By Jerry Soverinsky
Thereâ€™s a station perched in a residential area in the middle of my evening jogging route that was recently retrofitted with LED lights. Whereas the stationâ€™s canopy lights used to provide just enough light for me to make out the time on my watch, today it offers sufÂficient brightness to require passersby to wear sunblock. More important, the bright lights have worked in deterring parking lot loitering.
The LED switch is gaining momenÂtum with convenience store retailers, as they retrofit older stations with LED lights and install them in new stores, reÂalizing a number of operational benefits.
Bill Houston, maintenance manager for Sherman, Texas-based Lone Star Food Stores, said his company traded out 400-watt metal halide lights for LEDs at four of his companyâ€™s 15 stores, which feature gas stations. While he was aware of the energy and cost savÂings attributable to LED lights, HousÂton said the initial switch was necessiÂtated not by savings but the Texas heat.
"With 110-degree weather, we noÂticed a strain on our canopy wires," he said. "We had a lot of issues with burnt wires. We needed to reduce their load."
With 30 lights under each storeâ€™s canÂopy, he faced either reducing the number of lights or working with more energy-efficient fixtures. After crunching the numbers and considering the long-term benefits of LEDs, he chose the latter.
Working with Cincinnati, Ohio-based LSI Industries, in November 2010, Houston replaced all of the canopy lights at his Dennison, Texas, store, a relatively expensive undertaking â€" "ToÂtal job cost was around $18,000," he said â€" though one that achieved a 66% reÂduction in energy usage, a bottom-line savings for the store.
"Weâ€™re saving literally $400 to $500 per month at the store to light the canoÂpy," he said, a reduction that he said will provide complete ROI in just over two years.
Facing similar energy load problems at three other stations, Houston converted those to LED, too â€" a steep cost that ofÂfered a sizable, immediate return from his local utility company. "We had [finanÂcial] incentives from the utility company that owns the grid in our area to reduce our energy load, and I completed the paÂperwork to apply for those incentives," he said. "It was a straightforward proÂcessâ€¦thereâ€™s a lot of documentation and paperworkâ€¦but less than three months [after submitting the proper forms], we received just under $17,000 back."
Houston said all of those locations will see a complete ROI in "just about two years," and besides the cost savings, he said the LED lights offer superior brightness at his canopies, "which draws more customers because the lighting is such good quality." And whereas his previous lights used to draw swarms of bugs at night, "because thereâ€™s no UV elÂement in LEDs, you have almost no bug activity under the canopies," he said.
Perhaps the biggest operational benefit for LEDs lies in their dependability. "Itâ€™s been a huge improvement for us," said Nick St. Romain, marketing and IT director for Mansura, Louisiana-based St. Romain Oil Company, whose preÂvious canopy fixtures required nearly monthly maintenance. "I have five sites [where LEDs are installed], with 30 to 40 lights per site, and Iâ€™ve had maybe five failures in the last three years."
Additionally, LEDs hold their brightÂness longer than halides, a subtle benÂefit but one that retailers should not overlook, said David Hutchinson, president of Elk City, Oklahoma-based Hutchinson Oil Company, who has inÂstalled LED lighting at several of his companyâ€™s 13 stores.
"Weâ€™re seeing a longer life of the [LED] lighting," he said. "With the old style, afÂter a couple of years, the light began to fade. Even though they didnâ€™t go out, you didnâ€™t always realize it but the light beÂcame dimmer."
While a green impulse may be all that is needed to prompt some retailers to switch to the more energy-efficient LED, a careful assessment of aesthetic and financial elements is in order.
"We havenâ€™t switched the interior lights, we find the light is too abrasive," St. Romain said, adding that new fixtures have emerged where the sharpness is reduced. However, "we looked at it but weâ€™ll pass for now â€" itâ€™s a nine-year ROI on a fixture rated to last 10 years."
For Lone Star, while Houston said the company "ultimately would like to move everything to LED," he said heâ€™s satisfied with the brightness emitted by his existing interior lights, and like St. Romain, he doesnâ€™t see a quick ROI for the conversion.
Mike Lawshe, president of Ft. Worth, Texas-based Paragon SoluÂtions, a retail design and consulting firm, said assessments like St. RoÂmainâ€™s and Houstonâ€™s are essential, for LED is a valuable option, but not optiÂmal for every scenario.
"People say we should put in LED evÂerywhere to save money, but thatâ€™s not true," he said. "Thereâ€™s a value to it but it shouldnâ€™t be everywhere...In coffee areas, for instance, you want a reduced level of lightâ€¦you donâ€™t want it as bright as an LED."
Minda Matthews-Smith, director of marketing for LSI Industries, agrees, adding, "LED is not necessarily the best solution for all interior applications. There are some really good energy-efficient fluorescent fixtures that do a great job in the interior. Each lighting
application needs to be considered and then retailer selects the most efficient and effective light source â€" with LED, one size does not fit all."
Once youâ€™ve decided to make the switch to LEDs, one size definitely doesnâ€™t fit all, said Sam Odeh, owner of Illinois-based Power Mart Corp., emphasizing that retailers need to be picky about LED products.
"The biggest thing is finding a comÂpany that will use U.S. products verÂsus Chinese ones," he said, adding that American products are far more duraÂble. "Ask the provider whether theyâ€™re using U.S. or Chinese products, and if theyâ€™re using one from China, make sure you have a good maintenance program."
Matthews-Smith agrees, stressing the importance of support for any LED purchase. "Understanding who you are buying from is important no matter what type of lighting fixture you buy. You want to partner with a solid, expeÂrienced lighting manufacturer with an expertise in LED technology â€" one that you know is going to be around for the long haul to stand behind the product and its warranty."
For those who have considered opÂtions and implemented the LED change, the praise is nearly universal. "This truly is an easy way to take load off the grid, make your store look better, bring more nighttime customers in, and feel good about doing it," Houston said.
Jerry Soverinsky is a NACS Daily and NACS Magazine contributing writer.