Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 10, 2013

Lighting the way

High-tech LED sign business features best technology has to offer

Tim Preston
The Independent

SUMMIT — A pair of local businessmen are banking on the value of the best that technology has to offer as they market a remarkable news signage system for airports, as well as replacement lighting fixtures for homes, schools, businesses and anywhere else people need illumination they can depend upon.

“If you have a good product and you are delivering results, the word spreads,” said Scott Martin, who founded Screentronix USA and Lumen X LED along with partner Bill Hornbuckle.

The partners got into the high-tech sign business with the help of Australian businessman Anton Czane, a longtime friend of Martin, who was seeking American partners to market a new line of signs that offer advertisers high-definition imagery with full-motion video, as well as high quality audio, in a 360-degree format. “It quickly became obvious that, from a business standpoint, it was absolutely viable,” Hornbuckle said, sitting with Martin in their office inside The Entrepreneur Center at the ACTC Roberts Drive Campus.

Their first challenge, both said, was finding a suitable location for the high-tech sign which was close to home. Martin contacted Huntington Tri-State Airport manager Jerry Brienza and made a proposal which would put their first sign at HTS at no cost to the airport authority while also generating advertising revenues for both Screentronix USA and the airport.

Hornbuckle and Martin, both big believers in enjoying themselves while working hard, often break into laughter as they recall their first experience assembling the highly technical sign from parts packed into 40 crates and stored in a hangar at the nearby airport.

“There were instructions, sort of, but we’re both a little weak on our Mandarin Chinese,” Hornbuckle said, noting they teamed after work and on weekends to put the elaborate puzzle together. After three weeks, the sign was assembled and ready to install, although the partners thought it might be a good idea to fly in a pair of qualified Chinese technicians from Florida to double check their efforts.

“They were looking at what we did and talking in Chinese,” Martin said, noting the men seemed to talk extra rapidly when they noticed something not quite right within the sign’s tight confines.

“Eventually, they popped their heads out and said, ‘You do good. We take apart now.’ In 45 minutes they took apart what it took us three weeks to put together. They had it back together in four or five hours and it was ready to fire up in two days,” Hornbuckle added.

The partners were standing quite close to the LED screen when the technicians turned it on for the first time, displaying a pure white image.

“It was like looking at the sun until they got an image up, and then, man, it was amazing,” Martin said, adding someone had a copy of the Disney Pixar film “Finding Nemo,” which they watched on the big screen in utter amazement. “That was a huge day for us.”

Huntington Tri-State Airport, both said, proved to be a perfect location for the technology.

“It was the first 360 LED sign in the U.S. with full video and audio,” Martin said, noting they soon installed a similar, although entirely different, sign indoors at Charleston’s Yeager Airport.

“People in airports want technology and they are a captive audience with above average discretionary income,” Hornbuckle said, explaining why their signs are an excellent investment for advertisers. “It is a target rich environment. We have movers and shakers seeing our stuff all day long.”

Martin said he got great satisfaction when a friend who serves aboard a medical helicopter called and reported seeing a Don Hall ad on the screen from more than four miles away.

Inspiration for the partners’ second company, Lumen X, came when an airport manager in Columbia, S.C., expressed an interest in replacing traditional lighting with more energy-efficient LED units and fixtures. Sensing a good opportunity, Hornbuckle said they could help and the second company was born on the spot.

“LEDs are like cars. You can have a Pinto or a Maserati,” Martin said, explaining they sought the absolute highest quality LED applications available for Lumen X and became to exclusive dealer for those products in the United States. Citing the anticipated lifespan of the products they sell, both agreed the units won’t likely be replaced until the next generation. The products have been designed to replace everything from household applications to metal-halide lights used in gymnasiums, and others have been designed to provide high-intensity diffused light, using less electricity than incandescent or fluorescent light, outdoors and even underwater.

“We deal only with the upper end of quality,” Hornbuckle said, explaining different units are measured and compared by their “lumen per watt” ratings. “Early LEDs were 45 to 50 lumens per watt and now the standard is 65 to 70 lumens per watt. The stuff we handle is 130 lumens per watt.”

As they expand their markets and add employees, Hornbuckle and Martin give full credit to John McGlone and Mick Fosson at The Entrepreneur Center on the Roberts Drive campus of ACTC.

“They have been absolutely indispensable to our startup and our growth. It can’t be overstated,” Hornbuckle said.

For more information about Screentronix USA or Lumen X LED, call (606) 615-5789.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.