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Bright Future

Outdoor lighting firm rockscapes inc. benefits from recent boom in home improvement activity Homebodies are good business for Bruce Dennis. As more folks stay at home, they are sprucing up their backyards, decks and porches and that means more sales for Dennis’ company, Rockscapes Inc. The increased demand for outdoor lighting has pushed sales to $3.5 million, up from $2.5 million two years ago. Next year, as Rockscapes expands its product line, the company plans to move into new channels of distribution as well. The rising demand for outdoor lighting, lanterns and other fixtures that can be fitted onto exterior walls and columns or installed in gardens and walkways has also increased the number of suppliers in the marketplace. But Dennis has managed to stay one step ahead. “With 99 percent of the industry, you get what’s in the (catalog), and that’s it,” said George Kalta, owner of Contractors Choice Lighting, a Chatsworth-distributor that sells the Rockscapes line. “But a lot of people want something customized, and Rockscapes will always accommodate them.” Dennis grew up in the electrical lighting business, working at his family’s company as a student. After getting a business degree from UC Berkeley, he went to work for another outdoor lighting company and, after two years, struck out on his own. It was 1987 and the Southern California economy was booming. But a few years later, new-home construction came to a standstill, and with it, the demand for outdoor lighting. Dennis adapted his operation. Instead of making electrical lanterns that were limited to the luxury market, he fitted the lanterns with candles to create a low-cost decorative item. He also added a line of metal mailboxes that could be sold through mass-market outlets. Working in the family business taught him to be nimble. “When you have lemons, you make lemonade,” he said. As the economy improved, Dennis expanded the line, which now includes about 400 different items. Meanwhile, shifting trends in home entertainment and a heightened interest in home security helped pump up demand for the products Rockscapes makes. Instead of dining out, more people are renovating decks and patios and installing fancy barbecue islands for backyard entertaining. As they do, they are looking for ways to illuminate the area and enhance the ambiance. Dennis took the lantern designs that would normally be fitted to columns and architectural poles and adapted them to portable stands that can be moved around the patio as needed. He also began manufacturing miniature lights that can be inconspicuously installed along stairways, railings or overhead. “The thing I always remember is, if you really want to sell a product, solve a problem,” Dennis said. The miniature lights are being sold through architects, landscapers and other wholesalers, the company’s traditional distribution channels. This spring, Rockscapes will introduce its portable lights to new channels of distribution party and event planners, and specialty retailers like patio and casual furniture stores. Dennis says he won’t lose sight of his wholesale channel of distribution. Outdoor lighting has become a key element in garden shows and other home design exhibits, increasing the demand for elaborate designs available through landscapers and architects. A few years ago, only about 10 percent to 15 percent of landscapers and electricians did outdoor lighting. “Now, it’s over 50 percent with a myriad of choices,” Dennis said. The heightened demand has virtually doubled the number of competitors in the market from about 20 when Dennis started out to about 40 today. In addition, importers from China have come into the marketplace with low-priced aluminum lanterns sold through home improvement centers. “There is a lot more competition now,” said Kalta. “The only problem is, the competition doesn’t offer the variety and the service. He’s one of the only ones you can deal with.” Rockscapes Inc. Year Founded: 1987 Core Business: Outdoor lighting Employees in 1997: 20 Employees in 1999: 30 Revenues in 1997: $2.5 million Revenues in 1999: $3.5 million Goal: To be the best in its field Driving Force: Manufacturing animatronics for increased interest in lighting for outdoor entertaining and home security

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