By Jim Davis The Herald Business Journal
EVERETT — Faith Mischel walks through the shop of Electric Mirror in Everett chatting with employees, asking about their families and their lives.
She stops at Patrick Erickson, the company’s chief engineer, who designed checkout stands before he came to Electric Mirror nine years ago.
“We found him on Craigslist,” Faith Mischel says. “He’s been an engineering genius in a quiet manner, just coming up with all these ideas.”
Then she adds: “The famous thing he’s good for is he’s a daddy, he’s a daddy.”
She is the wife of Jim Mischel Sr., who came up with the idea for Electric Mirror, and the mother of Jim Mischel Jr., who founded the company.
Family and faith are important to the Mischels.
“It’s a very unique atmosphere here that you don’t experience in other manufacturing facilities, as far as what I’ve been exposed to, as far as the level of respect and family values,” Erickson says. “Their family values obviously bring a lot to the table.”
Their company is changing the mirror from something that hangs on the wall to a device that does far more.
In its march of innovation, Electric Mirror went from creating defogging mirrors to lighted mirrors to ones that feature televisions and Bluetooth technology so that people can watch shows in the bathroom or play their music without a docking station.
Their products are fast becoming standard for high-end hotels, luxury suites at sport stadiums and homes for the rich.
Electric Mirror has seen a rapid growth in the past couple of years, with revenues growing by more than 40 percent in the past three years. The company expects sales to exceed $50 million this year.
To meet the demand, the company has hired more than 100 employees in the past year, growing to 260 workers. The company, housed in a 50,000-square-foot factory in south Everett, added a neighboring 25,000-square-foot warehouse a year and a half ago.
And they’re considering constructing a new building to house their entire operation.
Every piece of each of their products is built at the factory, from the mirrors to the metal frames to the electric wiring and even the crate in which the products are shipped.
“You do come to work and you see amazing people doing very creative things and you see the lives that are blessed,” said Jim Mischel Jr., who is president and CEO. “I would say we’re a start-up company still, because we have a long ways to grow. Our goal is to be the biggest company in Everett outside of Boeing.”
The original idea for the company came in the 1990s when Jim Mischel Sr. — a dentist who goes by the nickname “Doc” — was taking a shower and couldn’t see his face in the mirror.
So he suggested that they needed a mirror defogger and his son thought it sounded like a great idea for a business. At the time, Jim Mischel Jr. was attending law school at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“Every year during law school, I worked on the business plan for this company,” he said. “While everyone was off doing their legal internships, I was like, ‘Let’s work on the business plan.’ I reworked the business plan way too many times.”
After he graduated from law school, Jim Mischel Jr. lived with his parents, doing a little legal work while trying to get his business started.
“The first three years I lived in my parents’ basement and did this 14 hours a day,” Jim Mischel Jr. said. “I think my only friend was our dog, Rocky.”
At first, Jim Mischel Jr. attempted to sell the mirror defoggers at hardware stores. But he gained little traction. He and his brother, Aaron, would travel to trade shows trying to find a market for their defogging mirrors, often staying in their car during trips.
“We were struggling to find products to sell, mirror defoggers, people used them but it wasn’t on a level where we could make a profit,” Jim Mischel Jr. said.
The company continued for years, but struggled.
“They’d get an order like they were real professional and then they’d hang up and they’d dive across the floor like, ‘Thank you God,’” Faith Mischel said.
In 2002, the French Hotel Sofitele chain asked them if they could make 350 lighted mirrors for their hotel in Montreal.
At the time, Electric Mirror was working with an outside company. When the outside company sent the mirrors to the hotel, 75 percent of them were broken.
It was an important moment. The company could either close or use all their profits repairing the mirrors.
Jim Mischel Jr., his brother and his dad went to Montreal, set up shop in the basement of the hotel and went to work for the summer, repairing scratches, patching the wiring and putting the mirrors back together.
“That’s where we decided after spending a whole summer fixing every lighted mirror, that’s where I came home and told the guys we’re a lighted mirror manufacturer,” Jim Mischel Jr. said.
But it was a product without a market.
“At the time, you have to understand that a hotel was spending $50 on a mirror and $50 on sconces,” Aaron Mischel said. “So their budget was $200 at most. So we’re trying to push on them an $800 lighted mirror.”
They marketed to luxury hotels that wanted to offer new, unique experiences to customers. Their work at the Hotel Sofitele was the first entry in their resume. Others would soon follow, creating a trend in the hospitality industry.
And an advantage that they had: As a family-owned company, they’re able to take custom orders that larger manufacturers aren’t able to do. It appeals to the people who are designing luxury hotels.
In the past 10 years, their engineers have expanded on the idea of lighted mirrors to include mirrors with televisions, wireless stereo systems and dimmable lights. As the market has grown, the company has grown.
They’ve add sales offices in London, Dubai and Hong Kong. Electric Mirror has almost 300 showrooms in the United States and Canada.
Jim Mischel Sr., who continues as the company’s chairman, insists that their products be made in this country.
“One theme that I think is important that we established since the very beginning is that we’re U.S.A. made, we’re a true U.S. manufacturer,” Jim Mischel Jr. said.
The family credits their faith for their success. Jim Mischel Sr. and Faith attend church at Judah Praise Center in Marysville. Their kids go to City Church in Lynnwood.
Bible verses are written on billboards on the company’s manufacturing floor. One billboard reads, “Jesus Christ is Lord over Electric Mirror.” Every one of their mirrors has Deuteronomy 8:18 printed on the back.
It’s these beliefs that led the company to file a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Hobby Lobby, which opposed the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate.
The court ruled earlier this month 5-4 that “closely held” corporations — meaning they are for profit and have a handful of owners — may cite religious objections to providing all forms of birth control.
As to the court decision, Jim Mischel Jr. said earlier this month that he feels it would be a grave sin to pay for abortions or the morning-after pill.
“I know for the owners of this business, we feel accountable to God for doing the best for our employees and the best for our customers and treating everyone like they’re made in the image of God,” Jim Mischel Jr. said.
And he sees the good in the jobs that the company is providing for employees and their families. “We’re providing jobs, but we’re changing people’s lives,” he said. “If there’s anything closer to the American dream, I don’t know what it is.”
Reporter Dan Catchpole contributed to this story.