Leaders of the Pack
What are innovative industry leaders in commercial lighting doing today? Find out here. These are stories of professionals who are successfully leveraging current technologies and best practices to benefit their own business and to make a positive impact in the lighting industry. As the energy-efficient lighting industry grows, more opportunities open up to expand your business along with it. Have an innovative spark of your own? Tell us your story.
Interstate Electric Supply
Clayton Etcheson, district sales manager at Interstate Electric Supply, doesn’t hesitate when he outlines his best practices for selling energy-efficient lighting:
1. Understand utility incentive programs
2. Invest in staff training
3. Stay on top of new technologies
The electrical distributor has been serving Idaho’s Treasure Valley region for 40 years and now has five locations in Idaho and one in eastern Oregon. Approximately 10 years ago, they saw the first signs of the nation’s economic downturn affecting business activity in their region. “Our customers were very good electricians, but not always experienced sales people,” explained Etcheson. “We wanted to help them educate their end-users that investments in new lighting are a good business decision.”
Interstate turned to Idaho Power to learn more about lighting incentive programs and benefits to business owners. The company’s sales team worked side by side with electricians to help contractors explain incentives to their customers, provide information about energy efficient products and complete paperwork. “As we helped them understand more about Idaho Power offerings, we were also helping to improve energy savings in the region,” he observed.
As the company became more knowledgeable about energy efficient lighting products, it was clear that many of its suppliers were lagging in this area. “Our top supplier was not up to speed on LEDs for quite a long time,” said Etcheson. “We made sure we aligned ourselves with manufacturers that were leading the market. We train our sales people how to do lighting layouts, and join contractors on sales calls to explain how lighting makes an impact on energy use.”
In addition to utility programs, Interstate works with Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) through their reduced wattage T8 program. “We share marketing, sales tips and training information from NEEA with our staff. Plus, our employees are encouraged to take advantage of every workshop and online course that comes their way, and we offer enticements to ensure they follow-through,” he continued.
Most importantly, Interstate continues to do all the utility paperwork for contractors. “We make this our number one priority,” said Etcheson. “They know we help them be successful, which helps us retain their business.”
You might say that Gabe Arnold is a control freak—when it comes to lighting controls that is. Arnold is program manager at DesignLights Consortium (DLC) where he manages an initiative to help utility programs bring networked lighting controls into their programs and do it at scale. His goal is to work in partnership with the industry and accelerate the adoption of networked lighting control technology.
Called Luminaire Level Lighting Controls, LLLCs, here in the Northwest, and integrated or embedded lighting controls by others, the DLC refers to this type of advanced control as Luminaire Level Controls, LLCs. A subset of broader network lighting controls, LLCs have sensors and controllers embedded into every luminaire. “This technology offers increased granularity of both control and of sensing,” said Arnold. “The main benefits should be better control system performance and greater energy savings.”
“Traditional control systems have been too complex—to design, install, commission, and to operate once they are installed.” he explained. “Some trade allies just don’t want to deal with it. By embedding controls into the luminaire, it can reduce costs and simplify design, installation and commissioning, making the trade ally’s job easier.”
Arnold says the new technology is not yet widely adopted as many of these products have been on the market for less than two years. In partnership with the US Department of Energy, DLC is working on 10 demonstration projects to provide valuable data and experience. Findings from these projects will lead to development of case studies and an education curriculum centered around the technologies. Utility partners can then use the curriculum and case studies in their own communities.
“We’re seeing the beginning of dramatic change in the industry,” said Arnold. “Lighting systems of the future will provide capabilities and data that have nothing to do with lighting or with energy. LLCs are at the very beginning of that architecture being deployed.”
Arnold’s advice to trade allies about tracking new technologies such as LLCs? “Don’t be afraid of new technology,” he advised. “Learn about it, take advantage of programs and rebates, and try it out. The lighting industry is in the midst of major change, and with that comes both challenges and opportunities. Do all you can to make this an opportunity.”
A lighting industry veteran since 1993, Chris Issakides knows there’s no cookie cutter approach to selling a lighting project. “Sometimes the customer’s needs aren’t energy-related,” says Issakides, “so kWh savings alone may not be enough for them to tap capital budgets for lighting. In some of the counties I serve, the cost of energy is fairly low, so I have to do my homework and help them understand the other ways in which a lighting upgrade affects the facility’s operating costs.”
As energy business development manager for Stoneway Electric’s Inland Empire division, Issakides’ job is to find opportunities for lighting projects in new and existing commercial and industrial buildings. If energy savings isn’t the customer’s primary motivator, he walks them through a detailed discussion of how other facility costs relate to lighting.
“If a customer is considering an LED project, they’ll eliminate a number of chores that impact operating costs such as lamp and ballast change-outs, lift rentals, inventory of materials, or broken glass and mercury hazmat issues,” he explained.
Issakides has customers think about the man-hours related to managing older lighting. Employees have to spend time ordering materials, lifts, processing work orders, scheduling maintenance time, recycling lamps or even processing checks for materials. These tasks add up and the hours can be reallocated to allow the facilities department to address other issues.
“We take all of these into consideration because they are connected to the maintenance of lighting,” he continued. “Bringing these factors to a customer’s attention is important and helps them understand the full value of their investment.”