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June 12, 2023 Startups, Technology & Innovation

Southington lighting manufacturer eyes expansion after move to CT, reshoring supply chain

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Juniper CEO Shant Madjarian (right) and Vice President of Relationship Management Mel Saenz at the lighting design and manufacturing company’s Southington headquarters. In the background, hanging from the ceiling, are examples of Juniper’s chic lighting products.
Juniper at a glance
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Juniper, a designer and manufacturer of chic architectural lighting systems that started in New York City a dozen years ago, has been steadily growing at its 25,000-square-foot Southington facility, with an eye toward further expanding its Connecticut footprint.

Just prior to the pandemic, the company purchased and restored an old factory at 157 Water St., in Southington, along the Quinnipiac River. The more than $3.5 million project turned the former American Standard Co. gardening tool factory, built in 1926, into a modern manufacturing facility with office space.

Now, the company’s headquarters includes a full CNC machine shop, welding and fabrication center, heated paint booth and polishing room, submersion finishing equipment, and a testing and innovation lab. Juniper has grown its Southington workforce to 40 employees, and employs about 50 people between Connecticut and its two-floor showroom in New York City.

Juniper CEO Shant Madjarian in 2019 bought this formerly derelict Southington industrial building at 157 Water St., for $725,000, and turned it into a modern manufacturing facility.

Its three main proprietary lighting systems — THIN, Axis and Metropolis — are defined by their contemporary designs, and can be found in hotels, offices, restaurants and luxury homes. The company works with architects and designers to get onto development projects that use its products.

“We’re looking to up (a landlord’s) game in terms of the office space dynamic and providing something that’s functional from a performance standpoint, but also beautiful and speaks to getting people back in the office,” said Juniper CEO Shant Madjarian.

Through standardized parts now made in Southington, the lights can be connected to each other magnetically for custom designs and shapes. The THIN lights are just a half-inch thick and mix utility with decor, Madjarian said.

The company’s move to Connecticut not only represented a rare example of a New York business leaving for the Nutmeg State, but also the return of full-scale manufacturing, not just assembly.

The backstory

Madjarian, 47, moved to New York City from his home of Montreal, Canada, to work in the banking industry for more than 15 years. He said he loved banking but felt an entrepreneurial calling in 2011.

While he was considered by employers to be an out-of-the-box thinker, Madjarian said the industry didn’t utilize his full skill set.

“The spirit of creativity in the banking world is almost like a contradiction,” Madjarian said.

With a little bit of money saved up and an idea, Madjarian started Juniper out of his New York City apartment. He eventually sold the apartment and dumped his savings into the company’s early projects.

His wife Mel Saenz — who he met while living in New York City — is a key player in the business, serving as vice president of relationship management.

The 39-year-old Texas native was working in architectural sales for a tile and stone company when the two met, initially set up by mutual friends. She said Juniper’s early days weren’t easy.

“Shant has big ideas and he’s got a lot of passion for interesting projects — and you could see it all starting to happen — but it was just in this one-bedroom apartment with boxes everywhere,” she recalled.

Juniper eventually moved into a shared Brooklyn manufacturing complex, Industry City, to expand the business while importing parts from China and other places. That’s where the company was able to establish its niche in the lighting industry, focused on brass finishing juxtaposed with contemporary and a reductive design philosophy.

The company partnered with engineer Peter Bristol — now the vice president of industrial design at Facebook parent company Meta — to develop its proprietary lighting systems.

“That ended up being the winning ticket — we started getting into trade shows and working with retailers in the design world,” Madjarian said.

Moving to Connecticut

By 2018, Juniper had outgrown its small New York City footprint. Saenz said the company knew it wanted to repurpose an existing facility rather than build from the ground up, and they ultimately fell in love with the Southington factory.

“That was important from a sustainability standpoint, but also from a historical standpoint,” Madjarian said.

Adjacency to their New York client base was important, too, so Southington fit the bill.

The site was derelict when Juniper purchased it in 2019 for $725,000, Madjarian said, but almost in a charming way. The company took out a Guilford Savings Bank loan to help retrofit the former factory into a modern manufacturing facility. Work finished in late 2019, just before the pandemic hit early the next year, Saenz said.

“The building was in rough shape when we bought it, and the renovation took a lot more than I think we thought it would when working with an almost 100-year-old building,” Saenz said.

“They pretty much saved that building,” said Lou Perillo, Southington’s economic development director. “It would have been a shame to tear that building down — especially with how beautiful it is (now, after renovations).”

Perillo said the town gave Juniper a now-expired five year, 100% tax abatement on all real property improvements at the site, a common strategy Southington uses to encourage companies to repurpose old facilities.

Madjarian said that by fully integrating manufacturing in-house in Southington, the company has been able to reduce lead times to two weeks for most of its products.

Bringing manufacturing to the states has also reduced Juniper’s reliance on overseas suppliers, and the company is able to “provide product customization not possible in the more-common overseas outsourcing model,” Madjarian said.

“We’re creating unique, customized pieces and products by using the same parts — it’s this concept called mass customization,” Madjarian said.

The company’s Southington building includes 20,000 square feet of manufacturing space; Juniper also rents out 10,000 square feet at a building next door for storage. Eventually, Madjarian said he wants the company to grow its space in Southington, but nothing is firm yet. Juniper is planning to hire two more CNC operators this year.

The company’s new proprietary low-voltage power system called MULTIVERSE is a key step in that growth, Madjarian said, as he thinks the product could have uses across many industries. It essentially reinvents track lighting with easily customizable attachments that can be placed along a low voltage power track.

Madjarian said open-mindedness and patience are some of the keys to Juniper’s success.

“It’s a bit of a cliche, but it really is 99% execution,” he said. “Ideas are everywhere, everyone has them, so you have to measure it out right. Luck is just opportunities you take advantage of.”

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