Topaz Lighting

Topaz Lighting picTopaz Lighting’s strong culture enables it to invest in the company’s future.
By Tim O’Connor

When a company finds success and leads its industry it can be easy to stand apart. Making the investment necessary to reach the next level comes with uncertainty and challenges that the company must be prepared to meet. That was the choice facing lighting manufacturer Topaz Lighting three years ago.

It was CEO Tim Gomes’ faith in his employees and the company’s culture that gave him the confidence needed to embark on a strategy to upgrade nearly every facet of the company.  “When I challenged our employees with the grand plan three years ago everyone knew what the challenges and the stresses were going to be like,” Gomes says. “Instead of shrinking and succumbing to these pressures we’ve coalesced around the strength of our culture and persevered through these challenges.”

Setting a Foundation

Even before its recent investment effort, Topaz was one of the largest independent conduit fittings and accessories suppliers in the United States. The company manufactures a complete line of bulbs, electrical conduit fittings and LED fixtures, totaling 17,000 SKUs.

Topaz grew to that size from small beginnings. When it started in 1985, Topaz employees worked out of a three-car garage with a busted bathroom. “The underpinning of our success has been the same from day one to today: simply listening to our customers and being the best service provider we could be,” Gomes explains. Topaz Lighting box

Topaz promotes a family business culture throughout the company and extends that philosophy to its business partners, customers and vendors. It’s win-win mentality has allowed it to build lasting relationships with all those stakeholders. “Capitalizing on our strong relationships, we very, very rarely lose customers,” Gomes says. “Our growth has been organic since day one and it’s built on a foundation of strong relationships. Our customers appreciate the ease of doing business with us and our family culture.

“No one in the industry matches our level of service and friendly way of doing business,” he adds.

In three decades, Topaz has grown from that garage to a company with five major distributor centers and 14 stocking locations across the country. “Our reputation throughout the industry is as the little company that could that grew up into the big company that can,” Gomes says.

Part of Topaz’s success in building relationships can be attributed to its commitment to the wholesale system. The company exclusively sells to electrical distributors, who then provide its products to end-users. “Many of our products are commodity-type products that bring us into our customers on a daily basis,” Gomes explains. “Because of the strength of our relationships in this industry our customers ask us to bring in additional product lines. We are simply filling their requests and that’s how we have added every single SKU in our model line since day one.”

Topaz owns its own fleet of trucks and offers same-day shipping in most cases. If an order is placed by 4 p.m. the company pledges to ship it out by 5 p.m. the same day. That immediate service and quick turnaround is Topaz’s mantra. “It is what helped us be the service powerhouse that we are,” Gomes says.

When a distributors’ customer needs a product or component quickly, Topaz can ship directly to the end-user. Gomes says Topaz’s distribution services are unmatched by competitors. “Relationships take you so far but you have to execute at the highest levels and we do both,” he adds.

With more customers seeking just-in-time delivery, Topaz must take on a larger role in the distribution network. “The distributor ever more relies on strong service, strong inventory, strong delivery and the personal touch because that is ultimately their value proposition to the market and that is what we give them,” Gomes explains. “Because the requirement for immediate delivery is increasing we’re adding new locations in major metropolitan areas to facilitate the same and next-day deliveries across the country.”

Investing in Culture

Topaz’s confidence in its business model and its stature in its industry led to the decision to make a large reinvestment in its operations three years ago. The goal, Gomez explains, was to put the infrastructure in place so that Topaz could continue to provide a high level of service to its distributor companies as it grew.

The company added high-level professional talent in supply chain, IT, finance, quality, logistics, warehousing, product development, inventory management, sales, website development, marketing and human resources. The IT department installed a new ERP system, a process that took two years and continues to be an area of continuous improvement.

In third-quarter 2016, Topaz will roll out an advanced warehouse electronics system to all of its distribution centers. “Virtually every aspect of our company has been heavily reinvested in,” Gomes says.

The latest addition is a 75,000-quare-foot distribution center near Philadelphia. The facility opened in April and will improve the company’s ability to deliver products quickly throughout the Northeast.

With those new staff members, technologies and facilities in place, Gomes says the company has fulfilled its strategic plan to build out its infrastructure and is now prepared to meet its goal of doubling within three years. The early feedback shows that plan is working. Sales in Topaz’s lighting division are up 40 percent this year and other metrics are validating the company’s recent investments. “We persevered during a very trying time and came out stronger for it,” Gomes says.

Gomes credits the company’s culture for that perseverance. “Our culture is paramount,” he says. “We can never lose sight of the value of our culture because it’s paramount to our success. It starts with integrity and a genuine care for all of our stakeholders – our employees and their families, our customers and our vendors. Taking care of people is our first job; selling products is our second.”

Topaz’s hands-on management team is responsible for instilling that culture in its new employees. The family atmosphere has resulted in a positive work environment with low turnover, leading to longtime employees who can establish the strong relationships Topaz wants with its customers.

In the end, Gomes says, distribution is a people business. “We still have virtually every relationship we’ve had from our first day of operations,” Gomes says. “Developing these personal relationships over these decades has been personally the most satisfying part of being in business for me.”

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