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VOL. 127 | NO. 34 | Monday, February 20, 2012

Buoni’s Company Lights The Way for Businesses

By Aisling Maki

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It seems Nick Buoni started the right kind of business at just the right time.

Nick Buoni is owner of LED Direct, a company that imports high-end LED lights from overseas and installs them in various commercial properties around town. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Customers concerned about their carbon footprints are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and cost savings associated with LED (light-emitting diode) lighting.

But with the associated technology still in its infancy, there are few places to turn for businesses interested in converting to LED technology.

“I was a tennis pro for 20 years, and I had been building tennis courts for the last 12 years and selling lighting for tennis courts, basketball courts and running tracks,” Buoni said. “So I was already in the business and customers were asking me about LED lights. They wanted to get into this green technology and save money.”

In August, Buoni founded LED Direct, a Memphis-based company that retrofits LED systems into existing fixtures, avoiding the costly replacement of fixtures and wiring.

“Right now, everybody wants to go to LED lighting, but it’s too expensive unless you can retro-fit what they already have,” Buoni said. “And that’s something that my company has that nobody else is offering yet. According to our research, at this moment, no one nationwide is offering the retrofit.”

Buoni said LED lighting can be as much as 90 percent more energy efficient.

“This morning we were at a warehouse in Memphis that has 2,000 fixtures, and they pay tens of thousands of dollars a month on their light and utility costs,” he said. “We’re going to be able to cut that down to between 70 and 90 percent.”

According to U.S. Department of Energy, lighting such as LED has the potential to cut U.S. lighting energy usage by about 25 percent, contributing significantly to the nation’s climate change solutions.

The Department estimates that switching to LED lighting over the next two decades could save $120 billion in energy costs over that period, reduce electricity consumption for lighting by one-fourth, and avoid 246 million metric tons of carbon.

The energy-saving promise of this kind of lighting technology is especially relevant given the transition to higher-efficiency bulbs, which the Department of Energy said was mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and takes effect this year.

LED lights are also recyclable, resulting in less waste. They reduce the likelihood of fires and are more breakage resistant, reducing replacement and maintenance costs.

“Most people that are in the business of paying huge amounts of utility costs have already informed and educated themselves that LED is the next step,” Buoni said. “So 90 percent of the time, when I walk through the door and give them my card, they say, ‘We’ve done our homework and have been looking for somebody like you.’”

Buoni manages the sales side of the business, while his partner, Jerry Bechel, manages the technical aspect of LED Direct. The pair works directly with a manufacturer in China that custom-designs the retrofits to Bechel’s specifications.

“You have to have a direct contact with China because LEDs are only manufactured in China right now,” Buoni said.

His customers – whom Buoni said are “local contacts that are growing into national business” – include industrial, recreational, retail, health care and outdoor facilities. They include Memphis Cardiology Group, Memphis VA Medical Center and Carlisle Corp., which owns nearly 100 Wendy’s restaurants in four states.

LED Direct provides potential customers with free audits.

“The customers who are very interested in LED are the ones who spend so much money that the CFOs have asked their electrical technicians to study this market to cut their costs,” Buoni said. “They’ve been aggressive with their studies of LED lamps, but the only negative they’ve run into is the cost. At this moment, the return on investment is closer to five to seven years. But with our ability to custom-design retrofits, the return on investments is between one and a half to three years. And when the CFOs see those numbers, they say ‘OK’ to this.”

Buoni recognized that his field has enormous growth potential. He said he expects to hire employees and expand LED Direct over the next few years. He’s also in the process of setting up a website to allow customers to shop online.

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