EXIN Light is a Tuggerah-based manufacturer of intrinsically safe and industrial portable lights for the emergency and industrial sectors. The family business was founded by Glenn Smith in Sydney in 2006 and moved to the Central Coast in 2012. What began as a one-person operation importing industrial lights is now a 100% locally owned and operated design and manufacturing business selling high-quality products to a growing global market. This story shares Glenn’s business journey, including why and how he brought production back to the Central Coast and his plans for the future. His story is one of resilience and perseverance driven by a commitment to quality, efficiency and people.
Glenn’s intimate understanding of his target markets’ burning pains and needs heralds from a long-standing career in the plant and machinery rental sector coupled with an instinctive drive to focus on the end-user. He left a general management position to become a distributor of portable lights from the UK and the US, operating out of his home garage. Glenn quickly realised an untapped niche in the industrial lighting market that was not being served by the imported product. He reflected, “The product we used to bring in from the UK was just an area light; there are thousands of them around the world. When we were selling those, I modified them to suit what people were asking for. I had good relationships with the utilities, so we started to grow pretty quickly. We got our first distributor in Japan, then the UK and other countries.”
“I always remember the lawyer telling me, ‘You know when you’ve got a good product when others copy it’.
As a distributor of another country’s product, Glenn soon realised that he lacked control and future certainty. With his frontline customer needs firmly in mind, he designed a product he felt was right for the industry: a lightweight, fully integrated portable light with long run time. After sketching the first EXIN light by hand, he travelled to China and engaged a mechanical engineer and an electrical engineer to assist with the CAD drawing ready for manufacture, knowing he couldn’t afford to make it locally. From there, he began trading his own products. This began a lengthy and expensive patenting process followed by even longer and costlier legal battles after discovering they were being copied in three countries. “I always remember my lawyer telling me, ‘You know when you’ve got a good product when others copy it’. But to say it was a challenge would be an understatement. It was devastating to our small family business and suppressed our capability to invest in new development. It also became a double-edged sword. For instance, whenever a customer inadvertently bought a copy product, we not only lost the sale but also had to pay legal fees to fight it,” said Glenn.
For the first few years, Glenn had his product manufactured and distributed to the customer out of Asia. The next step was to bring some of the production and distribution home. Glenn said, “We used to have to open every box, check it and repack it for quality control before the product was released to the customer.” The effort required and the number of errors made caused Glenn to realise that if he wanted to maintain full control over the end-to-end process, he would have to transition the business to 100% local manufacturing. “We began the transition in 2019 and have been manufacturing 100% locally for the last two years. It was like starting a new business. But we were blessed to have a few good customers around the world who were supportive of our products.”
Glenn’s persistence and strategic thinking paid off. He and his team have been manufacturing 100% of their products locally for the last two years. They now operate with a team of ten (six permanent and four casual staff) from their 650m2 premises in Tuggerah. Spending regular time on the factory floor has enabled Glenn to improve efficiencies.
“I think about minutes every day. Because of the different labour costs between here and overseas, if you don’t reduce your labour, it won’t work”
“When you become a manufacturer, you have to look at things more smartly and consider how to make the product better and more efficiently,” said Glenn. Having brought the product from China to Australia without increasing their prices meant running a tight ship and constantly looking for ways to make the process more efficient without sacrificing quality. “I think about minutes every day. Because of the different labour costs between here and overseas, if you don’t reduce your labour, it won’t work. We started mechanising our processes, bringing in conveyors and automatic labelling and stamping machines. The labelling process, for example, has gone from five minutes to ten second process. We’ve got good movement with very limited time being wasted from one section to the next,” he said. In terms of quality, EXIN Light has four certifications to comply with national and international standards, and their products and procedures are audited three times a year. They are also certified to manufacture their own batteries onsite and encapsulate their own battery cases for complete in-house quality control.
Today 90% of EXIN Light’s customer base is overseas, with sales predominantly driven through distributors. Future growth plans include expanding their Australian market share and, eventually, tapping into the US market. “Our product is quite unique and well-respected for its quality, certification and robustness. But, after crawling for years, we have to walk before we run. Our biggest problem today is people don’t know about us. However, once exposed to our product, the user generally finds multiple areas of use for it. It’s nowhere near the potential it could be.” To generate greater awareness, Glenn has invested in professional marketing support. The company has just launched a new website, brochures, and videos.
With Glenn’s grandsons, Ethan and Reece, onboard and Max Trussell as Finance Manager, Glenn says he is confident that the company’s future is in good hands. He also credits the assistance of Central Coast Industry Connect’s Executive Officer, Frank Sammut, Peter Davies from the Entrepreneurs program, the CSIRO’s Dave Fleming and Sharon Foster from Investment NSW for connecting him with the right departments and people for support to help them grow and innovate. Glenn is in the process of discussing current and future collaborative opportunities with AusIndustry, UTS and Investment NSW. He has extended an invitation to anyone interested in their products and manufacturing processes to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a personal tour of his operations.
Central Coast Industry Connect plans to hold a site event at Exin Light in the coming months.
Commissioned by CCIC . Author: Phaedra Pym, A Way With Words