May 1 2004 12:00 AM
Entrepreneurs come in many shapes and forms, but they all have at least one trait in common -- a driving passion to make a success of their business. Dan Cunado, is a prime example of a person that was driven to succeed. Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting, Inc. was a dream that Cunado had for a long time. But, we'?re running ahead of ourselves

Cunado was born in Cuba and for as long as he could remember he always dreamed of creating something that he could sell to the world. As a kid, he would look at any product that he could find, to see where it was made and who made it. His eyes seemed to always focus on, "Made in USA".

Cunado, his parents, and his two sisters were granted political asylum and settled in New York City. To help support the family Cunado recalls his first job in the United States, working in a restaurant washing dishes. He was 14 years old.

In 1969, the family moved to Southern California. When Cunado finished school he became an electrician and went to work for an electrical contractor. He became a foreman supervising the jobs for the company. It was during this time that Cunado befriended Ron Smith.

Smith, a landscape architect, was working on a villa. He wanted to do some low voltage lighting on the project. In those days, there were only two manufacturers who specialized in low voltage landscape lighting. Not that many contractors knew about low voltage lighting. Smith asked Cunado, if he would take on the project. The company gave Cunado the okay to proceed. He went to a wholesale electrical supply house to price out the materials. It came out to $21,000, which Cunado thought was pretty steep.

He told Smith that he thought he could make it for less, and asked Smith if he could submit some samples. Smith agreed. Cunado went home after work that day and cut some tubing in the garage of his home. The year was 1985 and that was the beginning of Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting. Twenty years later, Smith still specs Vista.

As this developed, Cunado now had a part time business. After four years of working out of his garage, his wife Martha protested that she wanted the garage back. Always the conservative, Cunado rented 800 square foot, an area not much bigger than his garage.

In 1992, Cunado finally quit his day job. He threw himself into his work; there was no turning back. He made a commitment, and he had to succeed. He was driven. Twenty years later, Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting employs more than one hundred people in a facility that encompasses more than 50,000 square feet.

According to Cunado, low voltage lighting for the landscape industry has barely scratched the surface. ?Our research shows that fifteen percent of landscape contractors really get into lighting. What an exceptional opportunity the contractor has, not only to generate an additional source of revenue, but to give his clients the biggest bang for his buck by having them enjoy their landscape in the evening as well as during the day.

"As manufacturers, it is our job, to help train the new generation of landscape contractors on how to properly install landscape lighting," said Cunado. "If we do our job right, and other companies do the same, the growth will be phenomenal. I can see the day when low voltage landscape lighting will hit the one billion dollar mark. I don't think it's that far off. I also feel that with all that I've learned, for me, this is just the beginning."

"All I ever wanted to do was to manufacture something that I could sell, and to see it say, 'Made in USA' I'm overwhelmed," exclaims Cunado. "This is a dream come true."

Married to Martha, they have three children, Sandra, 25, who graduated from California State University, Northridge with a degree in business. Daniel, 16, is going to high school and a daughter Rebeca, 13. Sandra joined the company and is in the marketing department.

With his daughter in the business, Cunado would love to see his children follow in his footsteps. "However, I don't want to force this on them," remarked Cunado. "They will have to make that decision for themselves."

Cunado doesn't consider himself a workaholic, but he still goes into the office seven days a week. He does admit that he loves classical music and opera. Cunado never took the time to develop a hobby, "My hobby is my vocation, my passion is my company. I live, eat and breathe lighting and dream of how I can contribute to make it better."