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Antiquing hobby lights way to new careers

By Mo Alabi, Special to CNN
updated 4:18 PM EDT, Fri September 20, 2013
<a href='http://www.barnlightelectric.com/' target='_blank'>Barn Light Electric Company</a> grew from a couple's interest in antique lighting fixtures. Its husband-and-wife founders left their jobs to expand the company, which has helped to keep jobs in their hometown of Titusville, Florida. Barn Light Electric Company grew from a couple's interest in antique lighting fixtures. Its husband-and-wife founders left their jobs to expand the company, which has helped to keep jobs in their hometown of Titusville, Florida.
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Lighting up their hometown
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Barn Light Electric Company started as an interest in refurbishing antique lighting
  • Its husband-and-wife founders left their jobs to grow the company
  • Barn Light's presence has helped to keep jobs in their hometown of Titusville, Florida
  • Founder: "Have a passion for what you're doing ... find that unserved niche"

Editor's note: This story is part of CNN's American Journey series, showing how people have turned hobbies into jobs. Have you transformed your passion into profits? Share your story with CNN iReport, and you could be featured in a CNN story.

(CNN) -- Bryan and Donna Scott married a year and a half after meeting on the beach in their home state of Florida. For their wedding, they received several antiques that they often spent weekends fixing up. The hobby became a habit as they frequented garage and estate sales, looking for old lighting fixtures they could make new.

Eventually, requests came in from family and friends who wanted them, and then from an online store Bryan set up.

By 2008, when recession caused many small businesses to close shop, the Scotts left their day jobs to grow the business, Barn Light Electric Company.

"I always tell people I became an accidental business owner," founder and owner Bryan said. "It just happened. It was so successful and grew so much."

The Scotts, both 48, left careers in law enforcement and nursing to focus on Barn Light. The company, based in Titusville, Florida, manufactures and sells vintage-inspired lighting fixtures and has expanded into other industrial-styled goods. Last year, Scott reported, the company pulled in $10 million in revenue.

It wasn't always easy. They used their first profits to pay off bills in the event their success was only a flash.

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"After we quit our jobs, it was scary at that point. I didn't know if it was going to last," he said. Going from "fixed income to being responsible for your own paycheck," they realized that the livelihood of their three children and then-staff of three employees depended on Barn Light's success.

It motivated them to keep working hard and stay grounded. They've been married for 29 years, Scott said, and building Barn Light made them stronger. He is the "gas," and Donna is the "bricks," he said of their collaborative management of the company; he runs the manufacturing while she heads the administration, sales and marketing.

He has some advice for others interested in turning their hobbies into a business.

"First, have a passion for what you're doing and don't approach it as a money-making opportunity," he said. "Second, find that unserved niche within your hobby and aggressively go after it. Third, be a good blogger/copywriter or find someone who can do this for you."

Scott attributes their success largely to being unique. They're manufacturing vintage-inspired lighting styles and specialize in porcelain enamel finishes, a process the company says "has not been seen in America for over 50 years." The company bought the patents of old lighting businesses, including Benjamin Electric Manufacturing Company, and allows employees and customers to suggest ideas for new styles.

A sense of family within the workplace and a strong connection to their Florida town has helped sustain and grow the business, they said. The Scotts both grew up in Titusville, famous for the Kennedy Space Center. They've hired an eclectic group of employees, including longtime workers on the space shuttle program, coal miners and about a dozen convicted felons with whom that Bryan developed relationships and offered a second chance.

"They put heart and soul into the company. [They're] some of our best workers," Scott said, and noted that some of them are now in managerial positions.

Johnny Bragg, manufacturing general manager for Barn Light and Bryan Scott's uncle, calls Barn Light the best job he's ever had.

"I'm a veteran. I like American-made products," he said. "Employees take pride in their work."

Bragg thinks of his fellow employees as close friends, he said. They "don't just leave because it's the end of the day but because they've done a good job for Barn Light."

The company pays well, employees said, and has a sense of humor, too.

After a string of visitors became pregnant after drinking from a certain water fountain, they hung a sign that says, "Warning! Drinking from this water may cause pregnancy." One employee's wife intentionally drank from the fountain to test the myth -- and turned out to be pregnant.

They grew from a spare bedroom, to the garage, to a storefront and eventually, to three facilities -- shipping and assembly, porcelain enamel production and administration. The company is planning a move into one large building to bring their 80 employees under one roof in September, although projected growth suggests they might need to move in a few years.

Locals may see a new building and go "Oh, its Barn Light, they're getting bigger again," Barn Light's communications coordinator Betty Lynne said.

"It speaks to his heart," Lynne says of Bryan and the work ethic of the couple. "He's one of the few people I know that loves going to work every day and loves what he does."

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