In less than a decade, Greenwich natives and founders of Tri-State LED Bob Ostrander and Ron Young have watched their company expand from four to more than 20 employees. They have also moved offices, been acquired by a private equity fund and, most recently, surpassed $50 million in cumulative sales.
Yet perhaps the most noticeable change, the founders said, is how the lighting industry has moved to embrace the technology upon which their company is based.
“When we started this, LED was beyond a concept, but it was still so new that there was a lot of uncertainty,” Ostrander said. “People would tell us that LED is just a fad. Now, it’s not just an option but the only solution.”
For the first few years after the longtime friends founded Tri-State, they sometimes questioned whether the company would succeed. The pair recounts months that stretched into more than a year of refusing to accept a paycheck.
“We were asking, what did we get ourselves into?” Young said. “The country was on its knees when we opened this place, and no one wanted to give us a loan.”
In August, Tri-State LED reached its benchmark of $50 million in sales, which prompted Ostrander and Young to reflect on how they have fostered the company’s growth since its inception in 2010.
“Bob and I had this vision that (LED) would be huge,” Young said. “Everyone in business will usually tell you that they have plans and backup plans if those fail, but our plan A was to succeed and plan B was to make sure that plan A didn’t fail.”
The country was already beginning to move toward greater energy efficiency by 2010, in part because of a 2007 law that implemented stricter lighting efficiency standards, but the alternative to incandescent light bulbs was not clear yet, according to Tri-State’s founders. That has mostly changed, Ostrander said, and advances in technology are continuing to boost the LED industry.
“The things we were telling clients in 2010 are happening now,” Young said.
During a recent interview at Tri-State’s Byram-based offices, Ostrander described the switch to LEDs like a “money machine in your basement and every month you get a crank that results in energy savings.”
‘Grow or die’
Tri-State LED has used its lighting solutions to complete more than 2,000 projects for a variety of commercial and residential clients. In celebrating its recent benchmark, the company highlights several large projects including the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial, and retrofitting more than 300 public schools across New England, including many municipal buildings in Stamford.
Between 2011 and 2016, Tri-State LED touts a compounded annual growth rate of nearly 50 percent.
In 2013, Stamford-based Revolution Lighting Technology, a publicly traded company, acquired Tri-State. The founders said that helped keep their company growing as it had outpaced the amount they could invest. “That gave us a bigger opportunity to expand our presence,” Ostrander said.
Looking ahead, Tri-State is investing in developing its presence in the region and in the rest of the country. For the company’s first few years, it was difficult to attract clients in states where energy rates were relatively low, but that’s starting to change, Ostrander said, adding it “now makes sense for more low-rate areas to convert.”
In response, Tri-State has expanded its sales staff to cover those parts of the country. “Grow or die: that’s our motto,” Young said.