February 5, 2018
James Solecki is a motivated and involved individual who founded and operates several lighting companies: Integra Works Inc. (Integra Lighting), JSLDesign Inc., LED Lights Direct Inc., Island Villa Lighting Ltd., Island Villa Solar & Light Ltd. Through his determination and advancement of unique lighting perspectives such as Integra’s Dark Skies initiative, which aims to provide environmental harmony, James is creating a new way of approaching potential customers and providing a pleasing lighting experience (shown in photo: a Muskoka, Ontario residential project).
Integra has seen steady success because of James’ and his team’s efforts, and LDS was able to ask him about the company initiatives and what is the next move for him and Integra.
First tell us a little about yourself. What got you into this industry? What is the best thing about being the president and chief designer?
I am just an engaged, passionate lighting guy with a design eye. I must be doing something right as this is now my 19th year in business.
I initially found my legs and then my passion for lighting back in the mid 1980s when I got involved with stage and live event lighting. I managed a community theatre and subsequently built a mobile event lighting rig to help with up and coming bands. I have always been the hands-on type when it comes to lighting design and installation.
The best thing about being the President and Chief Designer at Integra is the no-holds barred creativity that I’m allowed to inject into my work. Not having to “consult” or “ask the team” provides me with the ability to do some very cool things. This adds the spontaneity and creative outlet that I need to stay involved.
How and when was Integra founded? What are its founding principals?
Integra was founded in February 1999 and was the first stand-alone lighting company in Muskoka, Ontario. It was a passion play at the time, as I wanted to introduce this beautiful part of Ontario to top quality, professionally designed and installed outdoor lighting. The principals that I started with are still in place today: integrity, responsibility, accountability. I believe that everyone deserves to have good lighting in their lives; at home, at work and at play. There is no excuse for bad lighting.
Tell us a little about the talented team you have working for you.
All my businesses are small and that suits me just fine. I prefer to deal with one project at a time (ideally) and apply full attention to the tasks at hand. Integra is best described as a boutique design/build lighting company. We rely on only a few talented and loyal employees to take care of our clients and projects. We focus on highly creative and innovative approaches to solving everyday lighting needs, and we typically focus on one project at a time. Our staff have been hired “green” and have learned the tricks of the trade through in-house direction and mentoring. Currently we are looking to hire into a couple of new positions at Integra, bringing our complement of staff up to a staggering number: five.
With so many changes in lighting technology, how do you and your team stay ahead of new tech and trends within the industry?
The lighting industry is my life. As such I absorb all the industry trade publications, manufacturers’ catalogues, bulletins, etc. like some people watch TV. I attend all sorts of industry trade shows and conferences on a regular basis and have travelled around the world to attend global lighting events. I am very involved in the industry and have served on various boards and committees for manufacturers, associations, and organizations. Just recently I was named to the Board of Directors of the International Landscape Lighting Institute at the University of Oklahoma. Keeping up to date with lighting tech is not an option. Without it, things would get stale very quickly.
Tell us about Integra’s customer base and the range of services you provide.
Integra is based in Muskoka, Ontario and provides a full gambit of services to our clients in Muskoka, throughout Ontario, and beyond. We offer consultation, design, specification, procurement, project management, installation and maintenance services. The majority of our clients are cottage owners in Muskoka, but we have dozens of projects scattered far and wide across Ontario. Integra is best known for outdoor lighting, but we also do spectacular interior lighting too. Residential customers make up about 90% of our base, with commercial stores and offices filling in. It doesn’t take our clients long to realize that what we offer in Muskoka is what they are missing at their other properties.
Do you have any particular or unique projects that Integra has undertaken that you would be willing to share a little about?
We have completed over 600 projects since inception and some of them have been really amazing. One of the most renowned would be the re-lighting of the iconic Windermere House on Lake Rosseau. In 2009 we were commissioned to design and install four off-grid, solar powered, dark sky friendly sign lighting systems for the District of Muskoka. These are still functioning nightly. Recently we were challenged to come up with a way of internally illuminating a floating art piece featuring the likeness of Tom Thomson (Pipeman — Huntsville, Ontario).
Of course, we have a “Top 10” but these are all private residences and we highly regard and value our clients’ privacy. Integra has been featured in many trade and news articles for our unique approaches to lighting challenging projects and we have won at least five awards of excellence for lighting from trade associations. Recently one of our sister company’s projects in the Turks & Caicos was featured on the cover of a major lighting industry magazine with an accompanying six-page article… that job is truly amazing.
What is your biggest challenge right now as a lighting company?
Managing growth. The businessman in me wants to take on all projects, big and small, that come our way, while the entrepreneur in me is constantly looking in new and different directions. Meanwhile, demand increases for our core services and I struggle to find balance. It’s a good problem to have, but none the less quite a challenge.
Tell us a little about your Dark Skies initiative — how it started, where it has taken you.
It’s a long story. When I started Integra, the issue of light pollution and dark skies was just beginning to gain serious traction. I quickly realized that if my upstart business was going to succeed I would have to come up with some new ways of giving people the light they needed, but to do so in way that would not contribute to light pollution. I decided to use my stage / live event lighting experience to its fullest and developed a protocol of outdoor lighting design that focused on projecting very subtle levels of light from hidden sources. I am confident that I was the first dark sky friendly lighting contractor in Canada.
Since that time, I have made environmentally friendly lighting systems the calling card for Integra. I have developed programs such as the shoreline lighting assessment program and the community lighting assessment program, both of which are designed to give people the tools to objectively identify sources of light pollution in their communities. I have developed and delivered a light pollution education seminar over 50 times to interested community groups, municipal governments and associations. I have been interviewed many times on this topic and have even published a series of informative articles on the topic in the local media. Designing and installing environmentally friendly lighting systems has been very good for us.
What is the next big thing for Integra?
Change! I am currently working on using the Theory of Change protocol to re-format Integra and get it prepared for the next 20 years. It’s easy for an established business to settle down into a rut and just stay there. But change is constant and if we do not accept it and plan for it and initiate it, then you run the risk of getting stuck in that rut.
I have changed Integra a few times over the years, and 2018 is going to see more change. More staff, a more defined set of operation protocols, some new directions in terms of market focus, and the opening of an inside sales department that will focus on helping others in the industry to excel with the help of our experienced consultation and design services. Things are looking good from our vantage point.
Visit Integra Lighting’s website for more information: http://www.integralighting.com/pages/home.html
Owen Hurst is Managing Editor, Panel Builder & Systems Integrator.