How Lighting Retailers Can Tap Utilities for Help
September 10, 2010 - 10:24am

As the economy drags itself toward recovery, people still need a good reason to spend on household upgrades, including lighting. Luckily, consumers’ growing quest for greener pastures may well be the independent lighting retailer’s ace in the hole.

“Our customers are curious about energy-efficient lighting,” says Bill Jacobs, owner of Alloway Lighting in Boise, ID. “They’re coming to us with a lot of questions. Price is still a big factor, but interest is definitely there.”

To make energy-efficient lighting even more attractive to its customers, Alloway turns to its local utility for help. The “Simple Steps, Smart Savings” program offered through Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) offers credits and reimbursements to retailers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana that carry eligible Energy Star®-qualified CFLs, light fixtures and other high-efficacy domestic goods. Discounts, rebates and other promotions are a valuable resource for retailers of energy-efficient lighting.

“Participating in the BPA program gives us an opportunity to display and talk to our customers all about all the different energy-efficient options that are available now,” Jacobs says. “And we pass the savings that we receive through the program on to our customers, so they’re more affordable.”

Winner of the 2010 Energy Star Award for Excellence in lighting retailing, St. Louis’ Metro Lighting has worked for years with its local utility to promote energy-efficient offerings and to help its customers save. While the showroom’s past partnerships with Ameren UE have revolved around co-op advertising dollars and CFL recycling efforts, a new program appeals even more directly to Metro’s bottom line. Through the utility’s current product markdown program, Metro receives a $15 discount on approved Energy Star hard-wired fixtures that it has committed to selling through the end of September. Additionally, Metro participates in a coupon program (example pictured here) whereby its customers receive $1.25 off a single Energy Star CFL or $3 off a multi-pack. Ameren reimburses Metro for the in-store discounts.

“It’s important to us that we make energy-efficient products accessible to our customers,” says Matt Gagnepain, CLC®, General Manager at Metro Lighting. “It’s not always easy; there’s a lot of work that goes into the execution of these incentive programs, but it pays off in the end by making us more competitive.”

True, independent lighting retailers can face a considerable amount of paperwork when participating in their local utility rebate program. Manufacturers can sometimes provide assistance with utility rebate offers to stores challenged with smaller staffs.

“Big box stores have been cashing in on these utility rebate and incentive programs for some time now,” says Kirsten Murray, Manager, Energy Efficient Products at Satco. “But now we’re seeing more of the smaller guys get involved. We want our showrooms to take advantage of these programs, so we’ll work with the energy providers or their liaisons to let showrooms know about the programs out there and to facilitate the relationship.”

While manufacturers provide valuable support, according to Gagnepain, showrooms should be proactive when dealing with their local utilities. “It can get tedious, but you have to do your research,” Gagnepain says. “Get to know your utility and what it offers in terms of its incentive programs. We’ve been working with our utility for nearly 20 years, so we’re at the point now where we can even go to them with ideas on how we might continue to work together. It’s truly a partnership aimed at making energy-efficient lighting accessible, along with creating a better environment for future generations.”

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