Cathie Anderson: Rancho Cordova control-maker keeps low profile

Published: Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 - 10:39 am

One Rancho Cordova company designs, engineers and produces thermostats that run the heating and cooling systems in tens of thousands of area homes, but the home's owners probably don't have a clue.

Instead, they likely believe that Trane, ADT or some Fortune 500 company came up with the nifty equipment that allows them to control the thermostat from their personal computers, smart phones or iPads. After all, these big players are the ones whose names appear on the units.

That's because invisibility pays millions of dollars for Mike Kuhlmann, Bruce Wiens and Mike Hoffman. Kuhlmann will discuss his company's success as part of Monday's CleanStart Showcase. The annual event, created by the Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance, will bring together dozens of innovators in the clean tech field at the Union Ballroom at Sacramento State.

Wiens said the three founders have done well enough that they haven't had to seek investors. Last year, they shipped 100,000 of their communicating thermostats. They retail for $100 to $200. The company employs 40 to 60 people, depending on its order volume at any given time.

"It's all about comfort, cost and ease of use," Wiens said. "Ease of use turns out now to be cellphones, tablets, the PC. We've been communicating now with that PC for a long time, but the advent of the smartphone, that's catapulted these types of devices … into the forefront of people's minds."

Wiens' invisible company is called RCS Technology, and its reputation is well-known at the Dallas market research firm of Parks Associates, where Tom Kerber studies home control and energy systems.

The price of communicating thermostats has held back growth, Kerber said, but he expects studies will prove that these devices can cut energy bills by more than the 16 percent promised by earlier, programmable thermostats. When this happens, RCS will be in just the right position.

Horse play or fowl play

The Palladio at Broadstone will be buzzing with shoppers this weekend as Whole Foods throws a party for its one-year anniversary, Charlotte Russe undertakes its first weekend of sales, and a fall festival ushers in hayrides at the Folsom shopping center.

Amid all the fun, don't forget to take a second look at J. Randall Smith's sculptures – "Horses of Palladio" and "Heron Day." Like Palladio, Smith's horses and blue herons take their cues from the Italian Renaissance. Yet they also nod to movie director Tim Burton's fanciful animated characters.

Although the Auburn artist doesn't shoot for realism, he captures the essence of the animals anyway. Smith developed a trademarked technique called Kraku and found national success with his shows in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Santa Fe and Taos, N.M.; and Palm Desert.

"I do a horse and I put it on the ground and I tap it with a wooden mallet," said Smith, a graduate of Placer High School and the California College of Arts and Crafts, "and it breaks in random pieces and you have no control over it, and then I take all the broken pieces and I put different glazes on them, fire them all and then reattach these together."

He paints the pieces, rubs off some layers of paint, then adds patinas. One horse at Palladio bears the memory of a visit from Smith's grandson Aden Boggs, who came to the studio on his fourth birthday. Their handprints sit together on one horse's rump.

Smith expects to do more pieces for Palladio.

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