Shine On: Bulbrite in Moonachie

The spirit of innovation makes the Choi family a bright light in the lighting business.

Andrew Choi, center, with son Eric, a product manager and daughter Cathy, who serves as president of the company Andrew founded after arriving in America in 1968.
Andrew Choi, center, with son Eric, a product manager and daughter Cathy, who serves as president of the company Andrew founded after arriving in America in 1968.
Photo by Peter Murphy

When Andrew Choi left his native South Korea in 1968, there were bright lights in his future—the bright lights of New York City, where he settled, and the bright lights of Bulbrite, the company he founded three years later with his wife, Barbara.

Andrew had worked for a trading company back home, which gave him knowledge of the lighting business. In his new city, he began selling light bulbs out of a suitcase to retail clients. His case was full of product samples—as well as free bagels to entice customers.

While Andrew handled sales and relationships with their Korean bulb manufacturers, Barbara took care of operations. In 1981, Andrew’s brother John arrived from South Korea and joined the sales effort.  Soon, they needed space to grow and, in 1988, built a new office and distribution center in South Hackensack. They outgrew that too, and in 1999 moved into their current spacious headquarters in Moonachie. The two-story facility is home to about 50 employees, a distribution center and a testing lab. The company also has a facility in Texas, a distribution center in California and a corporate office in Shanghai, China.

A commitment to innovation ensures the company provides customers with top-notch products. Bulbrite’s catalog ranges from residential to commercial, standard to specialty, task lighting to novelty. Bulbrite’s long list of technologies include halogen, krypton, xenon and LED.

To help customers navigate today’s complicated lighting marketplace, Bulbrite has an online learning center, lightopedia.com, which offers insight on bulb shapes, sizes, bases and filament types.

Internally, Bulbrite fosters a workplace culture that encourages not just innovation, but education and a focus on customer satisfaction, says company president Cathy Choi, the eldest child of Andrew and Barbara.

Even Choi didn’t bypass the company’s management-training program. When she joined the company in 2001 at age 30, she had a B.A., an MBA and 10 years’ business experience. At Bulbrite, she started in the customer-service department and worked at various levels until she was appointed to her current position in 2009. Starting in customer service made sense, she says, since customers are “the key, the core to everything.”

The company’s values have not gone unnoticed. Author Adam Bryant featured Bulbrite in his book Quick and Nimble (Times Books, 2014), which offers lessons from CEOs about creating a high-performance business culture.

Bulbrite’s values also extend to the local community in Moonachie. The town was devastated by flooding from Hurricane Sandy, and many local residents have struggled to get back on their feet. Through the South Bergen Rotary, Bulbrite has helped the families most in need, largely with generous donations.

Additionally, every year for Thanksgiving, Bulbrite and its employees contribute canned goods and gift cards to be used in baskets for local families. If not for these donations, Choi explains, many families would miss out on a simple luxury like Thanksgiving dinner.

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