Jim Mischel learned his most valuable business lessons long before he started Electric Mirror.
It happened around the breakfast table. Through his childhood and teen years, he listened to his parents discuss his father’s dental practice — business plans, growing the customer base, making payroll.
“As kids, my siblings and I were mostly there for the French toast,” Mischel laughs. “I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but we grew up in a small business environment. What better education could you have than being part of those daily business conversations?”
It embedded a lifelong sense of entrepreneurship. Mischel launched his first businesses as a teenager.
He tried his hand at window washing and a bold, albeit unsuccessful venture, selling meat.
“I sold venison because it was so healthy, but it turned out people weren’t into eating Bambi in a big way,” Mischel recalls.
Mischel found success when he founded Electric Mirror, a company projected to exceed $60 million in sales this year with exports to 85 countries worldwide.
Their product lines include lighted mirrors and mirrors with embedded televisions, Bluetooth and more. They have a strong presence in the hospitality and hotel markets, education, stadiums and sports arenas, plus high-end residential clients.
Mischel is The Herald Business Journal’s Entrepreneur of the Year for creating Electric Mirror and growing the company in Snohomish County.
Electric Mirror’s workforce currently hovers around 400 employees and is expected to increase to 1,000 in the coming five years. The anticipated growth was a motivation for moving into a larger, 125,000-square-foot facility in south Everett in February.
“As we grow, probably three-quarters of the workforce will be in Everett. It’s one of the reasons we decided to relocate to a new building. We want to invest in this community and put down roots for our long-term impact,” says Mischel, who serves as Electric Mirror’s CEO and president.
As of last year, a new division and salesforce were created to specifically target the burgeoning market of healthcare needs.
“It happens all the time that I walk into a hotel or restaurant and there is our product,” says Mischel. “I was in the Middle East and had an Oh my gosh! moment seeing one of our mirrors. Now I take a digital camera with me when I travel.”
Mischel’s vision of entrepreneurship is heavily rooted in Electric Mirror manufacturing its products in the United States. He estimates that 80 to 90 percent of products are American-made. Recent, major acquisitions of new equipment will further increase overall efficiency and capability for local production, he said.
“When we decided that our next factory would be in Everett, that’s a multi-million dollar investment in the community. It’s a big decision because there is a strong pull to put everything in China,” Mischel says. “Our vision, though, is really tied with the American dream. We wanted to just double down on the whole concept of ‘Made in America.’ I think that shows.”
Electric Mirror also supports outside entrepreneurship by using local suppliers whenever possible. Mukilteo-based Coastal Manufacturing has worked with the company for upward of seven years providing precision sheet-metal work. The relationship is so close that some employees have worked at both companies.
“As a manufacturing company, we hate to hear someone is going overseas. It’s certainly happened to us over the years and to all manufacturing across this county,” says Philip Letley, owner of Coastal Manufacturing. “Electric Mirror treats us like an extra shift for their production line. It’s refreshing to deal with someone like that who is truly a partner.”
Mischel views Everett as a welcoming incubator for small and growing businesses, which he considers “the engine of growth for the entire U.S. economy.”
Everett city officials welcomed Electric Mirror and helped smooth the way for the company’s relocation. Another enticement was the qualified workforce ranging from engineering expertise to hands-on manufacturing.
“There are a lot of people doing interesting things in Snohomish County and Everett in particular. We want to pull from that wealth of employees to come participate in our vision,” Mischel says.
As Electric Mirror expands, a primary goal is maintaining a culture of creativity and innovation. For Mischel, those are foundational elements of entrepreneurship. He began developing Electric Mirror’s business plans during law school.
He first pitched his ideas to established companies, but was turned down. Those concepts are now some of Electric Mirror’s most profitable products.
“At the time, it felt like a negative when those companies said no, but it turned out to be an opportunity,” Mischel says. “Small business allows people to come together, pursue an inspiration and grow an idea. That’s why I make a point to encourage other young entrepreneurs.”
One of Mischel’s mottos comes from his mother, Faith, who advises people to “outthink their boss.” Mischel endeavors to minimize company bureaucracy so employees are empowered to think outside the box.
“I take pride in knowing that companies like Electric Mirror are coming from the Pacific Northwest and there are people who are entrepreneurs with products as good as theirs,” Letley says.
Electric Mirror’s bottom line of dollars and cents is impressive. At its core, however, the company is driven by family sense. Mischel estimates that there at least 25 families working at Electric Mirror — parents, sons, daughters, cousins. It mirrors his own experience.
His parents and siblings are all involved with the company. While they no longer gather around the family table every morning, his mother still delivers homemade breakfasts to the office.
”It’s one of the perks,” Mischel laughs. “When we say it’s a family business, it really is a family business. That’s the essence of who we are.”