The Lowdown on LED Lighting
Some call 2011 the year of the LED lighting revolution, and that isn’t far from reality. There is no question that the industry has started to move closer to mass adoption of LED lighting solutions as prices stabilized, and as the industry promoted the energy gains to be made through LED installations without sacrificing lighting quality.
Chain Store Age talked with Bill Plageman, VP marketing for Fairfield, N.J.-based Amerlux Lighting, about trends in LED lighting and whether the product is gaining real traction among retailers.
What trends are you seeing in terms of how retailers are lighting their stores? The clear trend is LED accent lighting. Many, if not most, retailers understand the importance of accenting merchandise, but couldn’t do much of it in the past due to energy restrictions. Now, with LED, there is a real — and quantifiable — return on investment.
What would be the primary reasons for a retailer to move to LED lighting?
Energy reduction is one of the main reasons for the move to LED, but what retailers are finding to be even more valuable is the reduction in maintenance costs. In most cases, the savings in maintenance make a move to LED lighting a no-brainer decision for a retailer.
Do you find that most retailers are lighting their stores as efficiently as they can?
Unfortunately, the Department of Energy is making it difficult for retailers to really gain a full understanding about how best to light their stores, both efficiently and effectively. How retailers light their stores and what products they use are key, but the DOE can actually be an impediment to the process, as it puts far more importance on cutting energy costs, with less concern about the quality of the light.
What should a retailer’s considerations be when trying to save money without sacrificing light quality?
What retailers should be looking at are the design intent and what type of beam and intensity are required to sell their products. The Center Beam Candle Power (CBCP) is often overlooked. By putting their focus on the CBCP, retailers could potentially use less wattage and still provide better color and generate a higher level of product attention when lighting their stores.
With so much buzz about LEDs, do you think that LED lighting will ever be used for general lighting in retail stores?
Yes. It will take some time, but I do believe that LED will be used in retail as general lighting, especially since retailers prefer to avoid a “patchwork” lighting effect. Most retailers prefer the visual uniformity that comes as a result of a single lighting technology.
However, today, if you run the numbers, LED just doesn’t provide the ROI when compared with LED systems. T8 fluorescent systems are less expensive than an LED system and are extremely efficient in lumens per watt and life.
What role does LED play toward creating sustainable stores?
Because retailers can no longer afford to over-light stores, sustainable retail environments will eliminate light waste by lowering unnecessary light levels — and LED plays to that by directing light precisely where it is needed in order to highlight product and direct customers through the stores.
As well, the ability for retailers to digitally control their LED store lighting allows them to dim and color-adjust as needed, saving energy while maintaining the quality of the light.
What new products and projects do you have in the pipeline?
While we have many new products in the pipeline, Amerlux is more about providing solutions to retailers. The LED product today may not be the LED that the retailer needs to solve its design requirements. Amerlux has been more successful in working with the retailers in providing lighting solutions that targets their specific needs. In fact, many of the Amerlux products that are now considered to be our standard have emerged out of solving real-world lighting issues. We understand that one light doesn’t fit all.
Storms and other weather events can wreak havoc with a retailer’s outdoor signage. Just ask Therese Grossman, construction manager for Edwin Watts Golf Shops, Fort Walton, Fla., which operates 83 golf specialty shops. This past spring, a bad storm with extreme wind velocities came through Baton Rouge, La., blowing the faces off the signs outside Edwin Watts’ store there.
“In the retail world, having your exterior signs down is a crisis,” Grossman said. “I have to be able to respond and get them back up very quickly.”
She was able to do just that with the help of the chain’s signage supplier, Harbinger Sign. The national sign engineering and manufacturing company is based in Jacksonville, Fla.
“Harbinger was able to repair and put them back up very quickly, saving us several thousand dollars,” Grossman said. “The downtime was very minimal.”
Harbinger provides Edwin Watts with a “one-touch” program for its exterior signage. Once the retailer initiates a project, the supplier manages the surveys, permitting, fabrication, installation and servicing of the signs.
“They handle all permitting issues, which is an extremely big deal,” Grossman said.
Edwin Watts is not the easiest of clients, according to Grossman, due to the fact that it often works within incredibly short deadlines.
“If a real estate opportunity comes up and we see the potential to do a new store, we go for it,” she explained, “and things may transpire very, very quickly from there. It’s great for us with regard to our growth, but it’s also stressful in that it makes everyone work on a very short time line. The signage company we used previously was not good at it.”
By contrast, Harbinger has been able to accommodate Edwin Watts’ fast track.
“They don’t get bogged down with permit issues or the short time frames,” Grossman said. “They get as excited as we do when we are opening a new location.”
For color consistency in the green and white logo and lettering, Harbinger converted Edwin Watts signs from paint to translucent vinyl films, all applied first surface for both cabinet and channel letter signs. New signs use LEDs, which provide more reliable and consistent illumination and help reduce sign operating costs.
Along with the logo and letters on the exterior of the stores, Harbinger provides Edwin Watts with large-format digital window prints. The prints are created with a 3M medium-adhesive product that allows them to be removed and changed out without leaving any adhesive residue on the windows.
“The prints — we call them window clings — were Harbinger’s idea,” Grossman said. “They’re beautiful and very impactful for our customers.”
Grossman explained that Harbinger came up with the idea of the window prints.
“It proved an economical way for us to try something new while meeting budget,” she said. “One of the benefits for a very specialized retailer like us in working with Harbinger is that they have a very broad base of experience and of doing different things that they are able to share with us. They bring a lot of great ideas to the table.”
In 2010, Edwin Watts entered into an agreement with Sears Holdings to open in-store shops in 12 Sears stores. Ranging from 2,700 sq. ft. to 3,000 sq. ft. in size, the shops offer the familiar layout and shopping experience as the company’s freestanding locations. All of the exterior signage is being provided by Harbinger, which is also helping out on some of the interior signing. In conjunction with the in-store Sears shops, the supplier created an interior digital print that can be applied to both treated and untreated drywall substrates. The print can be removed without leaving any adhesive residue.
“It’s (Sears) been a big project, and the implementation of the signage has been challenging,” Grossman said. “Sears is a huge company with layers of approval, and then there is the standard permitting to deal with. But Harbinger has been very supportive and there for us every step of the way.”
For a couple of years running, I devoted my July column to a summer retail-reading list. But over time, the new books seemed more or less interchangeable with the ones from the previous year, so I moved on.
This summer, I decided to bring back the annual list. I did so because of two titles that caught my eye. Literally. On a surface glance, they couldn’t be more different. But each is fascinating in its own way — and each addresses some very timely concerns. So start reading — it’s already July!
Force of Nature: A former river-rafting guide named Jib Ellison is the unlikely hero of the very lively “Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes. It was Ellison and his BluSkye consulting firm that arranged global trips where Lee Scott, then-CEO of Wal-Mart, encountered the impact of the planet’s changing climate, pesticides and air pollution.
Beyond all the interesting detail, this is a must-read for anyone who remains doubtful that going green can actually be profitable. The book lays out how Wal-Mart executives came to understand that pollution was just another word for waste, a word long anathema to the chain’s culture.
Ellison brought an important message to Wal-Mart: Going green wasn’t about the PR. Instead, sustainability was the biggest untapped opportunity for businesses of the 21st century, ultimately making for a more efficient and more profitable retail operation. And it’s that bottom-line drive which made the Bentonville, Ark., behemoth a game-changer in nearly everything it undertakes, including reducing its environmental footprint.
Malled: There have been lots of books written about the retail industry, but only a handful have ever taken on life behind the cash register and on the sales floor. Credit author Caitlin Kelly for bringing the subject to life in “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail,” which offers a blunt, brutally frank assessment of life on the retail frontlines.
After losing her job as a journalist in 2007, Kelly took a part-time job at a popular clothing store in her local mall. Along with supplementing her freelance income, she thought the job would help maintain her sanity and sense of worth. And she thought it would be simple. She was proved wrong on all counts.
Middle-aged and mid-career, Kelly was thrown headfirst into the harsh reality of the retail workplace, an environment where everyone was expendable. The unexpected physical pressures and low wages, coupled with what she saw as relentless — and often unreasonable — demands from a remote corporate bureaucracy and a dead-end career path, eventually took their toll on her as they did most others.
Kelly stayed on the job for two years and three months — a lifetime compared with most of her peers. Her observations, along with those of other mall workers and industry experts, paint a mostly depressing picture. But she leaves the window open to improvement, noting that companies such as The Container Store, Costco, Trader Joe’s and others have succeeded in creating a different kind of workplace.
Ultimately, there’s nothing new about Kelly’s message: Hourly associates and, ultimately, customers deserve better. That it still needs to be said is also depressing.