A bright idea?
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Every week, Bob Rosenzweig gets emails from irate consumers who accidently stepped on CFL light bulbs and had to visit the hospital emergency room because of mercury poisoning. Other U.S. citizens resent the federal government dictating what lights bulbs they can and cannot buy. And then there are the Europeans, who haven’t been able to buy incandescent bulbs for years.
They all contact Rosenzweig because his South Carolina factory, AAMSCO Lighting, makes a commercial-grade incandescent light bulb that fits within the Energy Independence and Security Act regulations. “We decided to stop and read the [regulations], and it turned out there was an exception,” said Rosenzweig, who worked for GE’s commercial lighting division before starting AAMSCO in Summerville, S.C.
The AAMSCO bulb has a brass base and is sturdier on the outside. It contains non-hazardous materials on the inside, making it, in many people’s opinions, a superior choice over existing energy-saving light bulbs. The bulbs and the packaging are both made in South Carolina assembly plants. And at $1.65 for a 100-watt bulb, they are affordable for consumers who want that option.
Most of AAMSCO’s sales are over the Internet. “We sell (100-watt) bulbs in 23 countries,” said Rosenzweig. “It’s crazy over there in Europe.” Both Texas and South Carolina made an attempt to block the federal mandate to phase out older incandescents, but neither state was successful. But the resulting popularity put AAMSCO, which vowed to continue making 100-watt bulbs for consumers, in the national spotlight.
“We wanted people to know it’s not criminal to buy a 100-watt light bulb,” Rosenzweig explained.
More to the point, it’s entirely legal for consumers to buy commercial bulbs, which Rosenzweig and other manufacturers — including Sylvania, GE and Feit — continue to make. Homeowners just have to be willing to pay a little more for “rough surface” bulbs.
One big difference between AAMSCO and the larger lighting manufacturers is politics: Rosenzweig doesn’t have to toe the line about energy efficiency. And his factory in South Carolina is the only U.S.-based plant that makes the 100-watt bulbs. This, combined with the proposed South Carolina legislation, got him mentioned in both GQ magazine and the New York Times. AAMSCO’s website got so many hits after the articles that they crashed the server. Rush Limbaugh’s people also phoned. Rosenzweig, a transplant from Queens, N.Y., who would stick out at a Tea Party rally, never returned the call.
Although he could clearly capitalize on this niche, Rosenzweig is only running production on this line three days a week. He does have plans to expand manufacturing, but first he has to make some minor changes to the design. Then he hopes to ramp up to 1,500 to 1,600 a day and perhaps hook up with a regional distributor. His website (aamsco.com) also needs some work, he said.
But Rosenzweig is not about to neglect his other product lines, which include a number of commercial bulbs exempt from the new regulations. His obvious favorite, Ferrowatt, required trips to Prague and Vienna to reclaim the family’s original lighting business. Ferrowatt now produces antique reproductions of lighting fixtures and light bulbs for movie sets, hotel restoration projects, vintage railroad lines and other specialty jobs.
Seized by the Nazis after his Uncle Otto fled Europe during World War II, the Ferrowatt factory eventually became a Socialist book repository in Czechoslovakia. After the fall of Communism, Rosenzweig was able to recover an old piece of machinery in the Czech Republic and also the company brand. One look at the Ferrowatt line, many of them one-of-a-kind creations, explains why.