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Eye on Innovation: Keystone Technologies

Eye on Innovation: Keystone Technologies

From its post-WWII beginnings in the ballast industry to its current breadth of conventional lamp and LED technologies, Philadelphia, PA-based Keystone Technologies’ (www.keystonetech.com) success reflects its keen eye on innovation and strong ability to evolve with the times for nearly 75 years.

Following, lightED reached out to Ira Greenberg, CEO of Keystone Technologies, for insights on Keystone’s founding, its current industry presence, and how the company’s unique approach to innovation continues to light its way to a bright future.


lightED: Please share a bit about how Keystone started.

Greenberg: Keystone was founded in 1945 by brothers-in-law Marvin Spielman and Harold Fox, two enterprising WWII vets looking to start a manufacturing business. After a friend of theirs in the hardware business mentioned that fluorescent lighting was becoming very popular and that replacement ballasts were hard to find, Marvin and Harold (neither of whom really knew what a ballast was) bought some competitor’s samples and took them around town to see what kind of demand existed. To their delight, they were met with resounding interest from both hardware stores and local fixture manufacturers. Philadelphia happened to be a sweet spot for lighting fixture manufacturing, hosting such players as Simkar, Columbia Lighting, Progress Lighting, and Sea Gull Lighting, among others. With strong demand and cash-in-advance purchase orders in hand, Harold and Marvin began building ballasts out of Harold’s attic, and soon moved to a workshop in Philadelphia and eventually to factories in Pennsburg and Trumbauersville, PA. Today, Keystone is a third-generation family-owned business and its product offerings have expanded to include LED lamps, drivers, fixtures, LED retrofit kits, ballasts, and more. The company continues to grow rapidly and is moving to a new office location nearby in Spring 2019 to accommodate this expansion.


lightED: How have the company’s product offerings evolved over time?

Greenberg: Keystone has always been in the lighting power supply business from day one, and that remains solidly at our core. While we still produce traditional HID and fluorescent ballasts, our power supply expertise has evolved extensively into LED power management. When we develop new products, we always start by leveraging our deep expertise in power supplies since they’re typically the most critical component of a lamp or luminaire – e.g., the efficiency and reliability of any lamp or luminaire is often dictated by the quality of the ballast or LED driver. While we continue to offer many stand-alone power supplies, we now also integrate our power supplies into a variety of products, including LED lamps, emergency power systems, and luminaires.


lightED: What do you feel are the unique features/functions/benefits Keystone products and personnel bring to today’s lighting market?

Greenberg: Our mantra is “Light Made Easy.” It underscores everything we do, from developing easy-to-use and easy-to-understand products to promoting an “easy to do business with” mentality by offering everything from hassle-free samples to flexible, tailored programs designed to suit the unique needs of each of our customer partners.


lightED: How does Keystone apply its approach to innovation to its products and services?

Greenberg: We always ask ourselves what can we do differently, either with products or service, to make life easier for our customers, end users, and sales agents. On the product side, an example of innovation is our SignHero LED tube. Seeing how time-consuming and confusing it was to retrofit a fluorescent sign cabinet to LED, we knew there had to be a better way and subsequently engineered SignHero to cut the installation time from hours to minutes and simplify the entire LED upgrade process. Another example of product innovation is reflected in our Smart Current, a programmable LED driver with a super-simple software interface that lets customers quickly program the driver to their desired output. We developed Smart Current for distributors in response to the gap in the marketplace for replacement drivers and this innovation also provides them the added benefit of reducing inventory.


lightED: How has Keystone’s approach to innovation been applied to its communications and sales?

Greenberg: In terms of communication, we strive to be the most engaging and human brand in the industry. For example, we launched an online Marketing Resource Center (MRC) where distributor customers can create a plethora of co-branded content with just a few clicks, offering them valuable marketing resources and professionally-crafted content. This is a huge asset for many distributors who don’t have a marketing department. We try to think beyond the sales transaction and consider the total value of our exchange. Business is about relationships, and relationships thrive when communication is clear and when there’s empathy for the other party and a respect for their time and needs. This is top-of-mind whenever we create customer-facing content, such as the back-cover ads we regularly feature in tED magazine. We’re always asking ourselves “Is this clear?  Is it relevant?  How will it make our customers feel?” We look for opportunities to offer our customers something entertaining, inspiring, or useful and bring this simple, customer-centric approach to all of our brand touchpoints, including our website. For example, we learned how our various digital audiences utilize our website and redesigned the product pages for their specific needs; among other changes, we now always keep the navigation within site as users scroll through pages.  Little innovations like that have driven big increases for us in terms of site engagement.


lightED: How has your approach to innovation affected your business from the ground up?

Greenberg: “Light Made Easy” is a guiding philosophy in our organization. Before anyone joins our team, one of the key criteria we screen for is the desire to serve others. It’s not a trait that can be taught, but it’s an attribute that can blossom in the right environment. We focus heavily on creating an atmosphere that recognizes outstanding teamwork, both among internal teammates as well as external partners, whether they’re vendors, agents, customers, or other partners, and always encourage our teammates to align their actions with our Light Made Easy mission. Over time, we’ve gradually shaped a culture empowered and connected by this shared philosophy and this internal culture then translates to our customer relationships.


lightED: What skills or attributes do you feel manufacturers and distributors will need to possess in order to grow and succeed in the lighting market over the coming years?

Greenberg: Centuries ago, land and livestock were the greatest sources of wealth. As our nation industrialized, those who could produce most efficiently with specialized tools earned the lion’s share (e.g., John Deere and Henry Ford). Since then, information has become king and we all now have access to an unprecedented amount of information right in our pockets. When we’re constantly bombarded with real news, fake news, social media, nefarious self-promoters, etc., it becomes increasingly difficult to separate out “information gold” from all the noise. As a result, I feel that trust is our generation’s most valuable asset and that this is a priceless moment to sharpen our listening skills and connect first-hand and in-person with those with true knowledge. Stop listening to the din of the crowd or to hearsay from self-proclaimed experts and instead connect at a personal level in order to earn access to the real scoop — then translate this well-curated, first-hand information into tangible, problem-solving solutions. Don’t be part of the information overload problem and don’t deceive by blending fact and opinion; rather, be laser-accurate and conservative when communicating and, most of all, be human. Ultimately, we grow together with those whom we trust the most. Whoever earns our trust will be our generation’s elite.

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Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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