As a networking and marketing tool, basketball has been very, very good to Constantine Pergantis and his lighting company
Constantine Pergantis has been able to build his business by word of mouth -- and on the court.
Not that his company has anything to do with sports. North Potomac-based Nite Lites is an outdoor lighting company. But the company also assembles a formidable three-on-three basketball team that wins tournaments across the country. And Pergantis has found that hobnobbing with amateur roundballers has added to his bag of marketing and networking tricks.
"Customers come out and watch us play," Pergantis says. "Many of my customers ask how the team is. It really helps create conversation."
Nite Lites installs lighting for residential homes and retrofits energy-efficient lighting systems for businesses. Thanks to low overhead, Pergantis says, the company has been profitable from its inception.
He started in the lighting business as a manufacturer's rep in the mid '80s. A few years later he was ready to start his own company. Thirteen years later, he does upwards of 50 outdoor lighting jobs per year in the Washington area. Nite Lites does the design and installation for its residential clients. Occasionally Nite Lites works with a landscaping or architectural contractor who has already designed the lighting. In those cases, Nite Lites simply provides the materials and does the installation.
A fan as well as a player, Pergantis has gone out of his way to curry clients among the sporting class. Homes he has lit include those of NBA stars Patrick Ewing and Buck Williams, ex-Redskin Gus Frerotte, uber-agent David Falk and even ex-convict, ex-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson.
Nite Lites does one outdoor installation and one retrofitting project a week, with service calls being made the rest of the week. Cost for installation of the outdoor lighting is between $175 and $225 per light, including installation costs.
Nite Lites' business has grown to include retrofitting lighting systems, mainly for commercial properties. Nite Lites does between 50 and 60 retrofitting projects a year in corporate office buildings, government buildings, schools, churches, retail stores, restaurants and banks.
One retrofitting project can bring in about $100,000, Pergantis says, but the energy conserved gives those projects an even greater value. "I've found that doing the energy efficient retrofit lighting is a way to give back and make a difference by fighting the battle of wasting energy," Pergantis says.
In 1994 Nite Lites won the Silver Club Award given by Potomac Electric Power Co. for energy conservation.
Ninety-five percent of Nite Lites' business is in Washington, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, and Pergantis has no desire to expand beyond the region.
"I plan to stay in Washington," Pergantis says. "There is no reason to go anywhere else for business."
It helps that he has a nifty licensing agreement in place. A few years back, Pergantis obtained the national trademark on "Nite Lites" and similar spellings. "I discovered it was a popular name," Pergantis says. "There are a lot of businesses out there called Nite Lites."
The licensing agreement in place is with the owner of a company in Springboro, Ohio, called "Nite Lights," which also sells outdoor lighting. "I wasn't interested in putting him out of business, but I met with him," Pergantis says. "We decided to band together. He pays a certain fee and every new licensee he brings in can use the name anywhere other than in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia."
The Ohio company is selling franchises across the country. For each new licensee brought in by the company in Ohio, Pergantis will continue to receive $1,000. Pergantis says he has collected about $10,000 for the ten franchises sold so far, which has helped him recover the attorney fees, and the cost to trademark the name.
"One cost I don't have is advertising," Pergantis says. "I see some of my competitors advertising, but I chose to grow slowly by word of mouth."
Pergantis says most of his residential work comes from customer referrals. "Word of mouth is the way to go," Pergantis says. "If a former customer says, 'You need to use this guy,' -- that's a lot better than spending dollars on an ad in the Post."
Although Pergantis does no traditional advertising, Nite Lites' Web site (http://www.nitelites.com) is a tremendous tool, with 25 percent of his calls coming either from potential clients seeing the Web site or one of his three installation trucks or two vehicles out on the road.
"I'm finding it's more interactive to use the Web site," Pergantis says. "I put the logos of customers' businesses on the site."
He says he has also learned the value of building relationships. "I spend time on a job and make sure everything is exactly they way the client wants it," Pergantis says. "I've created relationships with people, and they continue to recommend fifteen years later."
And then there's basketball, which Pergantis admits has been a great publicity tool and relationship builder.
It all started as a hobby. "It became a camaraderie thing with the people working with me," Pergantis says. "We always had fun playing. As we became competitive, we started securing guys to play with us."
Then the team won the Hartford, Conn. Hoop-It-Up tournament. After that, Pergantis says the team began to take on a life of its own.
The team continues to compete in Hoop-It-Up, the nation's largest three-on-three basketball tour -- and continues to win. This year Nite Lites is playing tournaments in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, New York, Hartford and Orlando, Fla.
The team won the local Hoop Dreams tournament this year for the fourth straight year. In this year's tournament, the team even faced Arthur Agee -- star of the scholarship fund's namesake, the award-winning documentary movie "Hoop Dreams" -- and came out on top. Pergantis also serves on the Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund Board of Directors.
The tournaments help Pergantis get the company's name out there. The team wears Nite Lites jerseys and the company sometimes serves as a sponsor.
"We've been doing it so many years, the name keeps coming up," Pergantis. "It's picking up in recognition -- enough to make it worthwhile to have a team."
For all his involvement, the five-foot-10-inch Pergantis doesn't play much in the tournaments anymore.
"The competition is stiff. If we put two teams in a tourney, I'll play," Pergantis says. "I can still outshoot them, though."
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