowledges it’s a bit ironic that a company formed to provide lighting maintenance has switched to helping companies adopt LED lighting, which requires so much less maintenance than conventional lighting.
“That’s our bread and butter, so it’s kind of taken food off our table,” Bill says. But as he says, “you’ve got to change with the times or they’ll pass you.”
Superior Lighting belongs to the National Association of Lighting Maintenance Companies (NALMCO), which hosts trade conferences throughout the country. At those events, the “buzz” for LED lighting is undeniable, Rick says. Though LED lighting could very well cut into the company’s lighting maintenance profits, the Swarbricks are trying to stay at the forefront of the LED trend.
Because energy costs are lower in Superior Lighting’s territory, the switch to LED lighting has been slower than in other parts of the country. The average kilowatt hour costs just 8.91 cents in Nebraska and 8.35 cents in Iowa, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s below the national average of 10.41 cents per kilowatt hour and far below outliers like Connecticut and California, where kilowatt hours average 17.77 and 15.42 cents, respectively.
“We’re in the Midwest and Nebraska, where all the new stuff happens faster out on the coasts, and as it filters in, we can talk to [our peers] and learn from them and find out what’s good and bad,” Rick says.
The Swarbricks think it will just be a matter of time before LED lighting technology is as popular in the Midwest as in other parts of the country.
The benefit of family leadership
No matter what happens, Superior Lighting’s flexibility, LED specialization, family leadership and experienced employees have built a “solid” company.
“Being a family-owned business, the decision-making process is pretty simple,” Bill says. “It’s made by my brother and I and our management team, so you’re not having to go through a lot of politics to buy a truck or make a decision.”
Since the Swarbrick’s father started the company in 1968, working out of his house and truck, the company has grown to include 70 employees.
“Rick and I have been fortunate enough to hire good people,” Bill says. “We’ve got a good management team. As you grow, you juggle a lot of balls, and you can only juggle so many before a couple of them hit the sand, so you’ve got to have some good quality managers to help you grow and succeed.”
Superior Lighting has intentionally sought leaders with experience, like its director of operations, Greg Smith, who the Swarbricks recruited from California in 1998. Ed Hagstrom, the company’s chief financial officer, has held that position since 2004. A sales representative, Kevin Ross, has been with the company since 2004, too, and one lighting technician has been with the company since 1986.
The trick to keeping employees that long is simple, Bill says. “Treat ‘em fair. Take care of ‘em.”
Taking a cue from their hockey days, the Swarbricks are true team players. They believe that a successful company is one that keeps its sales coming in and its employees happy. After almost 50 years in business, Superior Lighting is a net gain for everyone, and it doesn’t plan to stop lighting the lamps anytime soon.
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