Adam Gatchel, co-founder of Southern Lights Electric, started his small business journey six years ago in 2011 and has grown to feature work all over the world, including Japan, Australia, London and Germany.
When Adam Gatchel was a full-time musician, he found himself with long periods of downtime when he was off the road. In his spare time, he started buying and remodeling houses and building light fixtures for his own house. After a while, the work started piling up.
“My wife was like, ‘You don’t need this many lamps. We should try to sell them,’” he said. “So, we did. We put them online, and they started selling almost instantly.”
From there, Adam’s small business journey began. He launched Southern Lights Electric with his wife, Jamie. Soon after, his long-time friend Joel started with them part-time before coming on full-time as production manager.
“He’s a vital part of the business for sure,” Adam said, “and he’s a really good friend.”
This close-knit triumvirate still runs the business today, maintaining efficiency and productivity.
“It’s nice to have people you trust around all the time,” Adam said. “It’s a small team, but I think we’re really efficient. We get a lot done.”
The team also takes pride in the work they do, noting how their company has eliminated the middleman. Customers come directly to them, and the team is very transparent in their work, being meticulous from start to finish.
“That’s why you hire us – since we think about it all day,” Adam said.
Clients of Southern Lights Electric range from architecture firms and interior designers to restauranteurs and homeowners worldwide.
“The amount of work that we’re able to put out… I think is staggering,” he said. “One of the best things about owning your own business is there’s no one else to point to that did the work. It’s us. There’s three of us, and that’s it, so I’m really proud of it.”
Their cohesion as a team and their care for their customers is evident through their project process. First, they assess how the customer wants the space to feel and the vibe they want.
The next step is figuring out how to light the space. Will the fixture need to be more embellished? Minimal? Brighter? Darker? For instance, in a restaurant, the kitchen might need brighter lighting than the dining room. They ask various questions to imagine what the project will produce.
Once those questions are answered, they move on to how the fixtures will look. They ensure the function of the fixtures will be there and focus on aesthetic afterward. They look at metal finishes or colors, sizes and other fixtures before going into manufacturing.
From there, they draw concepts and send 3D models of the fixtures to the customer. Roughly eight weeks later, the custom-made fixture is finished.
From the beginning, Southern Lights Electric was completely self-financed. They took the profits from projects and put them back into new projects. However, when orders became more substantial, they didn’t always have the working capital they needed.
They searched for funding through bankers, online lenders and family and friends and landed with Kabbage after comparing it with other online lenders.
“We thought that was the best option,” Adam said. “The ease of applying [and] getting approved was better than any of the other options.”
Southern Lights Electric first used Kabbage funding to pay for parts and materials for a large hotel project.
“We weren’t going to be paid for months – six months, probably – and we needed to fund all of that material up front,” Adam said. They also used it to help them move into a new office space. “We needed to build offices, walls and doors. I mean, it was a lot of expenses and basically starting a whole new shop.”
In addition to the ease of access to funds from Kabbage, Adam appreciates the peace of mind it brings, from helping cash flow lulls during seasonal downtime to covering payroll or unexpected expenses.
“Having the ability to access Kabbage easily to help cover those expenses takes a lot of stress off of me,” he said, “which is really helpful for me to focus and continue to move forward with the business and continue to push forward on the important parts of growing a business.”
As an entrepreneur, Adam values and often learns from the community of other business owners. They collaborate on projects and introduce one another to potential clients and customers.
“Every single day is different,” he said. “We get to meet new people; start new projects. There is nothing mundane about owning your own business.”