Employees at Nature’s Table, a cozy café in the polo-crazy town of Wellington, Florida, constantly complained about the heat generated by halogen lights over the counter. They were always sweating, no matter how much they ran the air conditioner.
The café’s co-owner, Bedonna Flesher, finally found a solution at an Earth Day trade fair last year.
“I met someone from LED Source and a few months later we replaced about 60 percent of our hot halogen lights with LEDs,” said Flesher, who opened the café with her parents in December 2008.
LED, which stands for light-emitting diode, is fast replacing those curly, twisted compact fluorescents in millions of homes and small businesses. With energy costs rising, it’s no surprise; LED lights are 300 percent more efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs and 1,000 per cent more efficient than incandescent bulbs. LEDs also last an average of 60,000 hours and use 90 percent less energy.
In fact, LED consumption reached 63 billion units in 2009, up from 57 billion units in 2008, according to research firm iSuppli Corp.
“We’ve retrofitted Bedonna’s sandwich shop with 32 lights and hotel chain with 900 hotels,” said Marcel Fairbairn, president and CEO of LED Source also based in Wellington, Florida. “We find that in challenging economic times, people don’t have the capital to invest in new LED lights, but we can help them find the capital.”
Big and small businesses are taking advantage of generous tax incentives offered by federal, state and local governments. The tax incentives can be combined with rebates from utility companies to make retrofitting affordable. To make it even easier, Fairbairn said LED Source reps help clients fill out the paperwork to apply for tax incentives and rebates. They can also help business owners obtain financing from a reputable lender.
“We’re working with a home builder who is putting LED lighting in every home because they have negotiated a 100-percent rebate while saving money on their building costs,” said Fairbairn. A former singer and bass player, he got into the lighting business by working for companies that designed massive lighting arrays for concerts. He founded and still owns Gearsource.com, a commercial lighting business specializing in entertainment venues.
In August 2005, he founded LED Source with Gavin Cooper, who worked for a British LED manufacturer. The company is now selling LED Source franchises to meet the growing demand for cost-effective lighting. Franchise fees range from $163,000 to $403,000. They are selling two types of franchises, one for franchisees without any lighting experience and another for professionals who can provide more extensive LED installations and retrofits for new construction and design projects.
Fairbairn said his ‘light bulb’ moment hit while he was walking the aisles of a lighting industry trade show a few years ago. “We walked by a small booth where the reps were wearing circle of lights around their necks…they were changing the colors with a slider,” said Fairbairn. “I remember thinking, ‘Things have just completely changed in the lighting business.’ ”
Before 1998, there were only blue LEDs. “Then, scientists at a company called Color Kinetics in Boston patented every possible color,” said Fairbairn. “They sold the firm to Phillips for $800 million.”
In addition to being cheap, colorful and long-lasting, LED lights are cool. Incandescent lights produce light with heat. LEDs “challenged the notion that heat equals light,” said Fairbairn.
The first people to embrace LEDs were “rock guys and architectural guys,” he said. For instance, the colorful pillars at the entrance to Los Angeles International airport used to be a nightmare to maintain because the lights were outdoors in a cold environment. Now, they are lit with LEDs at a fraction of the cost.
“Now, instead of a lamp lasting two or three months it could last for 10 years,” said Fairbairn.
Another advantage is you can add LEDs into just about any light fixture, which is what the owners of the Audi Coral Springs dealership did last year.
“When we took over the dealership a year ago, about 90 percent of the 75 watt bulbs in the showroom didn’t work,” recalled Paul Jensen, operations manager for Broward Automotive, which owns the dealership. With 80 employees, it is one of the largest Audi dealers in the country.
“We had a unique track lighting system and we couldn’t find a vendor to provide lights for the existing tracks,” said Jensen. “I wanted warmer light to give the showroom a nice warm tone. The new LEDs snapped right into our track. It was cost effective and we re-lamped the showroom in about five hours.”
“It cost under $40,000 to retrofit the showroom,” said Jensen. “Now, all the lights are working and we’ll cut our energy use in half.”
Fairbairn said so far, LED Source has opened three franchises and has 22 more in various stages of development. It takes about two weeks to learn the skills for LED installation, he said.
“LEDs are one of the very few things that you can buy that makes a huge difference and makes you money,” he said. “If the entire world would convert to LED, the number of power plants and nuclear plants needed would be substantially reduced.”
Jane Applegate is founder and president of The Applegate Group Inc., which provides strategic marketing and video production services to big and small companies. She’s the author of four books on entrepreneurship, including “201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business,” published by John Wiley & Sons. For more information, visit: www.theapplegategroup.com. Contact Jane: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @janewapplegate.