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Lucrative LED Labs

Interactive room setups help customers make sense of solid-state lighting technologies.

LED lighting can be overwhelming for the average lighting shopper.
"In our showroom, we carry everything from LED pendants to color- changing tape light," says Craig Frank, General Manager of Lighting Unlimited in Houston. "Then there's a range of different color temperatures, from 2700K all the way up to 5000K. It's a lot for customers to digest."
To help, Lighting Unlimited and other top retailers are turning to LED lighting labs, spaces where customers can see LED technology at work in actual settings, compare color temperatures and actually touch products.
Lighting Unlimited calls its lighting lab - a separate area inside the showroom - the LED Center.
"Our sales staff is excited about it," says Frank. "And it's a great way to educate our customers about LEDs and what the options are in terms of products. These kinds of spaces hold a certain 'wow' factor for customers, but as a showroom, you have to have the right pieces in place to make it work."
It all begins with a well-educated staff, according to Danny Levkowitz, owner of Sun Lighting in Tucson, AZ. When his showroom opened its state-of-the-art LED education and training center in March 2012, the sales staff was armed and ready to go.
"We have a rigorous staff training program, and teaching our folks LED expertise is a big part of that," Levkowitz says. "For us, education is an involved process, but we want our people to know LED theory and products inside and out, so they can turn around and educate our customers and help them make good decisions."
Perhaps the next most important component of a successful LED lighting lab is a setup that shows off what the technology can do in real-world applications. Whether it's a kitchen vignette featuring the latest LED options for undercabinet and track lighting, or a modular shelving unit to demonstrate what common objects look like under LEDs with different color temperatures, customers will want to see what they're in for.
"Consumers can't make good decisions if they can't see what the products will look like in their homes," Levkowitz says. "That's why we've laid out a kitchen scene with popular countertop materials so customers can see what LEDs will look like on things like granite and marble. We want customers to interact with products as much as possible."
Ginger Nygren, a Certified Lighting Consultant (CLC®) at Wolfers Lighting in Waltham, MA, agrees.
"Everything in our LED center is interactive," she says. "The key is letting customers see with their own eyes what LEDs can do. Our sales staff can walk them through the details of how products work, but they won't get the full picture until they see it live."
As technology continues to evolve, so must LED lighting labs. Lightology in Chicago gives its LED demonstration area, the Morpheus Room, a facelift every one to two years, says Lighting Specialist Jeremy Baker.
"We want to stay current with the best products out there, so we've allowed for some flexibility in our space, and we're not afraid to move things around," Baker says.
Sun Lighting drives traffic into its LED lab by hosting monthly educational seminars for members of the trade — the local chapter of American Society of Interior Designers, architects and builders. The showroom tailors each presentation to the particular interests of the group and shows them how to incorporate LEDs into their projects.
"We spent a lot of time and money to get it right, so we have to make sure we're driving interest and traffic into the space," Levkowitz says. "It was an investment, but we knew we could do it and do it well, and so far it's paying off."

- Jennifer Pinto