People-watching in a hotel lobby led to a lightbulb moment for Chris Mardon – literally. Seven years later, his energy-saving invention the Ecobulb is gracing the shelves of the world’s biggest drug retailer.
In 2004, engineer Chris Mardon was sitting in a hotel lobby, watching a tradesman comically change the halogen light bulbs.
“He had about four or five goes,” Mardon says. “He’d get up on a seat but then miss the light bulb. He spent about a quarter of an hour getting up and down, changing the bulbs.”
Musing on the bulb’s costliness in terms of both time and price, he came to the conclusions that the bulbs don’t last very long, requiring a purchase and someone to change them more often, and they weren’t very energy saving. Mardon saw the need for a long-life version that’s energy saving as well and Energy Mad was born.
Since winning Most Innovative Business Model at the 2012 New Zealand International Business Awards, Energy Mad has nabbed a contract with Walgreens, the world’s biggest drugstore retailer chain, with 247,000 employees and US$72 billion revenue. This means its first $1.6 million shipment of energy-saving ecobulbs developed in Christchurch are currently in 8,200 stores across the US.
This venture will be helped along by partnering with 14 US electricity utilities that have heavily discounted the bulbs for American consumers – the same approach that has seen Ecobulbs taken up in 57 percent of New Zealand homes and netted them the business award. Energy-efficient lighting sales in general are growing fast in the US because of the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs since the start of 2012.
Energy Mad’s light bulbs include both the Ecobulb and Ecospiral bulbs designed to replace incandescent and halogen bulbs, lasting up to 15 times the lifespan as incandescent bulbs and twice the lifespan of other energy-saving bulbs. In New Zealand, the company also provides a direct installation service, monthly sales of which have more than tripled between April and October of last year ($100,000 per month to $320,000 per month).
When Mardon and fellow engineer Tom Mackenzie got developing in 2004, they set themselves a lofty goal of getting half of New Zealand’s homes to install five energy-saving light bulbs per household – which they said would save enough energy to power Christchurch and would save each household $500 over the lifetime of the bulbs.
This was when they first used their business model of partnering with utilities. Teaming up with Line Trust South Canterbury, they created the South Canterbury Ecobulb project in 2004 where customers of the utility could buy discounted bulbs. Six weeks later, 66 percent of South Canterbury homes had each bought at least five Ecobulbs.
In 2007, Energy Mad was New Zealand’s fastest growing company (an unbelievable 2,746 percent growth), and in its half yearly results to September 2012, revenue was still growing, up 47 percent year on year.
Mardon says that as well as the US, Australia is a big focus. Through deals with government and power companies, Energy Mad has most of the Australian market in replacing 12V halogen downlights. This market is worth $170 million, created by the energy efficiency schemes set up by the Victorian and New South Wales governments.
Entries for the New Zealand International Business Awards are now open. To enter, visit nzte.govt.nz/awards.
Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).