Giving Controls the Green Light
July 16, 2009 - 12:08pm

As increasing consumer interest in eco-friendly solutions collides with their desire to curb costs — all against a backdrop of more stringent government regulations — a perfect storm is brewing. And lighting showrooms are uniquely poised to lead the way. In the path toward a more sustainable home, small steps, such as incorporating lighting controls, can go a long way. By educating the end customer about the economical and environmental value of investing in dimmers and occupancy sensors, and savvy promotion and merchandising of the category in their stores, showrooms can capitalize on this promising niche.

The appeal of dimmers has evolved dramatically from simple “mood setters” to a powerful energy- and money-saving solution. “Anytime someone chooses to dim a light, they are saving energy,” says Bryan Bigga, Account Manager, Lighting Showrooms, at Lutron Electronics Co. “The real niche has been offering not only energy-efficient products, but also solutions that provide maximum style and flexibility at any budget.”

The time to capitalize on customers’ demand for eco-friendly and cost-effective lighting solutions is now, according to Bigga. “Today’s homeowners are paying more attention to how they are spending their money and want the maximum value from their investments,” he says. “Also, with fewer people purchasing new homes today, retrofit solutions are at peak demand. The ability to offer cost-effective products that are easy to install in a new or existing home, provide energy efficiency and offer the comfort of lighting control every day, gives retailers an additional upsell opportunity on every job.”

Educating Consumers

South Dade Lighting in Miami has experienced significant success selling eco-friendly lighting solutions, says Kathy Held, Showroom Manager and buyer. More and more customers who visit the showroom specifically seek products that will help them save on energy costs, she says.

The Lutron customer stocks “just about every dimmer” including the new Eco-minder line. Dimmers pay for themselves in the short run, she says. The trick is clearly communicating this value to customers.

“People do like dimmers to create mood, now [they are] using dimmers to reduce energy [use] and also save lamp life,” she says. “It’s amazing what happened. With the economy the way it is, people are coming in and buying chandeliers, but then asking for compact fluorescent light bulbs and then dimmers.”

To be successful in this category, showrooms should embrace the educational angle and ensure that the staff is well versed on the features and added value of these products.

“The idea is to educate the consumer, and they appreciate it,” says Held. “They come in here and they want to know what we know. They might go to a big box store and they’re not going to get that there. They might see a display and not know what it is.”

To get the message out, South Dade Lighting has dedicated a section of the showroom to energy-efficient product, including fluorescent fixtures and dimmers. A working Lutron display, highlighting how much you can save by dimming lights, is very popular with customers — and staff.

“We installed a display that Lutron has that shows you that if you dim the light by 10 percent, you can save 10 percent of electricity [costs], and light bulbs last twice as long,” Held says. “People play with that all the time. These are proven facts that when people see them, it’s unbelievable. Another fact we bring up all the time is that if every household installed one dimmer, we could reduce carbon emissions equivalent to 300,000 cars.”

Manufacturers can be important resources for training staff, and as providers for marketing and merchandising collateral. Lutron reps have visited the Florida showroom several times to train the staff during sales meetings. South Dade Lighting also has participated in a local community outreach program that educated children about energy-efficient lighting controls. “The kids went crazy,” she says. “They are the ones who go home and tell their parents.”

The showroom also is planning a “green” open house this month to get the word out about their full line of eco-friendly product offerings. So far, the category still is selling despite limited initial advertising.

“Word of mouth has generated enough interest through this slow time that we are experiencing now, that we haven’t advertised it [outside of the showroom], but people are still buying the bulbs and buying the dimmer,” Held says.

According to Lutron, more companies are recognizing the value of this category as the consumer becomes more educated on the value that it delivers. Lutron promotes the category by emphasizing its energy-efficient appeal.

“We promote our new line of Eco-dim products as offering 15 percent more energy savings than a standard switch simply by installing the dimmer and never touching it again,” says Bigga. “Additionally, this product multiplies incandescent and halogen lamp life by three times. If the customer decides to dim their lights using these products, the energy savings and lamp life extension continues to increase.”

Besides the dedicated “green corner”of the South Dade showroom and the attention-grabbing working display, the enthusiasm the educated staff shows for the product has really helped to keep sales up in this category.

“We have walk-in traffic every day. The salespeople are kind of proud of this display now, and they always take them back and show it to them,” Held says. “Business has been so terrible lately, that anything I can do like this that is going to increase interest in the field is great. The dimmers have always been a big sell to us; I don’t want a customer to leave the showroom with a brand new chandelier without a dimmer. The energy part is becoming so crucial.”

Leviton is another major player in the growing field of energy-efficient lighting control solutions. Its main products in this category range from a variety of dimmers to different occupancy/vacancy sensors — including a California Title 24-compliant manual on/automated off sensor — and timers.

Cheryl Samartano, Product Manager for Residential Lighting Controls at Leviton, says that dimmers have been around for decades — but their public perception and the recognition of their value has enjoyed a notable upswing.

“When we first started with dimmers back in the ’50s and ’60s, people were not thinking of energy efficiency,” Samartano says. “It was more for the ambiance. Given the current circumstances where everyone is looking to save money, we’ve tried to be forward-thinking [with this category] and help our customers achieve their goal.”

Leviton supports its retail customers through marketing materials as well as providing them with turnkey displays — like the one pictured here — that help them merchandise and capitalize, she says.

The company is experiencing more demand for its timers and occupancy sensors, some of that interest as a direct result of Title 24, says Samartano.

“More and more consumers are becoming aware of our current situation with the earth,” Samartano says. “Not only is there consumer awareness, but there’s also a lot of pressure with government regulations, with a lot more states like California looking to start regulating energy efficiency.”

The main draw of energy-efficient lighting controls boils down to the bottom line. “The less time the lights are on, the more you are saving on your electric bill,” Samartano says.

In the end, in this tough economic climate, customers are simply looking for the best deal — and if they can feel good about lessening their carbon footprint, even better.

“If we can give a customer energy-efficient lighting controls, while extending the life of their lamps and allowing them to create a more comfortable environment, I believe we have maximized their $20 to $30 investment,” says Bigga.

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