Jan Clouse’s Mount Pleasant-based company, Carolina Lanterns, supplies quality lighting for homes and businesses nationwide. The company has been featured in the national edition of Extreme Home Makeover, Southern Living, Cooking Light, Veranda and Cottage Living. We chatted with Jan recently to learn more about what she’s up to these days.
How did you get into the lighting business?
In 1999 we were building a new home in Mount Pleasant, and I went to a lighting store to see about a pair of gas lanterns for the front door. The clerk told me the cost would exceed $3,500—then she turned her back on me. That lack of service launched me into search mode. I soon found someone in upstate South Carolina who had been handcrafting gas lanterns for 20 years. He made a pair of gas lanterns for me at a reasonable cost. At that point, I realized I could make a business out of this. That’s when Carolina Lanterns & Accessories was born.
Were you always entrepreneurial?
Absolutely. I learned at an early age to be very resourceful. Before Carolina Lanterns, I’d buy old furniture, then refinish and restore it to sell. I did the same with real estate, restoring old homes. It was then that I started learning about lighting.
What trends in lighting do you see for 2014?
We were in Dallas recently at a large education market for the lighting industry and got a good look at everything that’s trending. A lot of outside lighting is going to LED lights. Expect to see chrome or polished nickel take over oil-rubbed bronze, as it seems the antique look is on its way out.
What has been one of your most gratifying projects?
I love doing custom lighting because it allows us to be really creative. We’ve had several celebrities use our custom lighting services, too. For example, we designed all of the outdoor fixtures for Barbra Streisand’s Malibu house.
Why do you typically offer customers a drink when they come into your store?
It’s how I grew up. When you invite someone in your home, you always offer them something to drink or eat. We offer lunch if we have a meeting during the lunch hour. We know that customers aren’t going to be relaxed and focused as long as they are hungry or thirsty.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
Always be ready for change, which is constant. You always need to be looking for other areas into which you can expand your business. Being involved in your community is important, too. Giving back has been a strong part of our business from the beginning. We have worked with the Red Cross to help families displaced by fires and helped raise funds for several local charities. We’ve also sent several athletes to the Special Olympics.
What’s next for Carolina Lanterns?
We are moving into new markets with expanded lines. We have a new line called the Jan Collection, for example. We work with a professional coppersmith to custom-design unique pieces made of copper and iron. While in Dallas we were able to add several new exciting products, including a new line of interior and exterior ceiling fans. These new collections have opened up new customers for us who might have thought we only do gas lanterns.
How do you spend your leisure time?
I walk with my dog, work out and love to cook anything Italian. Once a year I like to go to another country. This year I’ll be traveling to South Africa on safari. It’s a trip I won at a charity auction, and I’m very excited about it. I’ve been to Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Mexico, Jamaica, Canada and Bermuda. In my travels, I think Dubrovnik, Croatia, is probably my favorite place. It’s a beautiful walled city with no cars allowed inside. And the streets are as clean as your kitchen floor.
What do you like most about living in the Lowcountry?
I am Charleston born and bred. I love the water, crabbing, fishing, the beach and this city’s history. I also love the shopping. My favorite place to shop in the whole world is King Street.
Your daughter works for you. What’s it like to mix family and business?
We have a great partnership. She’s my right-hand person who handles everything I don’t like to handle. I’m a sales person; I like to please. She brings me the numbers, handles the paperwork and runs the business. I have vision and come up with new ideas. She is the nuts and bolts of the business and brings me down to earth when necessary. I’m proud of her and of the entire staff. We employ a team of educated, dedicated folks, all certified by the American Lighting Association and committed to continuing education and providing top-notch customer service.
What energizes you?
I’m happiest when there is a project on my plate. If you want something done, give it to a busy person. I’m currently the associate vice president for the Charleston Trident Home Builders Association and have been on their Board for 10 years. I’m the past chairperson for the Original Home Show, a past board member for the Executive Association of Greater Charleston and past president of the Old Mount Pleasant Shopping District Association, among other activities. I get very energized by meetings and brainstorming solutions to problems. But most of all, I love coming into people’s homes, listening to their dreams and helping them realize their personal visions with beautiful lighting.
Visit Carolina Lanterns at 1362 Chuck Dawley Blvd. in Mt. Pleasant or at carolinalanterns.com.