100-Watt Light Bulb: Saying Goodbye to the Departed

The “passing” of the 100-watt incandescent bulb inspired a Virginia showroom to educate the public on energy-saving alternatives.

100-Watt Bulb Lamp Eliminated by the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007

“We don’t accept obituaries for dogs, cats, horses, or light bulbs,” the editor of the Obituary section for the local newspaper told Stephen Levet of Atlantic Electric Supply in Richmond, Virginia.  Levet had called to place an obituary for the 100-watt light bulb the first week of January when the new legislation took effect. He had written the obituary himself during a drive home from work and fine-tuned it the next morning with input from the staff.

Undaunted, Levet – who runs the family business alongside his cousin David N. Levet – had a light bulb moment of his own. Why not turn the start date for the highly publicized phase-out into a public relations opportunity for their 83-year-old destination store?

“A week or so before Christmas, David and I were standing around talking about whether we should order more 100-watt A lamps or not and I just made the off-the-cuff comment, ‘We should have a memorial for the bulb,'” Steve explains. The “bright” idea just snowballed from there.

Steve ran his light bulb obit as an ad in the newspaper (which he points out, happens to have been cheaper than placing an actual obituary) and announced that Atlantic Electrical Supply Corp. would be hosting a community-wide tribute to the 100-watt light bulb since it was the first major consumer lighting product eliminated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The “memorial” would be held on January 4 with viewing hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. How do you hold a memorial for a bulb? The answer is “the same way you would for a person.”

An employee arranged to borrow a casket from the nearby Scottish Rite Temple, while other staffers created a “bulb man” to lie in it (i.e. using black boxes from Satco bulbs for the head and green color boxes from GE for the torso).  The Levets contacted the reps for Halco, Bulbrite, Satco and other bulb suppliers to ask if they’d join in the promotion.

With donations from the bulb companies – along with Atlantic Electric’s inventory – there were enough bulbs to package as goodie bags, with the idea of presenting the old along with a new alternative. Each goodie bag contained a four-pack of 100-watt A lamps plus two 72-watt halogens.

The advertisement for the Bulb Memorial stated that goodie bags would be given to the first 100 people. “I was going with 100 as the theme,” Levet says. “However, I didn’t want someone who took the time out of their day to come out and see us to leave empty-handed, so we made sure we had enough for everyone.”

On the weekend – the most highly trafficked period of the week and a few days before the well-advertised event – the showroom promoted the upcoming memorial by having the coffin prominently displayed. The casket was deliberately closed to pique people’s curiosity as to what lay inside.

Stephen and David Levet give 100-watt bulb memorial at Atlantic Electrical Supply

On Tuesday morning, easels holding posters and charts depicting energy-saving alternatives to the 100-watt incandescent flanked the casket. A customized four-light bath strip presented a 100-watt, 120-volt A lamp; 72-watt halogen A lamp; a 100-watt, 130-volt A lamp; and a 25-watt CFL near the vignette. Each was labeled with the lumens and watts of each, and a push-button switch made it easy for customers to compare and contrast the differences.

On Wednesday, the day of the event, all of the employees dressed in black for mourning.  The casket was open with the bulb man inside and a guestbook like those used at real memorial services was placed on a podium.

After customers signed the guestbook, providing their name and email address, they received their goodie bag. In all, approximately 150 to 175 people attended the memorial.

“We did a lot of talking that day,” Levet notes. “It was a fun way to educate. We dissuaded a lot of people’s beliefs that the government was infringing on their rights. We explained that evaluating the lumens per watt is like miles per gallon on a car,” he says. Just as cars are becoming more efficient, so are light bulbs. Levet surmises that just as energy-conscious consumers do not want to have gas-guzzling cars back on the road, why wouldn’t they also embrace the new efficient light sources.

“The whole event was very light-hearted,” Levet remarks. “I wanted to kick the fear factor out of change. I wanted to educate the public and introduce them to new technology such as the 72-watt halogen, which no one had heard of before.

“Many changes are going to be coming to the lighting industry over the next two years and we’ll be passing along that information to our customers,” he adds. “We’re trying to lead the industry in our market and position ourselves better so that when things turn around, we’ll be ready. If you don’t change, you won’t survive.”

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