Future's so bright he wears shades

EAGLE HARDWARE founder David Heerensperger again rounds up investors and former employees to launch World Lighting.

At the age of 64, David Heerensperger just couldn't retire.

He tried. After selling Eagle Hardware & Garden, the chain he founded nine years ago, to competitor Lowe's, he headed to the Mediterranean on his 162-foot yacht. He had 6,500 square feet of living space and an 11-person crew that included a chef who once prepared bistro meals at the Palomino in downtown Seattle.

Yet only a year after the November 1998 sale of Eagle, Heerensperger found himself turning his boat around. He returned to the United States to launch another hardware business, focusing this time solely on home lighting.

Heerensperger's newest venture, World Lighting, plans to open in November with three stores around the Seattle area. The "big box" stores will cater to contractors and interior designers as well as homeowners.

"I'd been thinking about it for a year," Heerensperger said. "I spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and you can only do that for so long. . . . I'm thrilled, or else I'd be on the boat."

Heerensperger, who will serve as chief executive, said he easily found friends willing to invest the $2.25 million needed for each store. He also hired about 20 former Eagle employees.

Heerensperger and his investors expect World Lighting to mimic the pattern of his earlier projects, Eagle and the now-defunct Pay 'N Pak home-improvement chain, which he headed: The stores will focus on large selection and customer service - and will be run by many of the same people who led the other chains.

Eagle grew to more than 30 stores and 6,000 employees before its acquisition by Lowe's, the world's second-largest home-improvement chain. Eagle's name will disappear completely from the Seattle area later this summer when store signs are replaced by Lowe's signs.

Ron Crockett, Heerensperger's friend and the owner of Emerald Downs racetrack in Auburn, said he invested in World Lighting largely because of Heerensperger's track record.

"Here we go again," said Crockett, who was an Eagle Hardware director for eight years. "He is a capable man and has proven himself over the years."

Crockett also liked Heerensperger's management team, which includes Heerensperger's son Joe, a former Eagle purchasing director.

"(Joe) needed some guiding from papa and we decided to go (from one) to three or four stores. I'm the concept guy and I get things going," Heerensperger said.

At World Lighting, Joe Heerensperger, 40, will be vice president of merchandising and purchasing. Gregg Atkinson, a friend of the younger Heerensperger who has 20 years of experience in the lighting business, will be vice president of marketing and builders. John Foucrier, Eagle's former vice president of operations, will hold the same position with World Lighting.

The three stores - in Bellevue, Lynnwood and Tukwila - will range from 22,000 to 25,000 square feet.

A 55,000-square-foot warehouse in Kent will allow quick delivery of its large stock: 500 or more varieties of table lamps and 350 styles of shades.

"I was a stickler on service at Eagle, and I will be here again," vowed Heerensperger.

Seattle Lighting now dominates the Puget Sound lighting market, with five stores ranging from 7,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet each. Now owned by Dolan Designs in Portland, Seattle Lighting has been around since 1917.

It appears Heerensperger's intuition with World Lighting might be right, as it has been in the past. Home construction and remodeling have been booming around Seattle, leading to high demand for lighting fixtures.

Dave McKee, Seattle Lighting's chief operating officer, said that chain's sales have doubled in the last four years.

Elisabeth Beers, an interior designer for Sandler Architects, said, "We are always looking for new ideas. . . . We are looking for sources in Los Angeles to New York and everywhere."

Beers said a homeowner can spend $3,000 to $8,000 for about 10 fixtures in a 3,000-square-foot home. For now, she relies heavily on custom designs and works frequently with Seattle Lighting.

But if Heerensperger follows through on his promised speed and selection, Beers said, World Lighting could be a hit.

Tricia Duryee's phone message number is 206-464-3283. Her e-mail address is: tduryee@seattletimes.com.