While no one was surprised to see Lightfair filled with LED products, it’s what else they saw that had people talking.
Years ago, attendees at the annual Lightfair International were comprised of the architectural community — mainly lighting specifiers for commercial projects, military installations, office space, retail, and hospitality venues.
That all started changing about 10 years ago, as legislation regarding light bulb efficiency and restrictions were affecting residential use. Suddenly, what was happening on the “bulb” side of the business was being keenly watched by members of the residential side of the industry. Five years ago, around the time LEDs first started gaining traction beyond the architectural world and lighting showrooms noticed an increase in non-residential/hospitality projects, there were more lighting showroom personnel combing Lightfair’s aisles.
At the San Diego show in May, LED wasn’t necessarily what people were talking about amongst themselves. Rather, it was the noticeable amount of “bad LED” products still in the market that was getting mentioned.
“For all of the development in lighting over the past few years, I am surprised that we still have bad lighting out there,” noted Jeff Dross, Corporate Director of Education & Industry Trends at Kichler. “There is no metric for measuring glare; it’s not quantifiable at the moment. So while I see companies [at Lightfair] offering more output and more lumens, I’m not seeing them addressing glare.”
Another problem Dross mentioned is the probability of misinformation reaching the public due to the newness of the technology. For example, he pointed out that there have been news reports about blue lighting being bad for people’s health. [Editor’s Note: Last year Harvard Medical School published an article that underscored the idea that blue wavelengths after sundown from electronics such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets are disruptive to people’s circadian rhythms at night.] Dross worried that consumers might assume all blue light is bad, when in truth [and also stated in the Harvard Medical School article] exposure to blue light during the day is actually beneficial for people’s attention span, mood, and reaction time.
While selling light bulbs for the home environment never used to require salespeople to memorize a lot of scientific information, now in the Age of LEDs, it does. Selling lighting has become complicated, and when you add in the developments occurring in the controls category, it’s no longer a simple sale.
“Nowadays when you buy a light for a project, it’s a long-term decision,” adds Jeff Gatow, Vice President of Optec Lighting. “The lighting is going to last, so if you don’t like the result, you’re going to have to live with it for a long time. You are buying a product for more than just energy savings. Now [the criteria] is about which product does the best job of lighting that space since they’re all going to save energy.”
Without professional guidance, it’s possible for a project manager to unwittingly waste a one-time energy incentive or credit on a product that doesn’t truly benefit the application. “The optics are of the utmost importance,” Gatow cautions. Fortunately, that word is getting out. He referenced a recent McDonald’s project where specifiers made their selection based not on price or energy savings, but on photometric performance. “We in the industry have to educate people to research what they are getting,” he stated. “It’s about the quality of the lighting.”
So far, the industry has done a good job with spreading the word about energy savings. “The consumer gets it, but there are other aspects of differentiation besides price,” Gatow remarked. “It’s not all about lumen output either. [What counts is] how well it illuminates.”
Josie Anthony, President of Leucos USA (the American division of the renowned Italian lighting fixture and portables manufacturer) noted, “The way of selling lighting has changed. It is still about relationships, but now it is more about learning the technology. It’s not like selling decorative lamps with an E12 (candelabra) bulb. It’s more involved, more technical, and more sophisticated. There’s a learning curve and it takes longer to make a sale versus selling a table lamp years ago.”
There was something else on the minds of Lightfair attendees. Customers and clients are no longer impressed with the opportunity to customize a portion of the lighting design; they’re now expecting it. Companies that perform all, if not some, of their manufacturing domestically have an advantage. For example, CSL received a lot of attention for its Eco Downlight, which is made in its Californian facility and completely configurable. It allows customers to build their own recessed downlights online using the company’s Web site. There are four choices in optics, four color temperatures, a choice of square or circle trims/collars, an array of wattages, and a choice of eight drivers to choose from — plus the order can be turned around in 10 days.
Having the ability to tweak the aesthetics appeals to today’s lighting designers working on high-end homes and other projects, according to Steve Nadell, President of Troy-CSL Lighting. “They like having a driver selection and the other choices. That’s why we went to this type of [buildable] product line. When our customers do project work, they want things to be idiot-proof so they don’t have to think about it,” he said. “The world has gone toward specifier-driven designs; they want what they want. Or, in the case of contractors, they want it fast.”
At Pure Lighting, company founder Greg Kay explained that offering a tunable white light has been a home run for the Truline series. “You can go into the wall or out of the wall with it,” he noted. “It’s all made in Chicago; you can personalize it like a suit. You can literally order it piece by piece. Not only are you the lighting designer, but you are the fixture designer, too. You can build your lighting like LEGO®s and order it by the inch or half-inch. It depends on what you’re trying to do.”
For Barn Light, having an 86,000-sq.-ft. powder-
coating facility in Florida allows the company to offer custom as well as standard finishes. The porcelain finish is one of its unique features; it provides a high gloss because it is a glass fret that is baked in the oven. Brass and Copper finishes are also available.
Next to customizable options, versatility is crucial to today’s lighting specifiers and consumers. Some of the guesswork of choosing the correct lighting temperature for a given setting has been removed thanks to the proliferation of “tunable white” color temperatures becoming more widely available from a variety of manufacturers.
This year’s Lightfair in San Diego was definitely unusual in that it might be the first one in some time that new LEDs were not the main story at the annual show.