Sometimes a simple plan explodes into something worlds more ambitious than first imagined. Such was Curtis Lumber's idea to add a new lighting showroom to its 120,000-square-foot Ballston Spa, N.Y., store.
Curtis wanted to get into the lighting business after years of sending customers to other lighting showrooms. But once the company dipped its toes into the vast waters of the lighting world—and felt the direction of the current—its original concept of a simple lighting showroom quickly evolved into an interactive and educational experience for customers.
While consulting Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center, Curtis' special operations director Paul Spillane got the idea for the showroom's Lighting Laboratory, which is devoted to balancing interior design principles and energy efficiency with the benefits of good lighting and customer education. Three vignettes are set up with different lighting and lamping choices so designers can demonstrate the effect that various fixtures and bulbs have on color, glare, and other details.
The lighting showroom itself became an interactive experience, with more than 800 lamps and fixtures housed under a freestanding steel substructure within the facility. A computerized control system allows customers and designers to zero in on any fixture they want to view. “The one thing we can do that no one else in the world can do is show the customer one fixture in the warehouse by turning every other fixture around it off and dimming the light level,” says Spillane. “You can turn one or all fixtures on at 100% to 0% illumination.”
The lighting controller also lets Curtis operate the showroom using only 5% to 7% of the energy required by a traditional lighting showroom. It does this by cycling groupings of fixtures on and off during the day. This approach required only a $135 modification to the facility's HVAC system to mitigate the fixtures' heat output.
Much of the lighting inside the Ballston Spa facility housing Curtis' many product showrooms also needed replacing. So, after consulting the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, Spillane decided to redesign the lighting and electrical supply system to incorporate daylight and solar electricity generation. By adding 120 Energy Star–qualified skylights throughout the facility, the company reduced its need for artificial lighting. In addition, a photovoltaic system, which should be fully operational by early next year, will generate at least 50,000 watts of electricity to supply the entire facility's energy needs, reducing the company's dependency on the electric grid by 50% and saving an estimated $150,000 a year, says business analyst Jim Carpenter.
The company developed staff training materials for the Lighting Laboratory, and a short tutorial is handed out to customers so they can operate the lighting controls. Additionally, Curtis offers lighting seminars geared toward builders, remodelers, and homeowners several times a month.
The ambitious project appears to be paying off. It received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/Energy Star Certificate of Recognition for Innovation in Retail Displays this year. Now Curtis Lumber can sell the entire home package, including whole-house lighting. The solar project also serves as an example to customers of how to incorporate energy-saving ideas into the home.
- Company: Curtis Lumber
- Year founded: 1822
- Headquarters: Ballston Spa, N.Y.
- Number of locations: 18
- Number of employees: 610
- 2005 gross sales: $150 million
- Pro sales percentage: 75%