Oh, just admit it: You wanted a Clapper from the moment you heard its catchy jingle and observed its marvels on your new cable TV. But though clapping on and off (and on again) offered thousands of Gen-Xers hours of silliness, lighting control today is serious business—and it’s no longer just an on/off phenomenon.
Technological advancements in the category have given homeowners more power than ever before when it comes to controlling the lighting not just in a single room, but throughout their homes. Just as the remote control changed the lives of couch potatoes nationwide, these easy-to-use products, now emerging at consumer-friendly price points, are gaining popularity and shedding new prospects for sales.
“The average person has seen what dimmers can do for a room, and naturally, they want to take it to the next level,” says David Bruce, National Sales Manager for Schneider Electric . “There’s also a whole new generation of tech-savvy consumers infiltrating our market. They’re aware of technology, they live with it, so they’re looking for technological, experience- enhancing solutions for everyday issues.”
While the simplicity and availability of basic wall box dimmers, such as Lightolier ’s Sunrise and Onset units, have made it easier for homeowners to create multilayered lighting scenes in a single room setting, complicated scenes warrant the need for a more advanced, streamlined approach. “As lighting schemes get more sophisticated, people don’t want to walk around and operate 11 different dimmers to operate the lights,” says David Szemborski, Product Manager of Genlyte Controls, a division of Lightolier.
Enter whole-home lighting control systems that simultaneously master multiple lights at different levels in different areas of the house—as well as the shades, coffee pot, stereo and more—with the touch of a button or two located on a master control panel. The Clipsal system from Schneider Electric’s Square D  brand, for example, can simplify a wake-up routine with a pre-programmed “good morning” scene.
“At a set time, the lights in your home begin to slowly dim up as your day starts and as you begin to move around the house,” Bruce says. “The lights continue to come up, the coffee pot goes on, the shades open. If you want, the TV or audio system will come on. All that can be done with one button.”
Similar systems, like Lightolier’s Multiset Pro, Watt Stopper/Legrand ’s Miro RF lighting control network and Cooper Wiring ’s Aspire RF wireless controls (operated via radio frequency), can set up a number of different scenes, controlled by a keypad, to simplify and coordinate desired lighting settings.
The most advanced programs even communicate with other systems in the home, such as security systems or a home theater, to create total “home integration.”
“The possibilities are really endless,” Bruce says.
With the demand and the products in place, showrooms are ready to translate this trend into sales, but they must first train their sales staffs to educate consumers about the range of systems available and be prepared to provide more points of contact so that customers can experience how whole-home systems can match lighting with lifestyles.
“Many systems are over-engineered to the point where an average consumer gets scared,” says Chad Coyne,
National Sales Manager, Lighting Showrooms at Leviton . “They don’t want to have to sit there and pull out a user manual.”
Often, the ability to recreate the experience for the consumer makes all the difference. Showrooms equipped with a variety of lighting vignettes can help staff define customers’ needs and facilitate the process of demonstrating which systems best serve their lighting requirements. Manufacturer-supplied displays are also helpful for retailers to create the experience consumers need.
"The first question retailers should ask their customers is ‘what do you need this system to do for you?’” Bruce says. “Then, give that and only that to them. If you add complexity, that’s where it gets confusing.”
Forming relationships with local electricians, builders or contractors can also ease the process for buyers.
“To facilitate the sale of whole-home systems, retailers can develop relationships with contractors who can install the systems for customers, so that it’s a one-stop shop,” Coyne says.
Some builders are still raising $3 million homes and controlling them with a 35 cent snap, Szemborski notes. Fortunately, there are other builders who are beginning to realize that installing these systems in their projects is something that will make them stand out from competitors. Making sure that builders know what lighting control systems have to offer is an important step.
Some manufacturers are taking matters into their own hands, building both on- and off-site centers, where consumers can interact with the product in a hands-on environment. Lutron’s Experience Center in Plantation, FL, houses lighting vignettes of kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms and dining rooms.
“The Experience Center allows the buyer to see how lighting control systems can add drama to highlight artwork, textures on stone fireplaces or a beautifully finished wall,” says Jacqueline Woo, Associate Sales Engineer for Lutron Electronics . “You can show them how to bring out the richness of all the decisions they made in their home construction process.”
Lutron also offers comprehensive training sessions on its controls for retailers and their staffs at its Florida center.
For its part, Schneider Electric plans to open a facility in a retail space in which consumers can walk in and see all of lighting control’s capabilities.
"We believe that the way to sell control systems is to sell them like you would high-end furniture,” Bruce says. “It’s an investment. People have to see it and experience what it does.”