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Lighting the Way

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Dan Schmidt started to think differently about lighting after a relamping job he completed for regional retailer Meijer back in 1997. There were almost ten thousand light bulbs in that one store, all of which needed to be replaced from time to time in the same way that the bulbs in our homes do. North America is flooded with retail units with similar lightbulb footprints, and in this Schmidt spotted an opportunity. He quit his job to commit fully to his mission, which was to light up the Midwest, one retail store at a time. “I started out just changing light bulbs for Meijer and then they added service work into it for interior and exterior lighting services,” says Schmidt, CEO of Reliable Relamping. Soon he had taken over their whole chain and, under the Reliable Relamping name, set out to grow their other national accounts.

In the case of Reliable Relamping, business expansion came organically as a result of a job well done. “Work expanded out of just lighting into full electrical services and anything that a facility needs from a repair standpoint,” Schmidt tells me. “We do repair calls for a number of clients, with over thirteen hundred locations that we’re servicing in twelve States. Anything from the utility all the way into the light bulb, we’re dispatching the team to repair it. If a retailer is going to add new outlets, new services, or do a new display that needs power, they’ll send work orders through us for those as well.” To its valued network of clients, Reliable Relamping is a go-to for on-demand lighting services, scheduled maintenance programs and lighting inspections, all of which are critical in keeping stores lit, which is to keep them operational. “We primarily focus on retail based on how we started with a major retailer, but we’ve also done industrial, medical, hospitality, warehousing – pretty much all sectors. If you’ve got lighting and you’ve got electrical needs, it’s something that that we do.” It has also done some work with Arc Flash Analysis, an engineered incident energy analysis that establishes a safety protocol for staff exposed to heat, light, and blast associated with an arc flash incident.

This service work has naturally evolved along with changing industry demands, particularly in recent years around the global push for sustainability. Retrofitting conventional lighting systems with LEDs can significantly reduce energy consumption, and as a result energy retrofit initiatives have become a big part of Reliable Relamping’s business today. “We’ve completed thousands and thousands of retrofit projects saving millions of kilowatt hours from the energy consumption from our customers,” Schmidt tells me. “We do retrofits across the country for companies like Party City and Foot Locker. A lot of the retrofit projects have come in phases where they may have started with the sales floor only and then later added the rest of the store, whether it’s the offices in the stock room or the exterior. We’ve been to so many of these locations multiple times because they often focus on the customer experience first. It’s kind of interesting to be involved with the projects as the technologies evolve.”

Well established now in the industry, Reliable Relamping has completed some major national rollouts for customers across the country. “One of our recent ones that we are just wrapping up now is 380 locations for Lowe’s stores from California to Delaware. It was a pretty big initiative with that geographic spread. Because of the number of locations there were challenges with the different municipalities, licensing and permitting and those types of challenges. We’ve done a super-center chain who wanted to have their refrigerated fresh pet food displays on their end caps, and we had to add outlets for that. We had one big electrical roll out project for another retailer who wanted to add a bunch of refrigerated coolers closer to their front doors for online grocery orders.” Reliable Relamping rolled this out across 270 stores in just over a month, catering for the growing demand for e-commerce in this post-pandemic and digitally aware society.

“Reliable Relamping also provides a 24/7 emergency response service.”

What may not be seen on the surface of these projects and in the day-to-day customer experience in these stores, is the important work that Reliable Relamping does behind the scenes to keep essential services up and running. “One of the larger things we’ve been doing for the last few years is replacing the standby generators for Home Depot. In most cases we’re increasing the size of the generator and adding different services, which basically requires us to rework the electrical system. We’re doing our own concrete for the generator pad, new fencing, a kind of complete construction project with us as far as a lot of that goes. Part of the reason stores like Home Depot are expanding their services is because they’re kind of a forward base during natural disasters,” Schmidt says. “Like when a hurricane comes through and wipes out entire communities, Home Depot and Lowe’s are often the first stop for many of the residents of the community to come and try to get the hardware and tools they need to put their homes and lives back together. Our services allow them to have better systems that are up and running, as well as keeping their forklifts charged, keeping their store lit safely, adding their paint desks so that they are able to produce paint. Having their store fully operational even in a time of disaster, so that the communities can rely on them to be there for them.”

Reliable Relamping also provides a 24/7 emergency response service, which includes connecting standby generators during power outages to keep its customers operational and prevent a loss of product. By its very nature, Reliable Relamping is a company that essential services can rely on. “One of the Generator projects that we did recently was for a senior care facility,” Schmidt tells me, providing another example of the essential services that form part of the Reliable Relamping portfolio. “We were approached kind of late in the game to replace their generator because there’s some new regulations that require care facilities to have a GCC Generator Connection Cabinet. This means that if their standby generator goes down, they’re back online much quicker with power by having portable generators brought in that can plug into their electrical system.” Reliable Relamping was able to come in on relatively short notice and get the replacement done in time. This allowed the client to maintain its federal funding and its ability to continue with its Medicare patients, which it had been at risk of losing.

“Another major project we’ve been working on is complete upgrades to parking lot lighting, not just new LED fixtures but also the replacement of light poles and concrete bases as they reach their end of useful life. In some instances, we changed the layouts significantly and had to add new pole locations, underground circuiting, and directional boring.” As Schmidt takes me through these projects and services, it’s evident that Reliable Relamping is much more than a lighting contractor. “We’re way past due for a rebranding because the relamping name kind of pigeonholes us into just being a lighting contractor,” he says. “There’s a lot of focus for us on the electrical side of it now, which we’ve been doing for a long time. We’ve got a big emphasis on generator projects, Electric Vehicle charging, remodels. We’re working on increasing that scope and trying to focus on that. A rebranding will allow us to really encompass that electrical side of our business as well.”

Reliable Relamping’s commitment to customer service is evident in its long-term relationships, and as Schmidt tells me, it all started with Meijer. “We’re still a vendor and a value-added partner with them. I had a conference call with them today about updating their produce spotlighting. I also suggested some possible projects to protect their investments in their LED lighting by adding transient Volt surge suppressors to their electrical panels.” This partnership alone represents Reliable Relamping’s journey from that first relamping job back in the nineties, to providing it with a wide range of LED lighting and electrical services today. “So, we’re twenty-seven years with Meyer, and we’ve been with Home Depot since 2001. Having those long-term relationships says a lot about our approach to customer service and our commitment to doing what’s right for the customer. And being a valued partner for them for such long periods of time – that’s a kind of a desirable position to be in.”

Reliable Relamping installation of generator pad

With thousands of projects on the go for customers nationwide, Reliable Relamping is investing in technology that will allow it to maintain the high-quality service efficiency its customers have come to rely on it for. “We do over 15,000 service work orders annually, so we’re implementing some new work order management software to help us with our dispatching. The industry is all about service level agreements and SLA requirements. Accept the work order within such a time, dispatch the work order by such a time, turn your quotes around, turn your invoice around. Because of the remote nature of facility departments and all these multi-site locations, they really rely on the metrics from these work order management portals to provide a scorecard on your services.” This scorecard is ultimately how efficiencies are measured against expectations, and the investment in this software is a commitment to maintaining these service level agreements as demand increases. “The new software will allow us to automate some processes and turn things around faster, helping us support our customers’ technology initiatives.”

Reliable Relamping has its sights set on future expansion, with plans to embrace growth opportunities as they present themselves. “I think we’ve probably worked in every state by now, self-performing in a lot of them, but we’re always looking to increase our geographic footprint for our self-performing and service territory. We currently have employees in the major markets throughout twelve States and we’re on the lookout for opportunities to expand beyond those. We’ve got employees based out of Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and some other project teams out of Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee.” Reliable Relamping’s footprint continues to spread across the nation, lighting the way to a bright future in the electrical contracting industry. “We’ve got a great team of people and a long tenure,” Schmidt says. “We’re very thankful for our organization and the people we have here that are committed to our mission. Our motto is to ‘do what’s right for the customer.’ We try to live and breathe that.”

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