Lighting up your life
by Wally Northway
Published: March 27,2000
There’s a sweet sound of success emanating from Legendary Lighting of Jackson. It’s the “beep-beep” of forklifts working feverishly to get orders out the door.
Manufacturer of ornate copper, gas-fired light fixtures for residential and commercial application, Legendary Lighting is opening new horizons for owner Bill Shook and staff.
“Right now, we have the capability of producing 25 light fixtures per day,” Shook said. “It is allowing us to go after new markets that Copper Sculptures cannot serve.”
Copper Sculptures is a Brandon-based business founded by Shook in November 1986. A Starkville native, Shook said he had always had an artistic bent, a passion that led him to a clock manufacturer as draftsman-designer.
The clock company continuously had leftover metals from its production process, so Shook asked about buying the surplus for building his own creations in his spare time as a hobby. The company agreed, and Shook began manufacturing everything from mailboxes to mobiles and weathervanes.
Shook eventually left the clock maker for a Pearl-based manufacturer, which was subsequently purchased leaving Shook jobless. Over time, he had built a loyal customer base for his handmade metal pieces, so he decided to take some time to fill orders from a growing backlog. But it turned out to be much more than a hobby and became Copper Sculptures.
“I was building a lot of water fountains then, but people were constantly asking me if I could build this or that,” Shook said. “I was building a copper light for a customer, and someone came in and saw it. They wanted one, too. So, even before I finished the first light, I had orders for more. I haven’t gone a day in my life since when I wasn’t building a gas light.”
Copper Sculptors continued to grow in reputation and employees. Originally just Shook and one employee, today Copper Sculptors employs 35 people and hand-crafts and ships products for customers all over the U.S. and beyond. Not only light fixtures, Copper Sculptures makes to order awnings, banisters and handrails and just about anything that can be made from copper.
Copper Sculptures found even more customers, but also found, because they were handmade, that the finely-crafted copper fixtures were inherently long in making and were a bit out of the mainstream price range.
“I got a call one day from the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Union Gas Company who wanted to do a mail-out of our product in their billings,” Shook said. “I asked them how many they were going to mail. They said two million. So, I asked how many they thought they might sell. They said 2%. I decided we better not do that. We couldn’t make that many lights.”
That is the very reason for Legendary Lighting, which just saw grand opening ceremonies a few weeks ago. Shook took 27 models from Copper Sculptures’ line and brought them to the new 9,000-square-foot facility which went into production last November. Legendary Lighting mass produces the models using 12 employees, all new hires except one who was brought over from Copper Sculptures.
Shook said demand for high quality, gas light fixtures has gone up exponentially.
“The South has clung to gas lights,” Shook said. “They’ve always been popular here. Now, the rest of the world has discovered them.”
One shot in the arm for Shook is the assistance his company has received from gas companies which are enthusiastic over gas lighting replacing electrical fixtures. Shook also said, as far as he knows, his products are the only copper gas fixtures in the U.S. with both American Gas Association and Canadian Gas Association approval, and definitely the only in Mississippi. This is an important factor to both Legendary Lighting’s and Copper Sculptures’ success as developers and municipalities often require certification and has allowed Shook to land such business as the Dinsmoor development in Jackson, which wrote into its covenants that Copper Sculpture was the only gas lighting allowed in the community.
All that equals plans for further growth. Plans are for Legendary Lighting to increase production to 100 lights daily (Copper Sculptures with three times the staff can only produce about 50 per week) by the end of 2000. And even that number is modest in long-range plans.
“If you come back for a follow-up interview on Legendary Lighting in five years, it won’t be here. It will be in some industrial park,” Shook said.
While all of these new happenings are exciting, Shook said he has not forgotten how his companies have arrived at their current enviable position.
“The key to success has been absolutely maintaining the highest quality possible,” he said. “We are mass producing our fixtures at Legendary Lighting, but they are still the best, affordable gas light out there. We’re not going to cut corners. I’m not driven by money.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1016.
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