Thanks to a small group of industry professionals, there will soon be two specialized education programs focused on ceiling fans for installers as well as retail salespeople
The Hawaiian islands are often considered to be a modern-day paradise, but there are a few aspects that are irksome. For industry retail veteran Susan Irie of Kilohana Lighting on the island of Kauai, preventable waste is particularly troubling as landfill space and shipping costs are at a premium.
“Here in Hawaii, we use a lot of ceiling fans,” she explains. What she began experiencing as a retailer, however, was an abundance of ceiling fans being returned. “People were buying perfectly good ceiling fans, and then bringing them back because they say they are ‘broken,’” recounts Irie, who estimates 90 percent of the time, the problem is the installation. “I’ve had electricians tell me that they don’t ever balance ceiling fans, and I’d respond, ‘Well then you don’t install them!’” she comments. When consumers return ceiling fans as “broken,” those products are now a non-sellable item and either have to be sent to a landfill – and we have precious little space [in Hawaii] – or they have to be sent back to the manufacturer.”
With all of the new technology occurring in ceiling fans (i.e. wireless and smart controls, the advantages of DC motors vs AC, ENERGY STAR qualifications), selling this category is now more complicated. “Ceiling fans are a big business for me and this has become a real problem. I began asking the ceiling fan manufacturers I’d see at the Dallas Market for help in educating the installers,” she notes. What Irie discovered was that there is no designated training program or textbook – nor is there universal terminology: for example, one company may refer to a blade iron while another calls it a blade arm plus the methods of measuring downrods differ among manufacturers.
“If we had a certified ceiling fan installation program, electricians who are installing the fans would be able to troubleshoot some of the common problems,” Irie states. Having a more comprehensive education would also potentially increase the sales of better-quality ceiling fans. “Some of my very good electricians don’t know why some ceiling fan models are better than others, or the difference between a spinner motor and a DC motor,” she says.
“There are a lot of markets, besides Hawaii, where people use ceiling fans all the time,” notes Irie, adding that Naples Lighting & Fan Depot in Florida has a ceiling fan installer on staff full-time. She states that other industry professionals – such as interior designers, architects, and project managers – also specify ceiling fans for their clients and would benefit from this knowledge.
An active member of the American Lighting Association (ALA)’s Education Committee for several years, Irie resolved – with the help of industry insiders such as fellow ALA members Fanimation President Nathan Frampton and Director of Product Management-Ceiling Fans/Kichler John Moody – to tackle the problem.
Irie wrote an official letter to the ALA in February 2016 explaining the situation and volunteering to be part of the solution. Soon a Ceiling Fan Education Task Force was formed. The first “official” meeting took place at Lightovation in June, followed by further discussions at the Lighting & Fans Networking Event in Chicago in late September.
The education process is being developed for two separate audiences: one would provide the necessary education for showroom sales personnel to comprehensively relay the details and benefits of each type of ceiling fan to customers; the other track would certify electricians and other trade professionals as ceiling fan installers.
“The coursework would be targeting two different skillsets,” Nathan Frampton explains. “The bottom line on the retail level is that if the salesperson knows more about ceiling fans, then they will know where the customers’ pain points are and therefore be able to sell a better-quality fan,” Frampton states. “For the installer, it will be as specific as listing the set of tools you need and where the ladder should be placed — whatever will make the installation process smoother.”
Once the coursework is finalized, Frampton and Irie say it will be customized to qualify for CEU credits through organizations such as The American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), and International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), among others.
“I think the certification program will get everyone on the same page so that the right people are specifying the right product and manufacturers don’t need to have all of these ‘defectives’ that aren’t defective, and I won’t get a phone call from people saying that they can’t sleep because their ceiling fan doesn’t work,” Irie states.
The Task Force’s goal is to have the textbooks and program ready by 2019.