Gold Coast business lights up export market

Aqualuma’s Carl and Grant Amor — “polymer underwater had not been done”. Photo: David ClarkTWO brothers have turned their passion for boat lights into a multi-million- dollar, award-winning global business.

Keen boaties Carl and Grant Amor founded Aqualuma in 2004 after running car and boat trimming businesses for decades.

While operating the trimming business they had found underwater lights were susceptible to corrosion and leaks.

Seeing a market for a better product, they opted to design and manufacture LED lights using polymer housing.

“We saw something that, we thought, was not developing well,” Carl said.

“Manufacturers were using bronze or stainless steel.

“Traditional light sources, such as halogens, consume huge amounts of power, metal corrodes and, underwater, seals leak.

“People thought we were crazy when we came up with the concept as polymer underwater had not been done.”

Grant took a trip to the US to study developments in LED lighting and came away unimpressed.

“We knew more about how to operate an LED light than anyone we could find there,” he said.

In 2005, the brothers exported to the US their first underwater light, which had taken 12 months to develop.

Before export, the brothers obtained a patent for the product, which now covers 127 countries, and embraces a one-piece polymer housing for LED lights that contains no seals or corrosion-prone metal.

In 2008 they sold the trimming business to focus on Aqualuma.

The move coincided with the global financial crisis, causing a drop in demand for boats and accessories, so the brothers focused on developing new products to make up for loss of demand.

“We needed something with which we could replace the lost income,” Carl said.

“We are very good at LED, so the question was: What niche market can we tap?

“We saw hibay lights, which hang from the ceiling, as something that could boost our business.”

Industrial hibay lights have become a major product and now represent about 70 per cent of the business. They are used widely, providing lighting for everything from carparks to public transport stations.

Aqualuma’s hibay lights, assembled at its Helensvale factory, are tapping a large market in Canada where they are used in dozens of hockey stadiums throughout the country.

The company’s next step is to sell the product in the US, the Western world’s biggest market.

“We are about to introduce hibay lights to the US,” Carl said.

“We have obtained certification there, so all our products are eligible for the state and federal subsidies and incentive programs.

“We have spent a lot of money putting all the ducks in a row.”

The brothers are also about to launch a new entry-level hibay light, which is 30 per cent cheaper than the original product. Carl said the new product was priced to compete with Chinese imports.

They are committed to providing jobs for their country’s men and women by manufacturing in Australia.

“Could we build this stuff overseas? Absolutely. There is no question about it. Do we want to do that? Absolutely not.”

The brothers say their close relationship has enabled them to weather any storm.

“If I or Grant had been running this company alone, we would have given up,” Carl said. “The reason we are where we are is because we both have tenacity and we can lean on each other.”