Perfect for residential and hospitality applications where electrical outlets aren’t plentiful, this new battery-operated lamp company provides an elegant aesthetic that rivals its electric-based counterparts.
As high school students, Stephen and Carrie Fitzwater shared an interest in creative arts. While dating throughout college, they certainly never imagined themselves starting up a lamp company — but that is precisely what ended up happening.
Like many entrepreneurs in the lighting industry, their path wasn’t a direct one. After graduating college, the couple married and started a family, settling in Fort Worth, Texas. With a Fine Arts/Design degree under his belt from the University of Texas at Austin, Stephen cut his design teeth as a Senior Product Designer for Fossil, Pier 1 Imports, and the Bombay Company before creating his own design business Splitscreen Studio. Meanwhile, Carrie applied her background in interior design to her sales and design consulting work for Ethan Allen and Pottery Barn before establishing her own interior design consulting business.
The idea for a cordless lamp line came about during Carrie’s tenure as an interior design consultant for Ethan Allen when she found herself facing the same lighting challenge for clients again and again. Many times the lamps her clients selected could not be used in their homes because either the lamps were purchased for open floorplan living areas – which typically do not have enough electrical outlets available – or she had to deal with unsightly cords cluttering the tops of tables and desks. The answer was a cordless rechargeable lamp, but there weren’t any on the market that completely resolved the issue. As a result, the couple teamed up to develop their own solution.
Stephen purchased a variety of LEDs and battery packs to experiment with until they had a working prototype that not only looked like a full-sized table lamp, but provided a sufficient amount of warm light with an initial battery life of over 12 hours (today’s models operate for 20 hours on a single charge). The first goal was to achieve at least a 40-watt incandescent equivalent (now there is a 60-watt equivalent as an option) that offers a warm color (approximately 2900K).
This was easier said than done. Success required balancing sufficient light output and performance time while using a compact rechargeable battery pack. The ultimate goal was to offer all the necessary functionality of a traditional electrified decorative table lamp while providing the technology inside to allow it to work anywhere, regardless of plugs.
It took several months of research to develop a working prototype, which was mostly derived from parts ordered from online stores that did not cater to the residential lighting market. Drawings were made, claims were filed for U.S. patents, and a prototype was finalized. The next step was determining how to bring the product quickly to market.
Stephen utilized the contacts he made overseas from his previous experience developing lighting for major retailers, plus he had help from a good friend and sourcing agent in Asia. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the husband-and-wife team went from a working prototype to receiving their first container of 6 SKUs in less than one year.
By first selling their handful of patented lamps online, the couple was able to run their business in a cost-efficient manner through a few select e-tailers such as Amazon and Bellacor. The line took off and the company began growing steadily since its launch in 2012. Stephen and Carrie are confident that the time is right for expanding distribution to the trade and by targeting the hospitality market. Modern Lantern will be exhibiting at the Dallas Market this month in the juried Design area on the first floor of the Trade Mart (Booth 500).
Reviewing countless articles and blogs, plus observing requests for cordless lamps on popular home décor sites like Houzz.com validated the couple’s instinct that they were onto something unique in the industry. The next hurdle was how to meet that need economically.
Finding direct sources overseas for the electronic components was important to the company’s development as was tapping a high-end large lamp factory that could handle the work. Growing the line by using locally made ceramics and shades has helped the Fitzwaters expand their assortment quicker and less expensively, due to lower minimums. To date, Modern Lantern offers a variety of cordless lamps with the outdoor and metal styles made overseas and the interior ceramic table lamps made and assembled in North Texas.
While customers may find Modern Lantern items sold on Etsy and eBay, they should be rest assured that these are not the same products offered to the trade. “Etsy is our small shop and we only use it for selling one-of-a-kind antique retrofit luxury lamps when we have time; eBay is our channel for the occasional open box and sample sales,” Stephen notes. “Our primary channel of distribution at this time is our Web site (www.modernlantern.com) and a few online resellers, however, ideally we would like to steadily grow our [Web site] business and produce exclusive product for the hospitality market and for the right retail partners on a larger scale. We are definitely open to developing a high-end custom product line exclusive to the trade with partners who are willing to co-brand with us.”
The company operates out of a small workshop and showroom in Fort Worth and uses a third-party warehouse and fulfillment center nearby. The Chinese factory that Modern Lantern deals with is large enough to allow the brand to offer both small and large runs.
“We carry about 20 SKUs in stock, and the lead time is only a few days from an order received online to delivery anywhere in the U.S. (via FedEx),” Stephen explains. “We can design and develop custom products with our ceramic supplier with lead times of 30 to 60 days for small to medium-size orders, and we can produce virtually any design FOB in China with lead times of at least 60 to 90 days.”
Where do Stephen and Carrie envision their company in the near future? “We have every intention of being a household name in three years,” Stephen remarks, adding, “We are simply looking for the right partners. We have a very capable sales rep to assist us with the trade and we also rely on our factory’s backing in China for large customers. We also count on the advice of some capable consultants [we’ve found] to help us in areas such as legal, financial, and mentorship within the local business community.”