The Canadian Women Entrepreneurs Awards recognizes leading female entrepreneurs who have made significant contributions to the Canadian economy. Presented in five categories, the awards celebrate the outstanding leadership skills and vision of these dynamic businesswomen, who are role models for generations of young Canadian women.
In a special five-part series, Xchange shares the secrets of success of these leading women entrepreneurs. In Part 4, we feature Tarana Nina Gupta, president of Greenlite Lighting Corp. in Montreal, winner of the 2007 Trailblazing Award.
Who says that corporate social responsibility and stellar business growth can’t go hand in hand? Not Tarana Nina Gupta, president of Greenlite Lighting Corp. Gupta’s Montreal-based firm manufactures and distributes energy-efficient lighting products, specializing in compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Founded in 1996, the company’s annual revenue has risen from $300,000 to $30 million in 2007. It’s Gupta’s stick-to-your-niche mentality mixed with passion and social conscience that drives the company forward.
Gupta honed her business skills by starting and running a three-store retail chain of women’s wear called Taranas. She sold the chain and took time off to raise her two children before launching Lamptronics, which was the North American marketing arm of the Gupta family’s India-based lighting business. When her research and experience told her that the North American market would go green, Gupta rebranded Lamptronics as Greenlite, and the company became a manufacturer and distributor of CFLs.
“We were always looking for products where we could build a niche market,” she says. “We realized that any time and energy we put into [CFLs] would pay off, because it was very evident even 10 years ago that there was an energy crisis coming,” she says. Though sales were “laughable” in the first several years, Gupta hung in. “We never said let’s close up shop, this isn’t working, let’s do something else.”
Today, Greenlite’s niche market has exploded, partly because governments around the world are starting to legislate the demise of incandescent bulbs. In 2007, for example, Canada announced its intention to ban incandescent bulbs by 2015. It’s a positive sign for Greenlite. The company projects sales of $50 million this year, and five years out it expects that number to increase to $200 million, says Gupta. “We’ve got big hopes.”
Gupta’s vision includes more than just promoting her product. Greenlite’s marketing efforts are largely focused on educating consumers about the environmental benefits of CFLs. “We have a social conscience,” says Gupta. “When we talk about light bulbs we get all hot and bothered.” It’s easy to see why: Greenlite’s “Energy Star”-certified CFLs use up to 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs, last 10 times longer, save homeowners money and reduce overall environmental impact through lower greenhouse emissions and reduced landfill waste. Estimates show that if every Canadian replaced just one incandescent bulb with an Energy Star CFL, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by about 400,000 tonnes each year – the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road annually.
As compelling as that sounds, Gupta’s toughest challenge has been winning over consumers. The first generations of CFL to hit the market tended to buzz, flicker or hiss, “and really turned off a lot of the first customers,” she says. Now that radical changes in CFL technology have resolved the issues, “we have to get it in their hands to prove it to them.” Rather than spending advertising dollars on billboards or bus ads, Gupta prefers product giveaways in hopes of winning over consumers. Greenlite recently handed out 32,000 CFL light bulbs to Microsoft employees in Seattle, Wash., and another 6,000 to St. Patrick’s Day parade-goers in Montreal, for example. “To get a product in the consumer’s hand is the easiest way to convert the consumer.”
The company can afford to be generous in its efforts to build customer allegiance in part because of careful fiscal management. “We run a very conservative operation, financially we run a very tight shop,” says Gupta. “And there’s no sales where I don’t think I’m going to get paid – you can’t tempt me with a million-piece order if I have any doubt in my mind that anything could go wrong.”
Maintaining a strict focus on energy-efficient lighting has given Greenlite a jump on large, multi-faceted competitors such as GE and Philips, says Gupta. “To them, [CFL] was not that important because they had too much money invested in incandescent lighting. It’s only in the last couple of years they’ve realized that they kind of missed the boat.”
Gupta estimates that Greenlite, which has offices in the U.S., Canada and China, has captured approximately 10% of the North American market for CFL light bulbs, “which is a very large amount for a business our size.” Now, “we couldn’t be poised in a better place,” she says. “We have nothing to stop us but our imaginations.” With a passion for her job firmly entrenched, she says, “We’re doing the best we can at what we do, we’re not losing our focus, and we’re not getting tempted by going into something that’s hot this week. [CFL] is here to stay.”