3 Bright Ideas for Growing Your Company From Excel’s Dustan Fankhauser

Dustan Fankhauser has led Excel Lighting & Signs to record growth.

When Dustan Fankhauser bought a lighting and sign repair company in 2006, the entrepreneur didn’t know exactly where it would take him.


Dustan Fankhauser

Excel Lighting & Signs
1100 McAlpine Ave.
Kansas City, KS 66105
(913) 492-4000

Ten years later, Excel Lighting & Signs has evolved and changed so much to adapt with technology that its original mission accounts for only about 30 percent of the business.

Fankhauser still dutifully services signs and parking lot lights like he did years ago. But LED lighting has driven massive growth in his business. Fankhauser is committed to being the most educated company in town when it comes to retrofitting buildings and signs with LED lights. “We don’t just sell LED products,” he said. “We are in the LED business.”

The changes have allowed him to go from about $300,000 in annual revenue a decade ago to $1 million last year and $1.1 million so far this year.

The steady growth is why Fankhauser was one of an elite group of entrepreneurs selected to participate in ScaleUP! Kansas City. The program, which is offered by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration, helps small businesses take their operations to the next level.

It’s easy to see why LED lighting has provided such a huge growth opportunity for Excel. In most cases, LED is brighter and uses 50 percent less energy.

The energy savings alone is enough to convince many to make the change, but factor in lower maintenance costs—often eliminating it—and it’s a solid investment, Fankhauser said. In addition, Kansas City Power & Light offers rebates that can save customers as much as 40 percent off the cost.

Are you looking for brighter prospects for your small business? Check out the following tips from Fankhauser.

Quality-Focused Companies Endure

The demand for LED means new competitors enter the market daily. But Fankhauser has a leg up. He’s been in the business for 10 years and stayed on top of the latest technology.

While some business owners want to make a quick sale, Fankhauser wants to earn a long-term customer. That’s key in this industry, he said, given that LED retrofits aren’t a one-size-fits-all business.

“Every LED retrofit job is unique,” he said. “You’ve really got to go in and tweak it to the customers’ needs and wants.”

Case in point: A manufacturing client needed several unique fixtures to meet its needs. Above the client’s manufacturing line, the lights need to stand up to a high-dust environment. The situation called for an expensive fixture not readily available. A fly-by-night competitor might have sold them a fixture off the shelf, cashed the check and moved on to the next job. And the fixture wouldn’t have worked long.

Fankhauser has heard from a lot of frustrated customers who have been burned by unethical or untrained competitors.

“There’s just a lot of junk out there,” he said.

You Can’t Do It All

ScaleUP! Kansas City is helping Fankhauser position himself to move to the next stage of growth. First up: Stop trying to do it all. He will hire additional staff so he can focus more on growth.

“For the past eight or nine years,” he said, “I have just done everything myself.”

Fankhauser thought he needed to have a hand in every detail. That worked well in the beginning while he built Excel’s foundation and focused on keeping the business lean. But ScaleUP! showed him that it’s time to think differently.

“It’s hampering our growth now,” Fankhauser said. “It just made me realize that I needed to bring somebody on to help with the office and with marketing development.”

Fankhauser has four full-time employees. Thanks to ScaleUP! Kansas City, he’ll hire a full-time office manager to help. It will give Fankhauser the freedom to get out of the office and build stronger relationships with customers and vendors. That’s where he thrives.

“We’ve built a very nice base of business, and we’ve continued to grow. We’re really ready now to take that next big jump,” he said. “I pride myself at running a lean company, but we’re pretty maxed out with what we can do.”

Look for the Next Opportunity

Like any entrepreneur, Fankhauser is constantly thinking about the next phase of his business. What’s the next technology, and how can he be ready?

Offering more LED products to general contractors is one avenue he plans to thoroughly explore. He’s also working with a ScaleUP! marketing professional to help brand the service side of his business, so he can boost his retrofit operations even more.

The ScaleUP! Kansas City course has provided him the chance to take a step back and think about long-term strategies rather than day-to-day successes.

“It’s good to sometimes get out of the weeds a little bit and look at your company from a 10,000-foot perspective,” he said.

Are You Ready to Scale Up?

ScaleUP! Kansas City—a free program for KC small businesses—is looking for companies that want to supercharge their revenues.

Ideal candidates will have been in operation at least two years, make $150,000 to $500,000 in revenue and are in a market that can support more than $1 million in sales. Learn more at www.scaleupkc.com.