Started as a way to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning LED lighting business, manufacturer California LightWorks grew ecommerce from modest beginnings to 25% of its sales, now including sales to both consumers and businesses.

LED lighting has been around since the early 1960s, but it didn’t catch fire as a mainstream product for commercial, industrial, and residential use until the 21st century. For one LED manufacturer, business is now booming with a strong assist from ecommerce.

We get a lot of user feedback on our B2C site that helps with product development, which helps our B2B site.
George Mekhtarian, CEO
California LightWorks
GeorgeMekhtarian-CaliforniaLightworks

George Mekhtarian, CEO, California Lightworks

In 2008, an electrical engineer named George Mekhtarian saw enough potential in LED technology’s energy efficiency and relatively long life span to form California LightWorks as an LED lighting manufacturing company. Two years after a soft launch, which included product development, occasional sales and brand building, California LightWorks landed its first order of note: 1,000 units.

That order made Mekhtarian feel comfortable enough to officially launch the company.

Starting with HTML and a PayPal button

The launch included ecommerce at its most basic level. “As a Silicon Valley-based company in 2010, we had to have a website and ecommerce capability,” says Mekhtarian, the chief executive. “We started simple with an HTML-based website and a PayPal Buy button but had no real ecommerce platform.”

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Within five years, sales hit $2 million and Mekhtarian realized the need for an advanced ecommerce presence. California LightWorks built a new website using the WordPress platform and a Magento shopping cart. By late 2018, the need to up its ecommerce game arose again, and the manufacturer responded by relaunching his site with a new cart from Shopify Inc.

Reinvesting in technology every 3 to 4 years

“We need to invest in our website and ecommerce every three to four years,” says Mekhtarian. “We looked at opening a store on Amazon, but felt that adding the Shopify cart was a better solution and gave us more control over our ecommerce channel.”

California LightWorks kept WordPress as its website’s platform because of its ease of use in posting blogs, informational videos and other content to its website, he adds.

Overall, California LightWorks sells to distributors in the United States, Europe and Australia, and to large-scale agriculture growers that utilize indoor growing facilities. It also sells to retailers and universities with agriculture schools. About 80% of its business is with cannabis growers in states where cannabis has been legalized for medical and or recreational use, Mekhtarian says.

Online sales are up five-fold during the pandemic

Armed with a new ecommerce platform, California LightWorks has seen its ecommerce volume grow between 50% and 100% annually since last year. Overall, ecommerce represents 25% of the company’s annual sales. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March, ecommerce volume has increased five-fold. California LightWorks projects total sales to reach $10 million this year, up about 400% since 2015, says Mekhtarian.

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The manufacturer has also opened a direct-to-consumer ecommerce channel that accounts for less than 10% of its ecommerce sales. Launching a B2C channel was an easy decision because consumers kept inquiring about purchases through its B2B website, Mekhtarian says.

The new B2C ecommerce channel complements its online B2B sales without undercutting its distributors, Mekhtarian says. “We get a lot of user feedback on our B2C site that helps with product development, which helps our B2B site,” he adds.

For example, the manufacturer has developed videos showing how consumers use its products and offering tips on installation. “A lot of information needs to be conveyed to end users in order to get the best results from our products,” Mekhtarian says.

CRM lights up digital marketing

In addition, California LightWorks is leveraging its CRM application, Infusionsoft by Keap, to help coordinate its digital marketing efforts. All leads, including those from its ecommerce sites, flow into the California LightWorks CRM application, which also supports email marketing, he says.

The manufacturer has also integrated its ERP application, Fishbowl, into its ecommerce platform and QuickBooks accounting software. Fishbowl provides a menu of business management tools that can be turned on or off, such as inventory tracking, wholesale distribution, generation of pick-and-pack orders and support of mobile devices used by warehouse workers pick products in the warehouse.

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California LightWorks’s deep dive into ecommerce has made the manufacturer a more astute digital marketer. It uses a digital marketing agency to analyze client data gathered through its ecommerce channel for marketing and social media campaigns. And California LightWorks’s social media presence provides users with a platform to share product information, such as which light spectrums work best for specific plants, and other results from the use of its products.

“End users need a lot of information to get the desired result,” says Mekhtarian. “In the early days when it came to ecommerce, we did it all, but looking forward now we see other ways of analyzing data to reach customers more effectively.”

Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.  

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