A shades and lightning business rises trends to scale up.
When April Kettelle bought a small window shade operation in an industrial Naples neighborhood back in 2003, she had a grand plan: to turn a local mom-and-pop shop into a national corporation. Systematically and pragmatically over the course of the last 14 years, with the company she renamed ASI Automated Shading & Lighting Control, she’s managed to do just that. that. How? “We never get comfortable,” says the 41-year-old native Floridian.
Kettelle transformed the venture from an antiquated interior-shutter specialist that pulled in annual revenue of under $1 million, to a 32-person, $5 million luxury-driven enterprise headquartered in North Naples. Although she credits her initial strategy of process improvement and infrastructure building with rescuing the outfit from stagnation, it was her pre-science in hopping on the then-emerging trend toward automation that set her on a course for scaling up, bit by bit.
In the early 2000s, “People would spend thousands of dollars putting AV systems and theaters in their homes,” explains Kettelle. “I saw the opportunity to tie a basic shading business into that trend, as another piece of the home that could be controlled.”
What that meant was figuring out how to take a humble manual shade and fabricate a motorized system around it. It also meant thinking long and hard about how to pull in an element many in the industry considered irrelevant to the business of shades, automated or not: lighting.
Branching out into lighting, “was not a normal way for this kind of business to evolve, and when I started, people would say, ‘Okay, lights and shades?’” says Kettelle. “But when I talked about how both natural and artificial light in a space should work in synergy with each other, and be controlled together, people immediately connected with the idea.”
Having figured out this piece of the ASI puzzle, Kettelle turned her attention to expansion. Says Kettelle, “Anywhere building is booming, with a lot of glass and beautiful views, you also have a lot of natural light and therefore a need for that shading and lighting-control piece.” It was a no-brainer for ASI to open its next outpost in Miami, in 2006, followed by New York and Los Angeles.
The more markets Kettelle has tapped—providing services largely to the builder/designer/architect trade—the more variety she’s been able to introduce into her product lines. And the more fun she’s had steering this her second business—the first was a wedding planning enterprise Kettelle started in her late teens. “I get a kick out of seeing things run well,” she says.
Kettelle has no plans to add new locations to the ASI roster in the foreseeable future. But she’s not done growing the company either. In the next year, she’s looking to go vertical by tapping another booming trend that has a direct, if perhaps under-discussed, impact on the lighting business: wellness. “We understand that lighting can create an emotional response in people, but controlling it”—by letting in vitamin-D-rich sunlight, or blocking it out to maximize sleep—is important for improving health, says Kettelle. “That’s going to be the next huge piece for us.”