AND THE INDOOR CANNABIS FARMERS SAID, “LET THERE BE LED LIGHT.” AND THERE WAS LED LIGHT, AND IT WAS GOOD. BUT NOT RIGHT AWAY.
FOUNDED THREE YEARS AGO by former growers who wanted a high-quality, lower-cost lighting source for indoor farming, Spectrum King LED has been on a mission to make that goal a reality. And the future is looking brighter all the time.
Not that it wasn’t darned bright right off the bat. Spectrum King LED was profitable in its 1st year, said Chief Executive Officer Greg Muller, who added, “We’ve seen the business continue to accelerate. We expect to nearly triple sales this year over last and anticipate substantial growth going forward for the next three to five years, at least.”
Spectrum King’s lofty trajectory is boosted by its strategic partnership with big-time LED chipmaker Cree, as well positive customer word of mouth, a clear yet technically sophisticated website, and successful products like the SK600 (“the world’s brightest and most efficient LED grow light”).
LED (light-emitting diode) grow lights long have held great promise: they use a fraction of the power and produce far less heat than the traditional high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting prevalent in the cannabis industry. LED lights also create far less toxic waste than spent HID bulbs, which dump thousands of metric tons of mercury and aluminum oxide into landfills and aquifers. Still, changing technology in an established market where customers are set in their ways is never easy, especially in an industry that’s been flying under the radar for decades.
Rami Vardi, Spectrum King’s chief financial officer, and founder, was a grower for thirteen years and a success in the commercial LED lighting field for nine years. He was obsessed with cracking the LED grow light problem in a way that benefits farmers, retailers, and the environment. But solving the puzzle wasn’t easy. Many lighting companies have tackled the problem of matching HID lighting’s intensity and proven growing spectrum, with mixed results.
“THE WHOLE LED INDUSTRY HAD BEEN GOING AGAINST WHAT WORKS IN THE GROW INDUSTRY FOR DECADES AND DECADES.” —Rami Vardi, Spectrum King LED CFO and founder of The Light Bulb of Discovery
An avid technologist with a background in engineering, Vardi has built computers since he was a teen. He approached the LED grow light problem with a scientist’s zeal and a grower’s patience, first trying to reproduce the blue and red spectra plants crave for photosynthesis. Vardi spent two and one-half years researching every imaginable configuration but was never able to replicate what worked best in his garden: 1,000-watt high-pressure sodium bulbs, which produced successful yields for vegetables and cannabis. Then the light bulb of discovery turned on. Literally.
“Six years ago, I decided to mimic the HPS light—that ugly yellow-orange lamp people are used to,” he said. “As soon as I took an LED and started to do these white-dominant yellow lights, I started to have a ton of success. Then I began dissecting the HPS spectrum even more. When you look at the HPS spectrum, which none of us can deny is a successful bulb, it’s 90-percent yellow. But if you look at chlorophyll absorption maps and PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) charts, using the yellow light goes against what plants want. You can say that all you want, but the very successful HPS bulb is 90-percent yellow.”
What that means, he continued, is “the whole LED industry had been going against what works in the grow industry for decades and decades. I decided to mimic the spectrum of the HPS bulbs, and we’ve had a lot of success with it. If you look at the Spectrum King LED spectrum chart, you can literally overlay the HPS bulb. Everything that is in the HPS bulb is inside our product…and some more.
“We broadened the spectrum out. But, most importantly, what I tell growers is if you can find everything in your LED that’s in your HPS bulb in terms of intensity with the same exact spectrums, you will have yourself a successful harvest.”
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THE BOTTOM LINE
Even though LED grow lights are finally coming of age, the cost of changing an existing setup to LEDs remains significant.
Still, based on reduced power consumption and other cost factors, Spectrum King estimates customers would see a return on investment within eight to thirteen months after a switch-over. Add in that Spectrum King’s LED grow lights maintain their illumination level over the long haul, losing only about 1 percent of their lighting capacity per year, and the potential savings start to pile up.
CEO Muller acknowledged that while most of the market is still in HID lights, customers are starting to recognize the high built-in costs that make traditional methods “much more expensive when you add in electricity, bulb costs, and disposal. It really comes down to total cost of ownership.”
Muller also cited a second competitive advantage of Spectrum King’s cooler-running LEDs: Lights can be placed closer to the crop canopy without burning out the trichomes and terpenes. The end result is improved potency—i.e., a higher quality crop—which should mean bigger profits for growers.
“Between those two very important levers, our value proposition is that we offer a solution to reduce your cost substantially—any- where from 50 to 70 percent—when you consider HVAC and just general wattage drop,” he said. “And the second advantage is just having a product that you can sell for more money.”
Muller said Spectrum King employs a three-pronged approach to reach customers:
- Set up good programs for hydro stores and maintain those relationships.
- Sell directly to end consumers online through the Spectrum King website (SpectrumKingLED.com).
- Custom installs for large commercial grows that look to be an increasing part of their business going forward.
“Of course, in any kind of competition, you’re only as good as your last day,” he clarified. “So, we have to address and embrace continuous innovation. We want to continue to bring new products to the forefront that bring added value to the consumer. And if we’re doing that, we’re already on a good path.”
NEWER, BIGGER, MORE
Spectrum King’s good path for 2017 includes several new products hitting the market. Among them is a new version of the SK600: the 600Plus, which produces a 20-percent brighter output for the same energy usage. They’re also developing a special greenhouse version of the 600Plus with minimal shadowing that provides the proper spectrum greenhouses need for their crops. Among the other products coming soon is an upgraded version of the 100-watt lamp that will produce 140 watts. The company also plans to introduce an LED UV finisher light that will help people get a higher potency boost in the last couple of weeks of flower.
Part of what gives most of Spectrum King’s products a turbo boost is high-power chips that provide an intensity advantage over other LED grow lights. According to Muller, competitors typically utilize medium-power or low-power chips. Thanks to the strategic alliance with billion-dollar LED chipmaker Cree, Spectrum King is on the cutting edge of LED grow technology and poised to stay there. at’s right where CFO Vardi (who is something of a high-intensity advantage himself ) wants to be.
“We think of ourselves as a technology company, a solutions company, not just a LED grow light company,” he said. “ The Cree LED alliance is a great deal. There’s not another LED light company that can say they have the actual chipmaker, a multi-billion dollar company, that’s supporting them and backing them with the technology. Every horticultural technology now coming out of Cree is passing through our desk, because we’re helping design it.
“Case in point: We’re joint-patenting some new phosphor to really basically output the sun,” he added. “Yes, we’re working on bringing the sun to an LED chip. Because at the end of the day, what spectral output has the best frickin’ relationship with every single species on this planet? The sun, baby. You didn’t have to go far to research that one. Just look up.”
Indeed, and things clearly are looking up for Spectrum King.