Selecting just the right combination of lines to sell is at best a juggling act for any independent manufacturers' rep. They need a few “horses” to provide a dependable revenue stream. Most reps also have several lines that work well with their key lines because they complement or extend the reach of their main lines and provide synergistic selling opportunities.

Things get really interesting when they place a few bets on some entrepreneurs from outside the electrical business with ground-breaking new products. These companies often depend on reps to crack open the market for them, and are often willing to pay them a higher commission for their missionary efforts. These lines take more time to sell, but the rewards can be high if they take off. Along with enjoying higher commission rates and exclusive territories, the reps that win at these gambles build their reputation as the source for innovative products.

Jeff Cleveland, C&S Action Inc., Miami, Fla., believes he has found just such a product in the Lightning Switch, a wireless switch that controls lighting circuits with an award-winning wireless radio-frequency technology developed by NASA. This technology utilizes piezoelectric materials that, according to NASA, “convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and electrical energy into mechanical energy. They generate electrical charges in response to mechanical stress and generate mechanical displacement and/or force when subjected to electric current.”

It's a form of “energy harvesting,” where energy is captured or stored. The Lightning Switch's manufacturer, The Face Companies, Norfolk, Va., holds several licenses and patents on NASA's piezoelectric technology and has the products tested by Underwriters' Laboratories (UL). A basic system includes a transmitter (pushbutton switch) and one of two receivers: a hardwired receiver that's wired into the lighting load or a plug-in receiver that simply plugs into a conventional wiring outlet.

NASA used the concept to harvest energy on the International Space Station, but C&S Action's Cleveland says customers are developing interesting applications for the Lightning Switch on earth, too. He helped one customer install the system in a Florida boathouse several hundred feet away from the main residence because a woman wanted to turn the boathouse light on for her husband when he was out for a night of fishing. The fisherman now carries a transmitter in his boat so he can turn the light on or off when he is out on the water. The couple saved several thousand dollars because they didn't need to have an electrician dig up their backyard to run a new lighting circuit from their main panel in their home to the boathouse.

Commercial and industrial customers are saving some big dollars on with the Lightning Switch, says Cleveland. “I have been in the electrical business since 1982, and my experience tells me this product could drastically change the way contractors control loads,” he says. “We have installed two projects as beta tests. The first one saved the contractor $45,000 and cut two weeks off the construction time. The second one only saved $9,000, but it solved a major problem. The owner wasn't sure where the interior walls of the building were going because he wasn't sure of the dimensions of the equipment that was on order. Our panel solution allowed the contractor to finish the job and leave the owner with a totally flexible lighting control system. When the walls do go in, he will simply program the receiver and mount the switch.”

Cleveland says the manufacturer is developing a new transmitter that will be the exact same size as a conventional switch and wallplate. Currently, the Lightning Switch's two styles of transmitters are 3.27-in by 3.27-in. and 3.27- by- 5.14-in. A recent addition to the product line was a system extender that boosts the range of the radio signals. With the system extender, the manufacturer says the indoor range is unlimited; without the extender transmitter the radio signals can travel up to 200 feet unobstructed and have a maximum range of 75 feet to 100 feet indoors when traveling through obstructions such as walls or ceilings.