Reno maker of lightboxes targets four-fold sales increase

Cort Christie exercises one of the most difficult forms of self-discipline every day as he prepares to quadruple annual sales of his Reno-based Alaska Northern Lights.

He refuses to allow himself to tweak the product, a medical-grade lightbox marketed to people who encounter sleep and mood disorders when they don't get enough natural sunlight.

"We're looking at keeping it simple," says Christie. "This is working. It has worked for the past 15 years. Let's stick with it."

But while Christie wants to leave the product alone, he's constantly tweaking its Web-centric marketing approach, and he's looking to expand to international markets.

Alaska Northern Lights faces a multitude of competitors who pitch appliances that deliver a broad spectrum of light to help offset the psychological effects of long winter days or help reset the biological clocks of workers on graveyard shifts.

The Reno company has carved its position in the market as the manufacturer of a sturdy appliance (it calls itself the Cadillac of the lightboxes) with a return rate of less than 1 percent under its 30-day guarantee.

It also plays up the made-in-America angle for the lightboxes, which are manufactured by a New Jersey company and contract with Alaska Northern Lights and distributed by a New Jersey logistics company.

And while the company does a nice business, selling 2,000 to 2,500 units a year at a retail price of $299 each, Christie is certain that Alaska Northern Lights has substantial room to grow.

Found in 1995 by a resident of Homer, Alaska, who had plenty of experience with long winter nights, Alaska Northern Lights was acquired by Christie in 2008.

The company, Christie says, needs to extend its sales season, which currently runs from August through February as residents of the United States and Canada prepare to deal with reduced sunlight as the days grow shorter.

An obvious way to develop strong year-round sales, he says, is opening of sales channels in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere.

Another attractive market targeted by Christie is northern Europe Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries with cloudy, dark and cold winters.

A lightbox works by affecting the production melatonin by the body's pineal gland. Melatonin is believed to prevent and relieve symptoms of depression.

While some of his competitors can outspend him, Christie thinks he can boost sales of Alaska Northern Lights through an increased Web presence.

The company also launched a public relations drive in a bid to win national media attention.

The campaign directed at two specific audiences people suffering from seasonal affective disorder and those suffering from

depression and sleeplessness generated an hour-long radio interview as well coverage of the company's product on several Websites in its first month.

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