By Susan Belknapp, California Business Journal.
A surfing Santa. A ski-jumping penguin. A holiday kissing location gone viral.
These are just some of the magical moments created by San Juan Capistrano-based Shine Illumination, where every day is a holiday or at least, the celebration of one.
This creative calling is a reality for Bruce Brenon, CEO and founder of Shine Illumination, who inspires clients to “make a scene.” His company started doing holiday lighting for a few homeowner’s associations and private homes to now doing major retail, resort and city properties.
In fact, the Shine Illumination client list is a “who’s who” of Southern California luxury locations requesting holiday and event installations that attract traffic numbers in the thousands. Names such as OC Parks, City of San Clemente, City of Laguna Niguel, Rancho Mission Viejo, Dana Point Harbor, Del Mar and the majestic Terranea Resort are just a few of the stellar names on their client list.
Brenon and his team of 25 designers, fabricators, installation crews and project managers are creating “legacy experiences and iconic destinations” – such as Dana Point Harbor’s #HappyHarborDays and the Merry Kiss Me installation that went viral on Instagram. Brenon’s passion is solidly embodied in Shine’s ability to create something spectacular for his clients all year long for any event or holiday.
A Born Entrepreneur
A native of Missouri, Brenon is a natural-born entrepreneur with a background in entertainment and hospitality. He grew up at his parents’ resort where he was the unofficial social chairman throughout much of his childhood. He was raised to be enterprising and self-sufficient.
“When I was a teenager, I told my dad I wanted a car,” he says. “Instead he gave me a lawnmower and said, ‘Here’s your car.’ I think a lot of entrepreneurs evolve in the same way – their parents push you to do it on your own.”
In Brenon’s case, it made him hungry to keep doing more. At 16, he was making about $25 an hour, which was quite a lot back then. “I realized the more I worked, the more I could make,” he says. “I got a taste for making as much money as I could.”
He moved to Miami and worked in advertising for a time but then decided to open another landscaping company. Shortly after becoming a father, he moved to California hoping to find another revenue stream. He opened another landscaping business and shortly after was asked if he could put up holiday lights for a client. He had never done it before, but decided to go for it.
“My first job was for the director of engineering at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel,” he says. “It turned out we knew several of the same people back in Missouri. I’ve never told a client no, so we figured out a way to created something that wowed them.”
He’s been designing the property for 12 years now.
Today, his business has evolved from holiday lights into sets, displays, lighting for events — “and every year it gets bigger,” he says.
Anyone familiar with the Ritz-Carlton knows the company does not do anything halfway. Additionally, holiday lighting displays have become a massive draw for business of all types and sizes. And you can never rest on your laurels because there is a push to not only exceed the previous year’s regalia, but to not be outdone by the competition.
“It’s no longer just about Christmas,” Brenton says. “We are creating these experiences year-round and are encouraging our clients to ‘own your own holiday’ in more inventive ways to maximize their marketing dollars. For instance, not everyone can compete with a high-end shopping mall during December so we encourage them to pick another holiday – such as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day or July 4th – and make it their trademark event.”
Social media has revolutionized promotion and though you don’t always have to pay for it, you do need to be savvy to maximize its value as it’s always evolving.
“Instagram in particular has become the impetus of experiential marketing, especially how it capitalizes on FOMO or the ‘fear of missing out’ dynamic,” Brenon says. “This is particularly true for those traveling or shopping – once they see an amazing location everyone is posting, they feel they need to go too. It’s a driver for traffic, and not in a passive way.”
Brenon stipulates that the experiences cannot remain static. They have to change or people get bored. It pushes the Shine Illumination team to always have something new to create in order to add to the company’s growth. This is driving new possibilities for venues as they capitalize on multiple occasions in order to make a memorable event.
“I come from a design background and the last couple of years has really sparked my imagination, and I’ve challenged my team to do even greater innovation,” Brenon says. “We do most everything in house. We have fabricators on staff and a former prop person from Disney. Depending on our budget, we always want to create custom, one-of-a-kind materials for our clients.”
Though the company creates beautiful, elegant décor, it aspires to be kid-friendly much of the time “because kids drive a lot of the traffic,” Brenon says. “They see or hear about events and push their parents to take them, and that’s what draws big crowds. But every year it has to keep changing or they get bored. I get a lot of my ideas from my own kids. I think, ‘What is the coolest thing you can see?’ Get inside a kid’s mind and find out.”
The future for Shine Illumination will likely bring more innovation with a new focus on now-vacant “big-box” storefronts. Brenon and his team are now focusing on working year-round with shopping-center owners to make great use of these large, empty spaces by creating more innovative, Instagram-worthy experiences.
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