Should You Charge for Lighting Plans?

Some lighting stores do it for free, many apply the fee to a purchase, and others set a price for the plans alone. No matter the method, offering this service sets your store apart.

Residential LIghting Plans
Illuminee relies on freelance lighting designer Chris Brightman to help specify lighting. Here, he designed a lighting scheme for a kitchen using all LED-based fixtures and decorative pendants.

 In the era of showrooming offering professionally designed lighting plans can become a competitive edge for independent lighting showrooms.

Findings from among the 100,000+ respondents interviewed for the 2013 Houzz & Home Survey reveal that 58 percent of the homeowners are planning to hire professional help. And according to statistics shared in Interior Design magazine’s Rising Giants 2013 article, “design fees are up 26 percent to $376 million – the highest in five years – and [in 2014] firms expect $422 million.”

If your showroom has an ALA-accredited Certified Lighting Consultant (CLC®) or Lighting Specialist on-hand (various levels of expertise are offered via courses run by the American Lighting Association), you can not only provide professional lighting advice, but partner with builders to guide their customers in reviewing/modifying plans or drawing up lighting schemes for new construction and remodels. Whether you make lighting design a complementary service or a profit center, you have a unique opportunity to forge solid relationships with consumers as well as interior designers.

For some dealers, offering lighting design services is free – with time limitations. Others set a flat fee that is refundable with fixture purchases; and some charge for lighting design services regardless of fixture purchases. There are also showrooms that provide even more design services, branching out into party and landscape lighting design.

Architectural Lighting Plans
Chris Brightman designing for Illuminee

Promote the Service

First and foremost, you must make it known that your store offers professional lighting design. At Kendall Lighting Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., its design services are promoted on its Web site as well as in local advertisements.

According to Kelly Sloan, CLC and showroom manager, the charge is flexible. “While the fees depend on the size of a job, our rate is usually $250, which is refundable with a purchase [greater than that sum]. If the customer’s contractor has an account with us, we don’t charge,” she explains.

Kendall’s services range from drafting up blueprints and performing a fixture layout by floor plan to job site evaluations, builder packages for condo projects, fixture cut sheets, and electrician referrals. Its Web site suggests 20+ items for homeowners to consider when planning their lighting and cautions that the process will probably take several hours to complete. A handy checklist advises customers to bring in specific dimensions of their spaces as well as samples of hardware finishes, countertops, tile, and paint.

Lighting designer Chris Brightman
Lighting designer Chris Brightman mixes decorative and function effects, specifying track fixtures to illuminate artwork and a dramatic pendant.

The showroom’s lighting experts also suggest categories such as central vacuum systems, speakers, ironing centers, ceiling fans, controls and dimmers, door chimes, and task lamps for aid hobby areas or to illuminate artwork.

“Customers are grateful for the advice and how the plan comes together. We provide photometrics and layouts plus some categories they may not have thought of such as cove lighting, landscape lighting, and even illumination under handrails or step lighting,” Sloan explains.

Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 19px;”>While Kendall Lighting Center encourages its employees to stay informed about design trends and pursue as much knowledge as possible, it is not mandatory.


Partner With Others

An invitation to meet with certified consultants is the first greeting visitors to Wabash Lighting’s Web site see. The company is part of the six-location electrical contractor business Wabash Electric and operates three residential showrooms in Indiana.

Lisa Tallman, showroom manager for the Ft. Wayne store, reports that builders who have accounts with Wabash Electric generally refer their customers to the showroom for a complete lighting plan. Electricians who subcontract with smaller builders also refer their customers to the showroom. “We help with blueprints for new construction and remodels, usually assessing the recessed lighting placement. We don’t charge for our services, which include visits to job sites,” she comments.

Wabash Lighting’s CLCs and designers on staff are available to assist homeowners and interior designers with the placement of both off-the-shelf and custom fixtures. A checklist helps customers organize information prior to making appointments and invites them to bring along decorating styles and colors. “Customers are always grateful for our knowledge and service,” Tallman says. “They are surprised at some of the things we mention during our meetings and say ‘We never thought of it that way’ or “Wow! It looks so much better with a different fixture design.’”

“We also mention controls in our lighting plan meetings. Unfortunately, most times the audio-visual people have been [consulted] first to plan home theater installations and get the control work,” Tallman observes. That may change in the future, however, as Tallman reports the Ft. Wayne showroom has gone through a major remodel that includes a lighting/controls lab and experience center equipped with Lutron’s RadioRa system. “We have had more people coming in during the last six months with larger, high-end homes as well as commercial projects – particularly restaurants,” she reports.

Tallman is enthusiastic about Wabash Lighting’s support of employee education. “The company always encourages employees to pursue more knowledge and will help pay for materials. They will always give people time for training,” she points out.


Be Different

While some lighting showrooms tout their CLCs and expertise, at Illuminee in Santa ruz, Calif., owner Isabelle Brightman’s previous experience in film, jewelry design, and retail merchandising gives customers a very detailed imaginative lighting plan. Partner Chris Brightman, who also has experience in film, concert and display lighting, acts as a consultant to the retail operation.

“We can’t wait for people to walk into the store anymore; those days are over,” Isabelle states. “In retail, people do appreciate attention and complain they can’t get service.” When Isabelle opened the showroom in 2006, she vowed to give customers more. That included unique product (not only does the store partners with several craftsmen and artists in the area, but Chris also designs and makes custom fixtures in his own metal shop) plus knowledge in effective lighting techniques.

“Most people do not have a clue about lighting,” Isabelle remarks. “With so much competition and so many options, they can get confused. We simply try to offer more exclusive items and plenty of service.”

As a consultant for Illuminée, Chris Brightman provides several options to clients – from evaluation of their existing lighting scheme to new construction/remodel reviews, and landscape illumination assessments for a fee of $75/hour. He covers controls, bulb specification, and technical issues while Isabelle – whose fee is $65/hour – handles color, finish, and decorative fixture options. Consultations range from two to three hours¸ with a total of up to 11 hours for some new construction projects. These include on-site visits, the testing of fixtures and bulbs, and photography of the installations for future reference. They also advertise free 20-minute consultations in the showroom on Sundays and Tuesdays.

Chris’s concert and film background has led to another opportunity in design services: entertainment. For weddings and special events, he designs themes with theatrical luminaires, pattern projections, illuminated dance floors, or even simple paper lanterns. Fees apply to the design, as well as installation, operation, and removal.

Despite a thorough description on its Web site, most of Illuminée’s business has come from word of mouth. “With Chris’s custom design work he maintains contact with many interior designers,” Isabelle explains. “Most of the designers leave the lighting to us, but there are others who prefer we work with their own plans.”

While Chris serves as an advisor to the retail business, he says that lighting showrooms who do not have specialists on staff should consider teaming up with outside design professionals. “It can be a good move to have consultants who regularly liaison between contractors who are looking for new resources for product,” he explains.

What all of these lighting showrooms have in common is professional design consultation that home centers, Internet sites, and chain décor stores cannot offer. That one-on-one contact coupled with lighting demonstration labs and expert knowledge of how illumination functions can become the sort of competitive advantage that generates loyal customers and repeat business.






This dining room’s drama – achieved with a dramatic chandelier over the table and accent spotlights to illuminate artwork and the buffet at the left – is a collaboration between Isabelle Brightman, owner of Illuminee, and freelance lighting designer Chris Brightman.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *