FREELITE began in Tucson in 1977 under the name “Desert Living.” Seven friends from different parts of the country (I grew up in the Northeast) had been drawn to the Arizona in search of new opportunities. My partners and I were not businessmen—far from it. All of us in our twenties, we were well-educated but naive, with big ideas and varying levels of carpentry experience. We were not particularly money-driven, and we were poorly capitalized, but we were resourceful and we were persistent.
My business philosophy then (and still now) probably stemmed from my life philosophy that was shaped as I earned a religious studies degree at Yale: Our goal was to build an organization that would provide a livelihood for ourselves and for others while materially impacting our customers in a beneficial way. It sounds a bit “touchy feely” now, but it was true then, and it’s still true.. We really, truly, honestly thrive on helping people.
As we started out, we quickly learned that it wasn’t easy to start and sustain a business. We tried landscaping, and then greenhouse building, and made very little money in those early years. Eventually we stumbled on a new product, skylights, that was just coming into vogue, and we were able to ride the wave of a new trend in home improvement: opening up interior spaces to natural light.
In 1981, I moved to Phoenix with $500 and an old Ford pick-up truck to open a branch under the trade name “FREELITE,” and, later, other partners carried the business to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Dallas. Eventually the company split up into five separate entities, all of which are still in operation. Rick Cornish, who had a background in construction in his home state of Idaho, joined FREELITE in the late Eighties and, ten years later, assumed an interest in the company.
Over the years, market demand and our desire to grow as a company have fueled expansion into other daylighting products that enhance the beauty and value of homes — specifically, windows and doors.
So all these years later, here’s a question for debate: Is the success of FREELITE BECAUSE of my personality and philosophy… or IN SPITE of my personality and philosophy? Most business books talk about “Type A” personalities who will the business to success. My approach has been to give homeowners our expertise and wide range of products in a low-key, no-pressure manner. We then take complete responsibility for each project, from initial design consultation through professional installation including finishing touches. FREELITE’s success is based on bridging the gap between the first stirring of a customer’s interest in the benefits of new doors, windows or skylights and their actual enjoyment of these products in their home.
— Chip Marvin