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Travis Freeman remembers going out on sales calls with his father when he was a little boy. He would listen intently, and loved it when his father demonstrated the vacuum cleaners he was selling. It seems that ever since he was a little kid, all Freeman ever wanted to do was to be in business for himself.
When Freeman was in the eighth grade in Omaha, Nebraska, he recalls working for his gym teacher, who had a lawn service as a sideline business. When the teacher did power raking, he employed Freeman to rake up afterwards. His mom would drop him off at the first stop on his route, and she would pick him up when he was done.
While he was in junior high school, he started his own business mowing lawns. His customers were all local to his neighborhood, so it was relatively easy to get to them. By the time he reached high school, he had expanded his business.
In 1987, at the age of 15, he purchased a pickup truck; however, he was too young to drive, so he hired an older student to drive him around. In his senior year, Freeman added irrigation to his menu of services.
In Omaha, landscape contractors shut down during the winter months. But Freeman bought a snow plow to keep busy during the winter season. “Unfortunately, it didn’t snow much that first year,” he recalls.
He was certainly entrepreneurial, and always thinking of ways to increase business. During the holiday season, Freeman enjoyed decorating his parent’s home with Christmas lights. He realized that he could offer this service to others who wanted holiday lights but didn’t want to do the work. Also, he needed to fill in some time without depending on Mother Nature for snow.
In 1989, he had a few clients who wanted him to hang their holiday lights. They would give him a trash barrel of lights, and he would spend a good portion of a day trying to untangle them. He also found the strands of lights were of various lengths. This, too, made the job more cumbersome.
However, the biggest problem he encountered when he went to hang the lights was that many of them did not work. In those days, the bulbs were incandescent; many would either be broken or burnt out. Freeman found himself spending more time untangling wires and replacing bulbs, cutting into the time he had allocated for the job.
He decided to buy lights from a local hardware store; he also bought them all in the same lengths. During the following holiday season, he was able to take on more business. Although still in the landscape business—and installing irrigation systems and pushing snow in the winter—Freeman realized that no one, at least in his area, was making icicle lights, so he set up a company in 1990, and called it Brite Ideas.
He came up with multi-colored plastic caps (that he received a patent for) which would take any clear light and, when the cap was snapped on, would change to any color bulb he needed or wanted. No more need to have different colored lights. Freeman also came up with a one-quarter inch steel rod that he could bend into any shape. He put lights on them and called them Linkables. Now he was able to sell his clients snowflakes, Christmas stockings, reindeers, etc.
People saw the lights and began inquiring about them. He got so busy, he couldn’t handle the work load. But Freeman was also polishing his business skills. Realizing that he wouldn’t be able to handle all the work, he sent a letter to all the landscape contractors in the city who also closed down for the winter and asked, “What if you could keep your crews busy between October and February and make a few bucks… would you be interested?” Six contractors responded. He had a meeting with them, and showed them what he had in mind. Three of those original six are still with him. Since then, Brite Ideas has added 15 more contractors in Omaha.
With a growing business, the company was always waiting for shipments of lights. Being a seasonal business, Freeman realized that he needed a steady and better source of supply.
He went to China in 2004, and contracted to buy his lights from one factory. Still, that year, he had problems getting his lights in a timely manner. If he was to grow this business, he needed to do something. He went back to China, and in 2005, he purchased his own factory.
“When I was supposed to go to college, I was building a business,” said Freeman. “Three of my friends were at different colleges. We would stay in touch with each other, and each one expressed that they wanted to make some extra money. So I started to send them lights and a one-page brochure, and they started selling.
In fact, one of my friends did $32,000 in a six-week part-time business. Not bad!” “That gave me the idea that we could duplicate this all over the country,” said Freeman. “We began selling distributorships. Today, we have more than 400 distributorships from Orange County, California, to Bergen County, New Jersey.”
“Most of the people we’re selling to were already in business. They were already entrepreneurs; we didn’t have to tell them how to operate a business,” Freeman remarked.
“We’re just trying to help them increase their bottom line in the fourth quarter.”
Freeman was born, raised, and still lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He was the youngest of five children, with two brothers and two sisters. In the year 2000, Freeman finally let go of his landscape business. He sold it, and it continues to thrive.
Today, at the age of 40, Freeman and his wife, Jeanine, have four children: son Reese, 8, daughters Rylan, 5, and Regan, 2, and son Ryder, 4 months.
Reese can’t wait for his daddy to show him how to hang Christmas lights. Is there a second generation waiting in the wings? And these days, with the advent of LEDs, hanging holiday lights is easier. No more burnt out or broken bulbs to replace—just hang them and plug them in.
Although Travis Freeman never went to a formal college, he certainly went to the College of Hard Knocks and graduated with honors. From pushing a lawn mower, Freeman learned his skills and polished them along the way. Today, he heads up a multi-million dollar company, and the night sky is the limit.