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Bright Idea

When this couple noticed a lack of outdoor illumination options, they decided to make light of the situation.

Some prospective franchisees have the good fortune of stumbling across a niche market just waiting to be discovered. That's what happened to Amy Dowling, 47, and Dennis Dowling, 48, of Long Island, New York. The couple noticed an increasing trend of homeowners spending money on their homes' exterior appearance. They also noted the lack of specialized high-end outdoor lighting available to home-owners.

"After 9/11, people were traveling less and investing more in their homes," says Amy. When the Dowlings found Outdoor Lighting Perspectives, a franchise that provides exterior lighting for affluent residential homes and small businesses, says Amy, "it all seemed to come together."

In November 2001, the Dowlings purchased an Outdoor Lighting Perspectives franchise. The journey from realizing a trend to owning a successful franchise was made a bit easier by Amy's 13 years of sales experience as a senior retail buyer and Dennis' 21 years as an account manager. Amy and Dennis used their sales and business backgrounds to infiltrate the marketplace with information about their business, via direct mail, trade shows and assertive networking.

Their initiative has paid off--they've built relationships in the Long Island community with everyone from landscape architects to the local chamber of commerce to customers who provide referrals. "We had a customer who received one of our postcards, and it resulted in the sale of not only his home, but [six other homes in the community as well]," Amy says.

While the marketing aspects of the business play a major role in generating interest, nighttime product demonstrations are essential in clinching sales. With the help of their sales team, the Dowlings visit homes and temporarily set up lighting systems. The demonstrations allow potential customers to see how exterior lighting looks at their home before they decide to make a purchase. "It's very visual, hands-on, and the customers really aren't left with any surprises," says Amy.

If a customer decides to make a purchase following a demonstration, the Dowlings have an installation team ready to install the lighting system, typically within one week. Customers pay between $3,500 and $5,500 per job.

Free from the restraints of the corporate world, Amy and Dennis have enjoyed taking the reins of their business. Amy says, "The thing I like most is you are in control of your own destiny."

After only two years, the Dowlings' franchise has grown more than 65 percent and placed sixth among 50 nationwide Outdoor Lighting Perspectives franchises. They attribute their success to dedication and involvement with the franchise. As a member of the franchise advisory board, Amy devotes her time to assisting other franchise owners with the primary goal of "making the system stronger."

And as far as their own franchise goes, the couple acknowledges their good fortune. Says Amy, "We both feel we have found our place."

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bright Idea.

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