US LED may have few employees, but the Houston-based manufacturer of LED lighting systems has a huge competitive spirit that is thriving in the international marketplace. During its first 10 years, the business maintained an average growth of over 70 percent each year, and CEO Ron Farmer says he has every expectation of matching that pace going forward.
“We have to become very large, because, if we don’t, we can’t continue to compete,” he says. “Right now, we can win because we buy LED emitters as cheaply as the top international companies. And our design and manufacturing capacity are world-class. But prices are going down and efficiency is going up, so we must ever innovate in all areas.”
To that end, Farmer’s company offers highly energy-efficient LED fixtures with greater longevity than that of their multibillion-dollar competitors. How does US LED manage that? One answer is by using more LEDs and placing them over a larger surface area so the heat from one LED doesn’t migrate to adjacent LEDs. Using more LEDs that run at far below their maximum current rating on a better heat sink reduces the heat and prolongs the life of the LEDs. And while most competitors’ products offer control systems—like dimming or motion-detection capabilities—as an option, US LED offers this as a built-in feature on its products for no extra cost.
During the first years of Farmer’s new company, white LEDs weren’t bright enough for general lighting applications, so he focused his business on the sign industry, only later including commercial and industrial lighting. It was in 2009 that Farmer closed his first major deal, a $13 million sale for lighting refrigeration cases in 6,000 locations. This was followed by a $26 million deal with a national convenience store chain for over 5,000 locations of ceiling lighting.
Although US LED doesn’t offer all types of lighting, the firm has a range of over 100 products for commercial and industrial applications, including offices, retail, parking garages, manufacturing, warehouses, and hospitals. “If a lighting fixture has a large installed base, that’s what we develop,” Farmer explains. “And this puts us head to head with the largest companies in the world. The biggest sales we have made have come in competition with those very companies.”
Although Canada has been one of US LED’s larger markets from the very beginning, Farmer’s company has expanded into a truly international business, with distribution throughout North America, Australia, Europe, and Latin America. Further, in 2012, the company established a new subsidiary sales and manufacturing operation in Brazil.
While Farmer makes worldwide distribution seem easy, the CEO admits that his industry is one filled with challenges. “The technology, the financing, the marketing, the logistics—it’s all a challenge, for everybody, even the largest companies,” he says. “Technology doesn’t last long, and products become obsolete in 12–18 months. Upon completion of phase one of a product, we immediately begin work on phase two.”
Farmer points to the level of sophistication and competence of US LED’s in-house engineering department as a major reason the company has been such a force in the market. Moreover, US LED has never had to withdraw a product from the market. “They perform like they’re supposed to,” Farmer says.
By the end of the first quarter of 2013, US LED will have filled in its product line. “But we won’t stop there,” Farmer says. “That just completes our initial goal. And we’d have finished this phase long ago, but we have gotten interrupted to upgrade various fixtures due to some customer requests.”
Outside the office, Farmer is always ready to turn the competitive attitude that placed US LED among the leaders in LED lighting towards other pursuits. Lately, it can be seen in his passion for amateur racing, a hobby for the CEO for the past five years. “It has been a real privilege to be able to compete with professional drivers,” he says. It certainly has: Farmer has already won two national championships, suggesting that this is one executive who will never give up.