For Life + Gear CEO Greg Simko, a hands-off managing approach simply isn’t an option. From his days as a college Life Gearstudent, where he helped turn around a struggling floral company, and up to the present day, Mr. Simko has never turned down a challenge. And throughout it all, he’s learned some valuable lessons along the way. We spoke with Mr. Simko about a ton of relevant business topics – where he sees his business years from now, advice for young entrepreneurs, how innovation drives his product line, even personal inspiration – and his responses definitely deserve a second look. For any young business leader out there, our interview with Mr. Simko contains plenty nuggets of wisdom. Keep reading for some enlightening (and illuminating) information from one of the lighting industry’s most passionate and talked-about CEOs.

  1. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration and role model was an uncle, George that I had growing up that lived next door.  He was that guy that everybody wanted to be around.  He was a Bronze and Silver Star awarded veteran of WWII that fought in the Battle of the Bulge and then went on to the Pacific.  He was a successful entrepreneur that developed stop motion devices – a technology to stop commercial sewing machines when the threads break to save hours of rethreading and downtime. George was the captain of the local fire department and ambulance squad.  He was the first guy you called when you needed a ride to school when you missed the bus, and the first person I’d go to if I needed advice on typical troubles I was having as a teen dealing with my parents or friends.  It was George that introduced me to the outdoors, the Adirondacks, camping and fishing.  He was also the person that taught me to hold the door for others, to fight for the dinner bill and to help someone that was struggling.

2.  What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?

Understand exactly why you want to become an entrepreneur. To help understand why, you have to ask yourself some tough questions – and supply honest answers. Because if you can’t ask and answer those questions, the “entrepreneurial lifestyle” will probably disappoint you.  Is it because you have a burning desire to create something that no one else has created before, or provide a product or service that nobody is currently doing?  Is it because you feel that something can be done better? Or is it because you want to work for yourself?  If it is the first two – awesome – and go for it!  If it is the latter – think a lot harder because you never really work for yourself – you work for increasingly demanding customers that are becoming more sophisticated and informed at an alarming pace, and you work for your employees and partners that have families to provide for and are counting on you.  When it works it’s fantastic and provides a tremendous amount of satisfaction!  But, be prepared for a lot of sleepless nights (as I type this at 4am!)

 

3. Where do you see your business in 10 years?

Everybody has heard the saying, “necessity is the mother of invention.” From a business perspective, that basically means you should be able to help people solve problems. Life Gear was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (talk about a big problem to solve!) with a vision to provide disaster preparedness products to consumers.  It has since grown into primarily a personal lighting business with products that have everyday use with safety features built-in.  The best example is probably our line of glow flashlights and headlamps.  The patented flashlights were the first LED products that had a glow body that enabled you to “see ahead and be seen from behind.”  I use a glow flashlight every night while walking my dog and when I run in the evening.   It is a very effective product in keeping both George (my golden retriever) and me safe.  But taken a step further, the flashlight actually helps support a lifestyle that I value, and that is enjoying the outdoors – with the added benefit of being safe in this case. I think the brand can become a stable of products that support a lifestyle that not only includes being prepared and being safe, but can cater to a lifestyle that many of us desire, having fun and being active outdoors.  I see Life Gear in the future as creating “Gear For Your Life” that gets us outside enjoying life with family and friends. That’s an important aspect of any product line; if your product or service helps promote a certain lifestyle –and our lighting products encourage people to enjoy the outdoors – then you’re able to create, on some level, an emotional connection with your customers. Sure, the pure functional aspect of our lighting products doesn’t hurt, but we’re also enabling and empowering our customers to do more. That’s great for them, and for our company!

 

4. How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Quite honestly up until quite recently the business has relied mainly on shelf presence and our marketing has been primarily to the trade through traditional channels such as trade shows, trade journals and the like.  We have just started to focus on SEO and SEM and building our web presence and investing in our digital infrastructure.  Our most successful consumer marketing has been through PR.  One product appearance on the Katie Couric show of our 72 Hour Survival Kit had us sell out of our inventory in a day.

 

5. What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

I’d say my biggest failures have come from not focusing enough on the details as I have moved up the ranks to CEO.  Every book you read says the CEO shouldn’t focus on the details and that if she or he isn’t spending 80% of their time on the growth picture and strategy then we aren’t doing our job and leveraging our people enough.  However, the devil is really in the details – but the details I am talking about are those of the product or service that you are providing for your customer.  We once launched an innovative product that we were eager to get into the market quickly.  Yes, the product is innovative and unique – but when I read the reviews on Amazon they were less than spectacular – and it was all in the details.

 

6. How does your company provide innovation within your industry?

We provide innovation in our industry by being a company of firsts.  We were the first to introduce a LED glowstick and have sold tens of millions of them.  We were the first with a line of “see and be seen” glow flashlights and headlamps.  We are constantly testing new products and trying new things.  Innovation has to be part of the culture and DNA of the organization.  Good ideas come from everywhere in the organization and is an exercise in iteration.  We take input and feedback from the consumer, our retail partners and passionate users and incorporate that feedback into creating products that folks didn’t even know they needed to tap that latent demand. This proactive approach is a key factor in helping Life + Gear constantly innovate and improve. Our industry has grown tremendously in the past few years, and more competition has entered the field. To stay on top, you have to always question yourself, but not too much. We realize our products are working for thousands of people across the world, so we’re obviously doing something right. But those little questions – “How can we make this lamp better” – keep us on our toes, and ultimately spurs more innovation.

 

It’s obvious that Life + Gear is in good hands, and we can’t wait to see their new products down the road. For more information about Mr. Simko’s company, please visit the Life + Gear website, call 858-755-2099, or send an email to sales@lifegear.com. Thanks for reading our blog!

 

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