Made in the tri-states: Fire Farm Lighting brings innovation to Elkader

Jim Walch hangs light fixture rims before painting at Fire Farm Lighting. The Elkader, Iowa, business creates custom lighting, with many orders in low numbers. As a result, the company adjusts and figures out ways to fill the requests.Video: TelegraphHerald.com PHOTO CREDIT: EILEEN MESLAR

ELKADER, Iowa — At Fire Farm Lighting, every day brings a different set of opportunities and challenges.

Owner Adam Pollock said that is precisely what makes the company tick.

“One of the things that has made us successful is our curiosity,” Pollock said. “We are always looking at materials in different ways and wondering how we can push them or experiment with what they do.”

Located in a pair of downtown buildings, Fire Farm Lighting creates custom lighting that is sold throughout the world. The company primarily sells to restaurants, hotels, and commercial and office spaces.

Pollock and his staff oversee the design, manufacturing, marketing and distribution of the lighting.

Most of the orders are low quantity, with a typical order calling for five to 15 pieces.

That means there is little repetition — and plenty of critical thinking — at Fire Farm.

“It definitely keeps it interesting,” Pollock said. “There is always something new to learn when you walk in the door.”

FROM WEST COAST TO MIDWEST

Fire Farm Lighting was established by Pollock and business partner Ben Goldstone in 1991 in Oakland, Calif.

A decade later, Pollock moved his life and business to small-town Iowa.

He said he first came to the city with his wife, Leslie Schiller, to revisit her family’s historical roots in Elkader. Schiller’s ancestors founded the city, according to Pollock.

After spending time in Elkader, the couple fell in love with the community and decided to put down roots.

In addition to shifting its location, the company was adapting its business model.

“We had initially been doing a lot in the residential market, but at the time we came to Iowa, the lighting business was changing,” Pollock said. “A lot of manufacturing (for that market) was moving overseas. But we found a niche in the market working with interior designers and architects instead of stores.”

As a result of this shift, both the size and complexity of Fire Farm’s products increased.

In 2003, Fire Farm purchased a property at 104 First St. SW from Elkader Wire Co. Two years later, they purchased another building from Elkader Wire Co. located at 107 W. Bridge St.

Collectively, the locations provide 42,000 square feet of space.

Within this space, employees create a vast array of lighting fixtures from materials including plastic, wood and metal. The typical fixture is 5 to 10 feet in diameter, but Fire Farm has created items measuring more than 100 feet long.

Pollock said that tasks like welding, fabrication and powder-coating for lighting fixtures all occur on-site in Elkader.

Fire Farm Lighting employs about 15 people, according to Pollock.

Rather than focusing on one particular aspect of productions, employees are asked to carry out a wide range of tasks.

“You never know what is going to come around for us to work on,” said employee Cody Whittle. “It keeps us on our toes.”

COMMUNITY INTEREST

Since he arrived in Elkader more than 15 years ago, Pollock has relished the opportunity to give back to the city.

“Being here has really shown me that you can make a difference in your community,” Pollock said. “That wasn’t the case in California. There were just too many people.”

When Pollock purchased the property on Bridge Street, he built out a portion of the space to accommodate retail businesses. Carrol Accounting, Bridge Street Boutique, Once Was antique store and Beauty Bar salon all lease space from Pollock.

Economic officials say this extra space has been a boon to the city.

“To create more retail space in a small town like this, that is a really big deal,” said Emily Yaddof, director of Main Street Elkader.

Looking forward, Pollock anticipates Fire Farm Lighting will continue to evolve.

He noted that the company could make a renewed run at the residential market, noting that this effort would primarily be accomplished through online retail sales.

As the business continues to change, community leaders are watching Fire Farm Lighting with a sense of admiration.

And they hope others follow suit.

“To have a business like that, one that is creative and innovative and thriving on a global scale, I think it serves as a model for other businesses,” said Yaddof. “It helps us attract other businesses like that and shows that you can accomplish something like this in rural Iowa.”