ECN Interview with Mike Mueller of Super Bright LEDs
At right, Mike Mueller and wife, Lisa
Exhibit City News: Let’s start with a little about you and your background and how you entered the lighting industry.
Mike Mueller: I was born here in St. Louis, Mo. I went to school for 3-D solid modeling, and a good friend of mine’s father was just starting Super Bright LEDs in their basement. It was 2002, which was when I was in school. He expressed that he needed some help with doing some drawings for some products that he sells and I was able to do some drawings of those products, such as different light bulbs that you might find in vehicles. That’s how I came into the company and that was just a little after the beginning of the company.
ECN: So it was the father of a friend who started Super Bright LEDs.
MM: Yes, it’s a family owned business … Greg and Carol Henderson and their two sons, Scott and Brian.
ECN: Then what is your current position at Super Bright LEDs?
MM: I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades. I started as a 3-D modeler; I’ve done web development; product photometric and electrical testing, technical support, sales, photography, and web content management. Now, I’m mainly just a product marketing manager.
ECN: And what are your duties as a product marketing manager?
MM: I’m responsible for marketing all the products that come through here, old and new. New products are a big part of our livelihood because the LED market is constantly evolving and we want to evolve with it. So, I’m responsible for all the information that’s on the site, along with letting everyone know here what the products do, who we’re marketing to, what applications the products can be used in, and what sets this product apart.
ECN: How much of your business is with the trade show industry?
MM: That would be hard to say. We have commercial accounts that are in the trade show industry, but mainly it’s the designers and the builders of the different exhibits and booths, not necessarily the companies that are exhibiting, but their designers. So, I’d say maybe a quarter of our commercial accounts work on tradeshows.
ECN: How does one decide what kind of lights are needed or are best for each individual exhibit?
MM: Often we get introduced from our suppliers to what the popular products are that they’re seeing go out in the tradeshow industry. But mainly we learn from our existing commercial trade show accounts just what kind of products they’re getting and what they’re asking for. We tend to listen to our customers and say, “Well, if they’re asking for it, there are probably other customers needing this exact same thing in this industry.” So we go out and find it. Mainly, it’s a combination of what our suppliers are recommending to us, what our customers are asking for and already using, and expanding on that product line.
An example would be designers using RGB strips and then they use another all-white strip to create white because they might not like the color mixing that the RGB strip makes. So then we go out and find an RGBW strip, where the RGB and white are all on the same strip.
At right, flat panel lights deliver smooth illumination for retail signage, logos, advertisements, artwork, and more.
ECN: What are the popular, current trends in trade show lighting right now?
MM: In the trade show industry, some popular trends would definitely be smart lighting – being able to control the lighting with your phone or having all the lighting on one controllable system, rather than a switch and a plug over here and another switch and a plug over there, and taking it all down and putting it all back up and having to run all that. So, I would say smart lighting systems – which can be pretty complex.
But one thing I’ll have to say is the trade show builders that we deal with are all pretty knowledgeable. It’s nice to work with them because they know electric pretty well. They can comprehend lighting and design elements and electric together, so it’s really easy to work with that crowd.
ECN: They’ll be glad to hear you said that. You have a lot of well-known competitors. What does Super Bright LEDs bring to the table that makes you the right choice for both consumers and tradeshow exhibitors?
MM: Yes, there are definitely a lot of competitors. There’s a lot of tradeshow driven competitors and there’s also a lot of LED lighting competitors. What separates us apart from the rest is that we test all of our products right here in-house. We don’t just import and then put it on our site without knowing much about the products. They go through rigorous check-testing in our test lab. And we also have a variety of spectrometer tools to test lighting, and we do LM-79 reports on all our LEDs and LM-80 reports. They go through our certification processes first and then we put them up on our site because we’re confident that it’s a good enough product.
Not only that, our products have the best warranty that I’ve seen compared to all of our competitors, and it definitely beats out Amazon and eBay, if you’re looking at those sites. All of our strips, which are popular in the trade show industry, have a five-year warranty. And all of our products are in-stock, so they’re ready to ship out the same day. I know a lot of trade show industry designers have a pretty sharp deadline whenever we deal with them, and we can pretty much always get them what they need on time for their deadlines.
ECN: The fact that you test your products is very impressive. Does Super Bright LEDs also have a physical location or are your products only available online at superbrightleds.com?
MM: We’re mainly online, although we do have a pickup in-store location here in St. Louis, Mo.
ECN: What’s next on the horizon for Super Bright LEDs?
MM: We are building on a category that is dedicated to the trade show industry, which is new this year. Once that happens, we’re going to get into “Lighting Guides,” so we might have a diagram of a typical tradeshow booth, which will have callouts to what you would typically find underneath the booth or on a display for general lighting or track lighting. It will be an easy guide, where you can just select what you’d like to see.
Other than that online tool, we already have readily available commercial LED lightboxes which we print in-house. With those, you can upload any image – your company logo, slogan or an infographic – and we print that here in-house and ship it same day, at a fraction of the cost of other tradeshow lightbox competitors.
Along with that, we have virtual LED skylights – maybe not so much for the trade show industry, but for commercial lighting applications. It might be in medical offices or conference rooms, where it’s pretty much a virtual skylight, a print of the sky that’s illuminated by a lightbox and put in a dropped ceiling.
ECN: Do you only sell the lights or do you also help the exhibitors/displayers install them?
MM: Our commercial accounts have a dedicated representative here that they can consult over the phone. We don’t go onsite, but the builders and designers consult that way – mainly over the phone and through the information we provide online.
ECN: Well, thank you for sharing some of your expertise with us, Mike. Before we finish, how about sharing a little more about just yourself? Are you married? Any children?
MM: I’ve been married for three years to my wife, Lisa, and we have a baby on the way.
ECN: Congratulations! And when you’re not up to your ears in lightbulbs, what do you do for fun and relaxation?
MM: My wife and I just got back from traveling. We traveled to California from St. Louis in a tiny house – 208 sq. ft., kind of like an RV. We were on vacation for about a year in California, seeing all the national parks. It was a lot of fun – lots of hikes. We saw all the national parks in California and some in the surrounding area.
For more information on Super Bright LEDs, please visit www.superbrightleds.com.