This is Jesse writing, it has been a long time since we have given any real updates on Lumi. This was partly because we didn’t know which pieces to share but mostly because truly Lumi, and my work here, had been changing on a near weekly basis. So, now that Lumi seems to have a trajectory, I wanted to give as much of the whole story as I can so that you know what has been happening and where things now seem like they’re going.
Reader’s Digest Version: Lumi had to severely scale back in early 2017 due to insufficient funds. We closed the shop, and I managed a franchisee. In August, I saw a huge increase in requests for larger-scale solar that has continued. These projects earned a growing profit for Lumi, and after prayer and seeking advice, I have decided to re-open the store using the profits earned from the large-scale projects. The store will operate under a new sales model and will have 5 of the previous Lumi team members, some of whom have been working for a solar competitor for the past 6 months. The store will open beginning of February.
Closing Shop (March to April)
Lumi had to shut its shopfront doors at the end of March due to a lack of funds. While closing was not something I ever wanted to have happen, it was incredible to see God use Lumi even its closing. In Gulu, we had heard that theft can be a serious problem once employees know that their jobs are in jeopardy. I was so proud of our guys for working hard and with the highest integrity even through the last day. Some of our team that we had let go a month prior even came to the store for the last day and worked with the rest of us. After closing out the shop (and finding in the register slightly more cash than what was in the books), Rachel and I took the entire team out for one last team dinner. We ended up staying for over 3 hours sharing our favorite and most interesting memories from our time with Lumi. It was a special night, and so great to hear those stories about the personal and professional development that occurred through Lumi and the comradery inside a Christian business.
There was one large logistics challenge in closing the Lumi store, however. Since our primary market was Pay-as-you-Go lamps, we knew that in order to do right by our customers, we needed to make sure they still had a way to continuing paying off their lamps after the store was closed. While the shop was still open, a few of our employees approached us about starting their own shops. They believed they could still make a business work if they were not running a full-sized shop like Lumi. We realized we had a way to service our customers while giving our 3 new franchisees a great head start through the revenue from collecting payments from those remaining customers. And so, while the shop ended up closing, we still could do right by both our customers and our previous staff.
Franchise Support, shifting focus, and Odd-jobs (May – August)
My parents visited right after the shop closed, which was a nice time to recover from the stress of managing the shutdown. After my parents went back home, I began to focus on supporting our franchisees while doing a few small battery backup systems. Only 1 of the guys continued growing his business while the other 2 of the franchisees were hired by another solar company a few months later. That was still plenty to keep me occupied, as the franchisee began a pilot program with a new manufacturer and entered a local entrepreneur contest in search of grant funding to expand his operations. While we didn’t receive the grant, he has still maintained a healthy level of sales and purchased a small kiosk to begin selling other items alongside solar.
Big System Installations (August – November)
Sometime in August, I was hired to design and install a large solar panel system for a remote clinic, the same clinic that Rachel drilled for with WET. I enjoyed working on such a big project and decided that I wanted to spend more of my time working on these larger systems. While larger systems has been a part of Lumi since the beginning, it has never been the focus. At this point, it looked like Lumi might have to shut down completely by the end of 2017. Since I knew I would be in Gulu until at least July of 2018, I asked the owner if I could continue Lumi so that I could do large solar and backup systems work while in Uganda. While there are large solar and backup system providers in Uganda, they are often overpriced and improperly designed and installed. My goal was to be a provider that would only install properly designed systems at a reasonable profit. At the time I envisioned only doing a handful of these larger systems in the remaining 12 months of our term; however, without any marketing on my part, I was contacted by several NGOs and missionaries asking for solar and grid backup systems. The demand for these systems has not decreased since.
Future Plans (November – January)
By November I had installed roughly 10 of these systems around Uganda, and while it felt good to be working hard and earning a profit with Lumi, I was wrestling with how this work matched with why I felt God leading us to Uganda in the first place. [Now, for some context, since we moved to Gulu the small scale solar industry has boomed in East Africa. Many companies have been trying to reach all sectors of the market, but successfully creating a sales model that reaches the rural and poorest parts of Uganda remains elusive. I do believe Lumi has gotten closer than any other company, and largely I believe that if Lumi can finally discover it, it will because of our Ugandan employees implementing their ideas.] After a few good conversations and evaluating my heart, I have decided to use the profits from the large solar installations to subsidize a leaner version of Lumi’s small solar sales. I am even able to hire many of our old employees that through a series of coincidences has led to many of them being available at the beginning of January. We’ll be trying out our combined ideas for a new sales model and method.
So, finally, we are re-opening the small-scale solar shop in Gulu at the beginning of February with PAYGO operations resuming and expanding under a new sales model shortly after. I will continue large system sales and installations in order to subsidize the shop, but my focus will be growing the village scale side of the business. I have no idea what the future holds, but I am trying to faithfully follow the “breadcrumbs” (more on that in a later blog post) that I feel God has been leaving for me since September.
Thank you for following us on this journey.
- Wisdom and energy for me while managing the Lumi store relaunch.
- Wisdom for Rachel and her team in managing WET. Specifically in finding their first Ugandan private client and in identifying a Uganda to start training for an engineering management position.
- Wisdom and clarity for Rachel and me in deciding what comes next for TeamGeiger after our current term with WorldVenture ends this July.
Thank you all. Please feel free to contact us any time with questions, etc. We love hearing from you all.
Jesse (& Rachel) Geiger