Former auto execs see the light: With an eye on the environment, partners build company around LED lighting

TRAVERSE CITY – When Bob Gray decided to "reinvent" his business, he didn't want to reinvent the wheel.

But a light bulb worked just fine.

Gray and his partners started the company XUS in 2007, specializing in developing 'green' technology and lighting solutions for businesses, municipalities and homes.

"Our background was in the automotive industry, where we had more than 150 collective years of experience," said Gray. "When we looked at reinventing our business, we looked at the global market. We looked at the local market. We asked ourselves the question: What is the industry that has the biggest impact and that has a chance to be a business today and 50 years from today?"

Gray and his group kept coming back to one answer: The environment.

"The environment and its importance to the world and the world's economy was a natural for us and for XUS," he said. "We studied the different industry opportunities and the need to reduce electrical consumption and the carbon footprint we face today. That was something we could get our hands around."

So XUS began looking at lighting – all kinds of lighting.

What caught their eye was mercury-free LED lighting. LED stands for light-emitting diodes, which are solid-state semiconductor devices that convert electrical energy directly into visible light. In addition to providing a minimum of 50 percent savings in energy output, LEDs also offer longer life, burn 100 degrees cooler than regular lights and are compact in size.

"We have designed all of our products so they can be purchased and used anywhere in the world," said Gray. "Our real defining factor is voltage requirements. We have to design our lighting to accommodate a customers' needs."

XUS manufactures streetlights, parking lot lighting, garage lights, industrial and factory lighting, plus residential and commercial lighting.

"And we also offer custom light applications that we think sets us apart from other manufacturers," said Gray.

XUS has two plant locations in Traverse City.

The main plant is located at 2525 Aero Park Dr. and is a 30,000 square-foot facility. It houses the administrative office and it's where all molding and some of the assembly, shipping and receiving and most of the quality control work is done, along with the mold maintenance.

The other facility is located at 2488 Cass Rd. and is about 10,000 square feet. It contains tools, design engineering and some assembly. Between the two locations, XUS employs between 40 and 50 people.

Their corporate office and design showroom is in Holland, Mich.

Gray, who lives in Holland, grew up on the south side of Chicago and has been in business 23 years. He attended Bradley University, where he majored in marketing and production management – both skills that are helping him today.

He recently sold a business that provided products and services to the auto, appliance and office furniture industries, doing business all over the world.

During those years, his business friendships helped him form a unique network of like-minded entrepreneurs.

"We formed XUS and then acquired a 30-year-old local business (ACRA, Inc.)," said Gray. "From there, we re-invented ourselves and developed a group of products that we see as being sustainable for the foreseeable future on a local, state, national and world platform."

Gray is proud of the positive effect his company is having on the 'green' movement, as well as providing local jobs.

"We are a company that really wants to have an effect on the industry," he said. "And we want to be a part of the community, help our employees and be good stewards for the environment. As a company, we also want to have fun. Most of us have been in the automotive industry and everyone knows that has not been fun."

Still, he and his partners wanted to live and work in Michigan.

"That was the key," he said. "We wanted to live where we work. That's especially important in Michigan right now. So we needed to create a business and product that would sustain itself for the company, its employees and the community. We think we've done that."

For more information on XUS, call 946-7987 or go to BN