You have a lighting fixture with a burnt-out bulb but it’s one of those hard-to-find lighting implements. Not to worry, Merriam-based Watts Up will likely have just what you need.
Locally owned and operated since 1982, Watts Up specializes in commercial-grade light bulbs at wholesale prices.
“We’re known as the lighting source for the hard-to-find bulbs,” said Andre Smith who, with his wife Jennifer, bought the store this summer.
The 14,000-square-foot facility carries thousands of bulbs from the smallest item to fill a nightlight to bulbs that keep Kansas City International Airport’s rental car facility brightly lit during the darkest hours. But Watts Up is more than just a place to buy a bulb.
“We do consulting with our customers,” Andre Smith said. “With the new technology coming out we have found a need for customers to come out and find out all the new things available...and our pricing is very competitive.”
The company stocks the latest in lighting products.
Q: Why did you purchase Watts Up? What are some of the details of the purchase ?
“I always had a dream of owning my own business and having an opportunity to shape a company culture,” Smith said. “I had just had the fear of making that jump.”
Smith and his family had been living in California and moved back to the area with a goal of finding a business to purchase.
“We worked with the DVS Group, a broker that focuses in the buy side. They made a connection with the former owners and me. I just loved the philosophy of how they managed the business.”
Smith said he was in talks for three months to buy Watts Up. The Smiths financed the purchased with a Small Business Administration loan through Alterra Bank with the remainder coming from their own finances.
Q: What is your prior business background?
Both Smith and his wife are Rockhurst University graduates.
Andre Smith also served in the Kansas National Guard and later worked for Hallmark Cards. He took a hiatus to attend the Wharton Business School, earning an MBA before returning to the Kansas City area to work for Sprint. During his time there, Smith had 13 different assignments around the country and ended up in California.
“The time was right to make a move and I was ready to come back home and do something different than corporate America,” Smith said.
Once the Smiths bought a home and got their children enrolled in school it was time to look for a business to buy.
“I felt if there was ever a time to make the jump this was it,” Smith said. “Sprint had prepared me with the skillset to do this.”
Q: Who are your customers and how do you market Watts Up?
About 90 percent of Watts Up’s business comes from commercial clients with the remaining from residential customers. Regardless of who is making the purchase, Watts Up puts a strong emphasis on providing good customer service.
“Every person that comes gives us the opportunity to go the extra mile,|” Smith said.
One employee is designated to greet customers and answer questions while one is on the phones providing the same kind of service. Smith said Watts Up also offers next-day delivery and free delivery for orders of $50 or more.
With a limited marketing budget, Watts Up relies heavily on word of mouth to bring customers in to the store.
“The brand of Watts Up is known for helping in those hard situations,” he said. “Oddly enough, we get a lot of referrals from those big box stores when they don’t have something.”
Smith said Watts Up also has a website and is working to launch its Facebook page.
Q: What have you found challenging in your new business venture?
“Ensuring that I am prioritizing...how fast do I try to introduce things that provide efficiencies while at the same time I am still learning the business,” Smith said.
Smith credits his smooth transition in part to the previous owners.
“They built a rock solid business,” he said.
Q: What’s in Watts Up’s future?
“I think there are opportunities to grow,” Smith said. “I would like to be viewed as the source in Kansas City for all things lighting—and even in the Midwest.”
Smith wants to expand the residential segment of the business while pushing commercial clients to choose Watts Up to support a local business.
Smith also wants Watts Up to become more involved in the community.
“Watts Up has got such a good brand,” he said. “We brighten people’s lives.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Watts Up
ADDRESS: 9320 Johnson Drive, Merriam
WEB SITE: www.wattsuplighting.com