As lighting becomes more technical, showrooms are finding success as the go-to source for expertise on LED products in commercial projects as well as residential.
2018 report issued by Goldman Sachs described the adaptation of LEDs as “one of the fastest technology shifts in human history.” Need proof? Prices for LED bulbs have dropped by 90 percent since 2008. By 2020, the investment firm anticipates LEDs will capture 69 percent of the light bulb market and 60 percent of the installed global base. The report also indicates that by 2020, LEDs will decrease electricity usage by 90 percent over incandescent bulbs and by 50 percent compared to fluorescent.
Now fully embraced as a mainstream lighting solution, more and more commercial, institutional, and hospitality businesses are calculating the difference LEDs can make to their bottom lines. A wave of replacements/retrofits has already illustrated the energy and cost savings with long-lasting fixtures and bulbs that provide a welcome change from the unpredictable “life expectancy” of incandescent bulbs.
“Back in the day we all worked with a standard form factor: the replaceable lamp,” observes Andrij Burchak, Marketing Manager for lighting manufacturer Jesco, headquartered in New York. “Today, everyone is integrating LEDs directly inside the fixture, which allows us to design much smaller and much more adjustable fixtures with optional beam spreads, CCTs, etc. However, there is a still a limit on how small we can make fixtures because we have to design them to optimally manage the heat dissipation to guarantee a long lifetime.”
One of the early manufacturers of LED bulbs is California-based Nora Lighting, which has been building products to meet the state’s strict Title 24 requirements long before LED was the norm nationwide.
“Title 24 standards ultimately compel manufacturers to build a better, more efficient lighting product,” explains Chris Johnston, Nora’s VP/Sales & Marketing. “The biggest challenge was developing LED lighting that included the source. In the past, before LED, we designed product around various sockets and the lamp manufacturers supplied the source. Today, we are designing around the source — the LED itself.”
Burchak agrees, adding, “The changes in LED technology, as well as changes in regulations, keep us on our toes due to their constant flux. We constantly update and evaluate California’s and other territories’ energy codes when designing products. Manufacturing may not change too much, but it is really a question of how fast you can bring new technology to market. LED output and efficiency are constantly improving, and we incorporate those changes into our new products as well as update our current product as quickly as possible.”
Nothing Stays the Same
Jesco manufactures a broad range of contemporary, architectural, and energy-efficient lighting fixtures for commercial, institutional, and residential applications. Nora also offers a highly versatile and efficient commercial and institutional LED product mix. Approximately three-quarters of its sales are to those applications, and the majority of those are for retrofit projects.
“Our product line is constantly evolving,” Johnston shares. “We try to stay current with residential and commercial interior design trends and incorporate the latest product improvements to meet market demands.
“On the technical side, ENERGY STAR®, DLC, and Title 24, for example, change their requirements every couple of years, while LEDs are becoming even more energy-efficient. CRI [color rendering index] is improving, as well as true color until the end of a product’s life. There have also been significant improvements in the performance of drivers and dimming. LED optics have also improved, eliminating diode images, where applicable, and fine-tuning beam control.”
Training Is a Game–Changer
Johnston believes that education is the difference-maker for a showroom’s success in selling commercial fixtures. Nora distributes its line through electrical wholesalers, lighting showrooms, and internet dealers.
“Know the product and be prepared to answer questions about performance and value,” he emphasizes. “Often electrical contractors who are looking for alternatives in LED lighting will go to showrooms and distributors for the latest information because our sales partners are more knowledgeable about lighting in general. This demand for LED products has helped showrooms increase their business within the commercial segment.”
To provide even more support to customers, Nora is in the process of building an 8,000-sq.-ft. design and education center at its headquarters in California (the company already has a 3,500-sq.-ft. permanent design and application showroom in the Dallas Market Center).
“Our new design center will be used to train and educate contractors, specifiers, engineers, designers, and our sales reps,” Johnston notes. “In the past two years, we have also increased our sales sample cases, which are distributed to our 100+ rep agencies. This is still our passion: hands-on demos showing our products to the specifier, distributor, showroom, and end-user.
“Nora has always offered exceptional sales and marketing programs and training workshops to assist our sales and distribution partners. Our highly visible marketing efforts set us apart with top quality brochures, trade advertising, e-newsletters, product videos, up-to-date website, trade show displays and multi-media promotions. With these resources, many of our showroom partners are already writing commercial business,” Johnston adds.
Education is also central to Jesco’s growth with its sales partners — although their training is not typically sales-oriented. They also regularly host AIA- and ADCEC-accredited courses across the country.
“We have run open classes in our Dallas Market Center showroom, our old New York City showroom, and also have partnered with the Parsons School of Design in New York in the past,” Burchak recounts. “And working with our representatives, we regularly schedule classes throughout the country on-site at the offices of many lighting and interior design firms.
“Offering education allows us to provide useful information to the design community that we fully support. The selling aspect of those courses is minimal. It really is a learning opportunity for them as well as for us. The questions that come up during courses always bring insightful information to everyone who attends,” he states.
Bright future in commercial sales
Burchak emphasized that Jesco designs its products to be easy to install, which eliminates one of the major aspects of repair issues: improper installation.
“Our FLEX2 product is available as a fully plug-and-play system,” Burchak comments. “Even the LED strip incorporates quick connectors every 12 inches instead of requiring someone to make cuts in the field, possibly causing wiring issues. We provide installation sheets with our product and also maintain copies on our website for easy access.”
Beyond that, lighting showrooms can be assured that companies such as Jesco and Nora stand behind their product warranties. Johnson notes that a careful selection of chip manufacturers and drivers has meant minimal need for repair or replacement. In the event there is an issue, “We try to resolve it as quickly as possible with the least disruption to the customer or their business operation,” Johnston says.
At Jesco, Burchak shares, “Local sales representatives are an important part of our success. Their technical knowledge of our product can solve most small issues if needed, but there are JESCO personnel all around the U.S. who are available for on-site troubleshooting as well.”
Commercial lighting manufacturers, such as Nora and Jesco, believe that with measurable ROI being realized after retrofits – as well as continuing changes in technology and codes – there will be even greater opportunities ahead for their showroom sales partners.
“The commercial market is still young and the conversion to LED fixtures will continue to drive the market for several years,” Nora’s Johnston remarks. “Technology is constantly improving and lighting designers and end-users are becoming more knowledgeable and trusting of LED.”
Burchak adds, “The commercial market continues to change. The reorganization, consolidation, and reduction of manufacturers in the market have left distributors holding stock from companies that no longer exist or can’t support their warranties. Hopefully that has stabilized.
“There seems to be less acceptance of foreign companies selling cheap product, but not supporting it afterward,” he says. The rebate market has also seen decreases as municipalities shrink their programs. The tide seems to be turning for product that is well-designed, made to last, and provides higher efficiencies. These products enable showrooms to sell based on features instead of the downward spiral of pricing. This means improved profitability for showrooms while still providing their customers a much better product.”