One Hot Product: CooLED CEO sees growth in the LED market


Tim Burden’s sales pitch for his LED conversion company is a salesperson’s dream.

“Everybody’s got lights. And they want ideas to reduce their cost of operations,” said Burden, CEO of CooLED, a Traverse City-based industrial lighting company. “The beautiful thing is it always reduces the cost.”

Burden’s 10-employee company isn’t just screwing in new lightbulbs. It consults and helps owners of malls, parking lots, hotels, and other industrial buildings make the switch from incandescent to LED, a technology that uses about five times less power to produce the same amount of light. 

Burden founded the company seven years ago after being introduced to the technology by engineers.

“I thought it would be fun to do in my later years,” said Burden, who had been in the construction industry, including developing the River’s Edge project across from West Bay.

He soon found out there was more to the lighting industry than he anticipated.

“When I started I had no idea there were so many types of lights,” he said. “Once a week we’d see a fixture we’d never seen before.”

Today the company works with a series of dealers and sales representatives all across the country. They have also had projects in Mexico and Canada. Burden said the company worked in Puerto Rico four or five years ago, and following the disastrous hurricane and floods there this past year he anticipates eventually following up there again.

“We’ve worked in at least half the states,” said Burden. “We do a lot of work in Illinois, Ohio, and southern Michigan.”

Those Midwestern jobs include a project for real estate investment trust company Fairfield Residential, for which the company quoted retrofits for 20 properties. Locally CooLED has worked with Copper Ridge, VIKTOR Incentives, RightWay Auto Sales, Oleson’s, Environmental Protection Inc., Culver’s and others.

“We’re seeing more local (interest),” he said. “Business is good and keeps growing.”

When it comes to LED lighting, Burden lists a wide range of industry potential: Aviation. Agriculture, such as indoor grow facilities for medical marijuana. Governments, as in street and tunnel lighting. Multi-family housing and hotels. Grocery stores, greenhouses, warehouses, auto dealerships, hospitals and health-care facilities – anywhere there are lights, especially where they are used on a lengthy and regular basis.

“Any operation that runs 12 or more hours, from a hospital to assisted living, apartment complexes,” he said.

And the longer the lights are used, the quicker the payback.

Whether the initial investment is $50,000 or $500,000, Burden says the cost savings will eventually pay for the work. A full-blown redo can mean completely rewiring buildings for new fixtures, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. CooLED offers financing programs that eliminate up-front, out-of-pocket expenses, using the energy savings from the retrofit to pay down the loan, essentially removing all capital expenditures.

He said one office complex that invested $170,000 found its cost savings replaced the investment in just one year. An assisted living facility that invested $25,000 had a nine-month payback.

Then there’s the fact that the life of the new equipment is typically longer than the lights they are replacing.

“Everything we install has 50,000-hour life. Some are up to 300,000 hours. Everything we do has a least a five-year warranty – most last 10 to 15 years,” Burden said.

There are other reasons to consider replacing old fluorescent lighting, Burden said.

“Old fluorescent lights will flicker, and it can affect mood,” he said.

Not to say LED lighting is a perfect solution each and every time. Burden said a sugar plant was having difficulty keeping its LED lights working, because the temperatures near the ceiling where the fixtures were located were so hot they were causing the lights to burn out rapidly.

“It was 190, 200 degrees. Their LEDs couldn’t withstand that, and the lights were failing,” he said. “We have a product for that.”

Burden doesn’t see either the industry or his company slowing down. If anything, he sees growth in the industry and at CooLED. The company attended the International Light Show in Philadelphia last year, where he saw innovations including strips of LEDs without fixtures and motion sensors using LEDs.

If this past year is any indication, CooLED’s future appears to be well-lit.

“Last year we traveled all over the country. A lot of properties were being upgraded,” he said. “We did a lot of parking lots, malls – it was a good year.”

Business has been so good that last year that the company moved from Eighth Street to a larger facility on Robinwood. And Burden said the company is growing so fast, he is already looking to move again.

“We have more people, more products, we’re doing some R&D testing. We’d also like to have a showroom,” he said. “We’ve been negotiating on a location for four or five months and hope to move in the spring.”