Read All About It

A Light Bulb Goes Off

And the phones rang. At first, the Leveens figured they had finally tapped the nation's need for good lighting. But slowly, they realized it was the other half of their pitch--the "serious reading"--that customers were passionate about.

It was a classic case of good luck disguised as bad. Because of their meager funds, the Leveens answered all their own calls. In conversations with customers, what they heard again and again was that serious readers needed serious help. "They'd ask us, `Do you really know about reading light? I read a lot, and I can't get a decent lamp,' " Steve recalls.

"Of course, the truth of the matter was, we didn't know a thing about reading light," Steve says. "But we did know enough to listen to our customers and realize they wanted us to become experts." And that's exactly what the Leveens did. "We talked to several lighting engineers at General Electric, GTE Sylvania and elsewhere to learn more about lighting for reading. What we learned, we passed on to our customers and explained in our catalog." Just like that, a resource was born.

But it wasn't until February 1988 that the Leveens recognized the full potential of their discovery. "A light bulb went off, and we suddenly realized we could look at readers as a group and think of other products to sell to them," says Steve. "Our list got longer and longer--bookcases, dictionary stands, chairs, desks, bookends--objects serious readers needed to make their lives more comfortable and productive."

Good as the idea sounded, it was a gamble. Were readers really a cohesive market? And were they serious enough about reading to buy paraphernalia to enhance the reading experience? In 1988, no one knew for sure. But the Leveens had stumbled on some fairly compelling anecdotal evidence, and they seemed to be the only ones privy to this knowledge.

Every day calls came in from lawyers with eyestrain. There were squinting college professors, writers, editors, doctors, actors, politicians, analysts, architects--all sorts of people who read for a living. And that didn't even include the people who read for pleasure.

Since so many people needed help seeing their reading material, perhaps they'd need help organizing it, too. Maybe ergonomic items such as footrests weren't so much a luxury as an orthopedic necessity. Best of all, here was a need no one else seemed to know about. All the world looked at readers and saw nothing more than people who read. But for the Leveens, who listened to the concerns and wishes of avid readers every day, this was a market with life and breath.

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This article was originally published in the January 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Read All About It.

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