Patrick and Lyuba Pearce, Owners and Founders of LightWing Studios, could write a book on entrepreneurship based on their incredible journey. Patrick, and his wife Lyuba, moved to Titusville from New York in 2005 to escape the cold. In New York, Patrick spent 25 years in the IT industry including contracted positions with IBM and on Wall Street. Before LightWing, he was a successful re-seller for Dell Computers doing half a million a year in sales. With the recession of 2008, everything hit the fan.
Patrick explained, "I got an email in December of 2008 from Dell explaining that effective Dec 31st, all re-seller contracts were cancelled. They wanted to bring all their business back in house. I was pretty down emotionally, especially since it was around Christmas time. My wife knew I played guitar in New York in the late 70s and early 80s and so she bought me a new Gibson Guitar to cheer me up. After I unwrapped it, she asked me to hang on a minute. It was a really expensive guitar so she went and got a small towel to act as a protective cover before I started playing it. A couple days went by and she made an actual protective slip cover out of cotton flannel. I asked if she could make one for the neck and she did. I said, 'we've got a product here'. A lot of guitarists refer to their guitar as an axe and so 'AxeGlove' seemed like an appropriate name. Lyuba spent the next three months sourcing fabric from local stores and made 50 of them. We went to the Orlando guitar show, got a booth and sold all 50 over three days at $50/piece. We were blown away. On the way home, my wife started crying because in Russia, where she's from, you can't really do what we did. I said, 'Welcome to America and Capitalism'!"
A few years went by and, even though they had success with the guitar show in Orlando, the business remained more of a hobby. Lyuba worked full-time at Macy's and Patrick did a few consulting gigs on the side, while continuing to look for full-time work. Around 2011, Lyuba had a friend in town from Moscow and they decided to take her to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. While standing in line for an attraction, they noticed an astronaut character forced to take off his helmet to get a break from the heat because his air handling unit had broken down. Lyuba asked about the material she saw inside the suit and was told how effective it was at balancing humidity and preventing his visor from fogging up. "Lyuba had that creative look in her eyes," Patrick said. The next day, Patrick emailed the Directory of the Kennedy Space Center asking about the company that made the material. A few days later he got the information he needed and placed a call to California. He learned about the proprietary cotton and satin/silk blend they used and placed an order for 10 yards. With the material in hand, Lyuba traced an outline around Patrick's Gibson Les Paul Guitar case. A few days later she held up the final product, a liner that attaches to the case interior to help protect the guitar while in the case.
"The AxeShield was born," Patrick said. "The liner knocks down humidity by 75% and significantly reduces the harmful effects it has on the guitar. We put them up on eBay and sold 25 of them in 24 hours. Since everything is made by hand, it took a little while to get the orders out but we did it. We then started to think about AxeShields for other cases. An early obstacle was getting case dimensions and outlines for all the various cases on the market. There are so many cases out there and we just couldn't afford to buy all of them nor did it make sense to. I thought about how people use crowd funding as a way to get business financing. That's when I came up with the idea of "crowd sourcing". So I decided to go on the Internet and posted offers on various guitar forums that promised a free AxeShield in return for a tracing of their case. As a result of those posts, we received 75 different tracings. I then went back to the company in California that manufactured the material and asked for a lot more and in different colors. That product really launched us. To date, we have customers in all 50 States and 28 Countries. We've sold over 10,000 AxeShields worldwide and all of them sold via the Internet."
Since the AxeShield and AxeGlove, Patrick and Lyuba have slowly been adding new products such as AxeSak and KeyShield. "It's important to listen to your customers and their needs," Patrick said. "A large number liked the AxeShield but they wanted something they could put their instrument INTO. Lyuba designed the AxeSak to do just that. Many of our customers are 'multi instrumentalists' and wanted a product to protect their keyboards. That's when she came up with KeyShield. She's the product and design genius in the family." In February, they introduced a new amplifier cover, AmpShield, one of which is equipped with a flap that is secured with Velcro to allow the amp to still be protected while plugged in and in use. The amplifier cover also has a port opening in the front to allow the internal speaker to be heard while protected. Their goal is to have AmpShield available for over 50 different amplifiers by the end of this year.
Patrick is adamant about keeping prices down by controlling manufacturing, limiting the amount of inventory they sit on and by selling directly to consumers. They also continue to work out of their house, which helps to significantly reduce overhead. Once each product reaches a certain point in the manufacturing process, they bring them to one of three local contracted sewers to do the final stitching. Each product receives the same level of production and care regardless of how expensive of a guitar it's intended to protect.
As mentioned, inventory is something Patrick is keen on monitoring. "At one point, we thought we needed to be in various guitar stores," he said. "I walked into a Guitar Center one day and saw all the product just sitting there. The manager said he could get us in there, but that the whole process of stocking, waiting for the products to sell and then waiting to get paid could take a long time. That visit to the Guitar Center solidified our decision to sell directly to customers through eBay, Etsy and our website. The customer buys and we get paid immediately. It's pretty simple."
Patrick and Lyuba, like most entrepreneurs, have and continue to face their fair share of challenges. "It's been challenging to market our products in a cost effective way," Patrick said. "We have an accessory to an accessory and most people only have a certain number of guitars they buy." At one point, they considered outsourcing the manufacturing of their product overseas. They decided against this option after learning that they would need to order very large quantities of product and this went against Patrick's strategy of limiting the amount of inventory sitting around. He was also afraid that quality would suffer. It was a decision that literally "paid off". Manufacturing their products here in Brevard County and in America now costs 25% LESS than if they were made in China and that difference goes right to their bottom line.
Patrick has some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those looking to get into manufacturing. "Join your local Economic Development entity," he said. "They will help, support and guide you through the many obstacles you will encounter. Do extensive market research to learn about your competitors. Look to see if their products are trademarked, copyrighted and patented. If so, don't go down that road. If not, get those IP protections on your product and do the work yourself. By filing online at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office you'll save a lot of money. You just have to read. All of the information you need is out there. I also recommend creating a spreadsheet to figure out the exact cost of everything needed to bring your product to market. That includes product labels, packaging, materials, shipping, etc. Determine a cost per unit based on a quantity you can afford. That financial piece is absolutely critical. Otherwise, you'll spend thousands of dollars and have boxes of stuff just sitting around. That's your money and, more importantly, your profits in those boxes. Being entrepreneurs is not easy. It's hard work. You have to have the courage and willingness to fail in order to succeed. Looking back, our company was born on a Christmas Day and it's the greatest gift we've ever received."