With Information Comes Illumination
Switch-It-Up LED takes its place in lighting revolution
Michael Bellemare, Founder and CEO of Switch-It-Up Inc., is a consummate entrepreneur. Having built various successful businesses in landscaping, drywall and home improvement, his most recent venture takes him down a completely new path.
Switch-It-Up is the umbrella company for two divisions. Switch-It-Up LED (SIU LED) is a commercial lighting retrofit and installation business and Switch-It-Up EV, another division of SIU Inc., provides and installs new and upgraded electrical vehicle charging stations.
SIU LED is the most active division. It specializes in serving the lighting needs of large corporations that operate in multiple locations. The division is active in 32 states, including Alaska, and serves clients in commercial, industrial, retail, hospitality, medical and multiunit residential industries.
“With the climate crisis, the big companies are trying to do their part to get emissions down and reduce the draw on the power grid,” says Bellemare. “It’s the LED lighting revolution.” He explains that one of the company’s first multilocation contracts was the lighting upgrade of over 50 Grease Monkey oil change locations in Colorado.
“What really launched us was BNSF Railway,” adds Bellemare. The company’s first large, high-profile industrial lighting project, the job involved replacing lights 130 feet in the air for a transportation company that is one of the largest intermodal carriers in the U.S.
SIU LED first worked at the railway’s Argentine Yard in Kansas City in 2018. It took over six months to install over 1,600 LED fixtures. Every 1500-watt high-mast fixture—perched atop a high pole to illuminate a large area on the ground—was replaced with a 600-watt LED fixture. “That means a 60% reduction in power consumption,” Bellemare says.
Bellemare adds that without the help of his uncle, Michael Bellemare, Switch-It-Up’s Senior Production and Safety Manager, he wouldn’t have been able to get the project completed on time. Mike Senior, as he known to the crew and staff at SIU LED, was an integral part of keeping the company in compliance with Federal Railroad Association regulations. Having worked for the federal government for over 35 years, Mike Senior was qualified and well equipped for the task. The caliber of BNSF Railway industrial projects elevated SIU LED to new heights.
“I went from changing light fixtures in 7-Eleven convenience store parking lots to working on an active railroad facility with trains buzzing by. We were coordinating track shutdowns while maintaining OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and PPE (personal protective equipment) requirements,” Bellemare says. “We were given an opportunity to prove our installation capabilities and we knocked it out of the park.” Since then, SIU LED has retrofitted 10 additional BNSF Railway facilities across the U.S.
The company’s rail yard work resulted in Bellemare noticing some disparities in lighting layouts and some of the products that were being used. “Fixtures don’t always function for the consumer the way manufacturers think they will,” he explains. Over time, he offered feedback to manufacturers, which was well received, and he has been instrumental in developing manuals and other procedural practices that ultimately provided improvements to the entire lighting industry.
A Growing Team
Switch-it-Up LED began in 2016 with just Bellemare and a helper. Now SIU LED has 15 employees, and Bellemare estimates that number will grow to over 20 people by the end of 2021. Two recent hires are Nicole Coufal, Director of Operations, and David Thornell, SIU LED’s Sales Manager.
Thornell started work in the field as an installer, moved quickly into project management and now handles sales for the company. This advancement track was outside of Thornell’s comfort zone initially, Bellemare admits, but it was a learning process that is paying off.
The question, “Is your company a family business?,” is a tricky one that makes Bellemare and Coufal laugh. It’s more than a family business.
Bellemare’s wife, Jennifer—instrumental in the company’s launch—is Chief Financial Officer. Bellemare met her through Coufal, as the two women are friends. Coufal is married to Bellemare’s former boss at the company where he worked before starting Switch-It-Up. Coufal, who had experience in the medical device field and had worked in her husband’s electrical business after time spent as a stay-at-home mom, then came to SIU LED as a Project Manager and was offered the Director of Operations position this past spring.
"These ties that bind make for a unified team that functions well together", says Coufal, solidifying a dynamic that she says positions the firm for a bright future.
“I like the family culture here,” Coufal says. “These tight relationships translate into exceptional service for our suppliers and clients. There is an open-door policy with everybody.”
This level of comfort and trust among team members, she says, is also because they know and believe in the company, they believe in the products and services they provide, and with that much trust and belief in SIU, it naturally makes it easier for them to organically represent the company with a sense of pride. There is no revolving door of employees at SIU LED, Coufal says. Employees as well as clients build relationships with members of the SIU team. This creates an atmosphere of respect, cohesion and friendship.
“With the climate crisis, the big companies are trying to do their part to get emissions down and reduce the draw on the power grid. It’s the LED lighting revolution.” Michael Bellemare, Founder & CEO, Switch-It-Up LED
For the Love of Learning—and Leading
The nature of the work, Bellemare says, also makes it the most rewarding—helping conserve power while saving clients money. He says that helping clients learn about energy consumption is part of the pleasure as well.
“Our work involves more than just selling a product,” he says. “We are educating people about switching up the source they use for power, forcing people to rethink the ways they have done things in the past. We arm them with information.”
Bellemare and his growing team are committed to helping clients maximize their savings by educating them on the latest upgrade options, rebate programs and the importance of proper LED installation. Company services, he says, are a total package that works together for their clients’ benefit.
In addition, the SIU LED team keeps up on market trends to get clients the most savings possible with things like free LED upgrade opportunities, which fluctuate. The company provides turnkey retrofits and upgrade installations to make the process as stress-free as possible for customers, Bellemare says. As an LED wholesaler, his firm offers competitive pricing to contractors and always seeks additional contractors to join the fold.
Bellemare also teaches community businesses about rebate programs offered through local power companies, which also change from time to time. “So many businesses have no idea these programs exist,” Coufal says. With the “Premium Trade Partner” designation through Colorado’s Xcel Energy, SIU LED goes above and beyond to honor that designation by ensuring any rebate process is made easy for Xcel Energy’s customers.
“We do the paperwork for the client and take the rebate off the top, rather than the customer waiting for it, just one small token of our appreciation for being able to be a part of such a great program,” Bellemare says.
Through the “Premium Trade Partner” opportunity with Xcel Energy, SIU LED is helping some of the energy company’s commercial clients replace old fluorescent lamps with LED ballast bypass lamps. The new LED lamps, he says, bring with them a lighting bill savings of up to 70% per month and up to 95% savings in annual lighting maintenance costs.
Bellemare is proud to provide products and installations that can result in these kinds of savings for fellow business owners. While many are busy with the day-to-day operations of running their businesses, and to most the thought of coordinating an LED upgrade may seem exhausting, Bellemare says not to worry because SIU LED can easily work around staff members and customers to effectively manage an LED upgrade with minimal upset to the business’s operation.
“We are the best at what we do,” says Bellemare, adding that “investing in an LED upgrade for your commercial space will cut costs and add a lot of savings. These kinds of upgrades give the business money that can eventually be reinvested back into the businesses, put in your pocket or go toward paying off a company’s debt, fuel, growth in the form of new hires, upgraded equipment or additional locations.” Bellemare says what his customers do with their savings is entirely up to them, and then adds that hiring SIU LED to help them generate those savings is obviously the best decision.
Reduce and Recycle
Coufal says she is particularly proud to work for a company that recycles all it can. “When old fluorescent lights are removed and new LED lights are installed, everything possible is recycled per Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines—everything from the old fluorescent bulbs right down to the cardboard packaging of the new LEDs,” she says.
Bellemare says that recycling a single bulb or cardboard packaging may not seem like it makes a big difference in the overall scheme of things. But SIU LED is committed to reducing environmental impact as much as possible. It models corporate responsibility in terms of environmental stewardship—not doing what is convenient, but what is best for the planet and the future generations that will live on it.
“A single 4-foot fluorescent lamp contains enough mercury to contaminate 6,000 gallons of drinking water,” Bellemare adds. “We properly recycle the old ballasts and cardboard, making sure that very minimum goes into the landfill. It’s all about bringing it full circle,” he says, “doing environmental good on both sides of the equation.”
This commitment to recycling—in addition to reducing emissions and saving money—is another reason why customers can feel good about doing business with Switch-It-Up LED.