Navigating Your Lighting Upgrade

Corner-Store-LEDAs technology improves, more businesses are making the switch to cost-effective LED fixtures.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

In these days of tight margins and intense retail competition, convenience store owners are doing everything they can to boost revenues and reduce operating costs. Something as simple as investing in upgraded lighting can significantly reduce monthly expenses.

With that in mind, CST Brands, which operates 1,033 Corner Store convenience stores in the U.S., has committed to installing LED lighting fixtures at all new store locations, including its prototype travel center—a 10,100 square-foot facility in Three Rivers, Texas, which opened in June.

The new Corner Store is said to be a welcoming pit stop between San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Texas, breaking up a long stretch of empty highway and offering a shopper’s oasis for food, drinks and other convenient supplies. And when customers arrive, they’ll find a well-lit space with help from cost efficient lighting technology.

Historically, CST Brands, which spun off from Valero in May, used metal halide lamps for exterior lighting and t-12 fluorescents inside its fleet of stores. While the arrangement is similar throughout most c-store chains, it is not the most cost-effective option. At all of its new-to-industry locations, the chain will upgrade to LED lighting for all exterior light fixtures, including on the canopy, soffits and car wash bay lights.

“We installed LEDs on the exterior to realize substantial savings on energy and maintenance costs and to enjoy the brighter illumination LEDs offer,” said Paul Clark, vice president of construction for Corner Store. “Inside the store we implemented the use of compact fluorescents (CFL) pendant lights to complement the look of the open ceiling concept we are using.”

Retailer Incentives
The chain also decided to use LED lights on the cooler doors. “We continue to monitor developments in LED lighting as we are always looking for additional opportunities to utilize the efficiencies the technology offers,” Clark said.

To help with costs, in markets where utility rebates are available, Corner Store makes sure to seek out those opportunities. “We have realized reductions in energy expenses in excess of 15% on the entire electric bill. We actively pursue retrofitting existing locations to exterior LED lighting in markets with enhanced rebate offerings when justified,” Clark said.

Lighting, Clark noted, is a very important piece for convenience stores when it comes to sending the message to customers. “It enhances the safety and the overall shopping experience for our customers,” he said. “We anticipate continuing to expand LED lighting technology in our network.”

Lighting Trends
Corner Store’s move toward LED lighting is right on trend, according to Derek Kirchner, principal program advisor, DTE Energy Co., a Detroit, Mich.-based utility company.
“We are seeing a lot of stores in general moving away from those 400-watt high intensity discharge (HID) bulbs and into the LED lighting. On the interior, convenience stores are switching from t-8s to LEDs,” Kirchner said. “As long as there is a need for replacement anyway, it’s smart to move straight into the LED space. It gives operators more control, and we help set them up with the right sensor and technology to help them achieve significant savings—50% and greater depending on what you are replacing.”

One reason more stores are making the change to this upgraded lighting is that improvements in LED technology and the cost effectiveness of the lighting today—versus when it first debuted—is making it a more enticing proposition that can help slash the electric bill and overall maintenance costs.

“There were some issues with color and light density with the initial LED technology, but I think another big factor was the cost. There was a lot of R&D cost rolled into those early version bulbs, but now you’re seeing those manufacturer costs coming down and quality coming up, and customers are starting to see it as a more attractive package,” Kirchner said. “At the same time, we are seeing better, richer, deeper color out of the current generation bulbs.”

As LED technology becomes more advanced, the fixtures are offering more features as well. For example, many LED units now come with controls that allow operators to dim or turn lights on and off from headquarters or even with a motion sensor.

“For example, we just had an auto dealership put LEDs in their parking lot with dimming controls and motion sensors. Most auto dealers are lit up all the time, but they were able to dim the lights down as the night went on and eventually turn off the backlights and convert those into motion sensors,” Kirchner said. “From a security perspective, rather than having a guard driving around a constantly lit lot, when he sees the lights in the back become activated, that’s when he knows he needs to go and see what’s going on.”

Convenience stores could also take advantage of the motion sensor technology. The technology could also be convenient for inside restrooms or for storage rooms to conserve energy when these areas are not in use.

Before embarking on any lighting project, Kirchner recommended that convenience store chains reach out to their local utility to determine what opportunities for rebates or other cost saving measures exist in your state.

“It’s important to understand what construction standards exist in your state, and if you’re doing replacements, make certain you’re building to code. If you’re about to start building or remodeling, that’s the time to see if the opportunity exists for lighting efficiency and savings, because once it’s installed, it’s a lot more expensive to go out and do a retrofit,” he said.

What’s more, utilities often have to conduct an inspection of the old lighting to determine what your rebate will be long before you upgrade your lighting. Waiting until you finish could make it more difficult to get a full rebate from your utility.

Many utilities also have specific local partners they require businesses to use in order to receive a specific rebate. Looking into these options before beginning your build, remodel or retrofit can save major headaches later on.

“The opportunity is there to save energy and save money on your bills,” Kirchner said. “That’s what your local utility is there for—to help customers make informed decisions.”
Clark echoed the fact that doing your due diligence when partnering with any lighting company—whether your utility offers a rebate or list of companies or not—is vital to ensuring a successful lighting upgrade. For example, most LED providers will allow stores to test the technology and how it will illuminate their stores before signing a contract. This is a key learning opportunity that benefits the retailers.

“The bottom line to note is that LED lighting technologies continue to evolve while costs have decreased,” Clark said. “There are a lot of LED manufactures in the space, so it is best to know what each one offers, the quality of the LED product they carry and who can help to make your transition as smooth as possible with rebates and project management. The kind of warranty a company offers you, like the utility rebates, must be examined closely. It indicates how strongly they feel about their products.”

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