Pursuing the Profit Potential: Five new ways to win lighting retrofit work

The study in the Morgan Library and Museum
Published On
Aug 13, 2021

A lighting retrofit job completed 139 years ago contains two important reminders for today’s electrical contractors. First, we are going to lay out five new ways to win lighting retrofit work in 2021.

1. Team up with the right ESCO

Energy service companies (ESCOs) have been around since the 1970s and introduced measures to reduce energy consumption. Lighting retrofits, subbed out to electrical contractors, have regularly been at the top of their proposed remedies.

Troy Geanopulos, CEO of The Efficiency Network, an energy-efficiency company based in Pittsburgh, said “Building owners are constantly looking for innovation. That desire is driven by economics, aging core infrastructure and even major societal issues like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. We are finding this in even the most modern facilities. In January 2020, no one could have predicted the tremendous demand for improvements that has resulted from the COVID-19 crisis. We are finding that the electrical systems in many buildings can’t support the new systems or technology.”

While customers turn to ESCOs to lower their utility bills, their newer interest is in upgrading their equipment and facilities. Geanopulos told us that it’s a good time to team up with the right ESCO.

2. Select the right retrofit software

Specialized software to support retrofits can address the biggest challenges to successfully capturing and completing lighting retrofit contracts, including conducting site audits, preparing proposals, tracking job progress and managing change orders—all while creating a happy customer.

Jeff Seifert, co-founder and COO of StreamLinx, Naperville, Ill., which produces SnapCount retrofit software, pointed to site audits as a benefit to this software. Retrofit software will help cut out mistakes caused by messy handwriting on a survey report.

Seifert insisted that such software should be capable of generating proposals with payback calculations, color infographics and other features. He said the software allows contractors to “scale” their retrofit business. The analogy that employing retrofit software is akin to driving to a customer’s place in a nice company vehicle, versus a rickety clunker, fits here. It portrays a professional approach.

3. Pursue lighting-as-a-service

Building owners may want overhead lighting while avoiding owning ceiling fixtures.

Kyle Ramm, CFO and vice president of operations at energy consulting company Titan Energy, Hartford, Conn., explained that in simplest terms, lighting-as-a-service (LaaS) is a leasing mechanism that incorporates ongoing maintenance.

Most electrical contractors should not attempt to originate LaaS. Instead, they should collaborate with energy consulting companies to perform the retrofit installation and provide the ongoing service and maintenance for LaaS contracts.

4. Bundle other products with retrofit

Especially in the COVID-19 era, other components of an electrical system can be combined with lighting retrofit work.

Sabrina Snyder, director of product marketing at Wiremold, a subsidiary of Legrand, West Hartford, Conn., offered ideas.

She and her team tout “flexible power,” a concept of showcasing a collection of their products that respond to customers’ pandemic-era needs. Reflecting Wiremold’s original raceway design philosophy, the flexible power components include attachable and detachable furniture-based power units and removable surface-mounted floor power delivery units.

Customers can re-enter their office under pandemic-imposed constraints without overspending for solutions that will foreseeably be revamped.

5. List previous retrofit projects

No retrofit lasts forever. Put together a list of previous retrofits (including your competitors’) and qualify prospects. Retrofitting is a natural phase in buildings’ lives.

It was in a residential setting that an original-style retrofit took place 139 years ago. Renovating his mansion, J.P. Morgan decided to make it the first house in New York City to be completely outfitted with electric lighting. Thomas Edison’s company finished replacing the mansion’s gas lights with electric ones in June 1882.

There are two great takeaways from this. First, electric indoor lighting has only been around for a short span of human history; before its invention, lighting was provided by the sun or open flames. Second, just as Edison’s company took business from the gas company, today “nonelectrical” contractors doing retrofit work pose the greater threat of absconding with the low-voltage, DC-powered, electronic illumination of the future.

The lighting retrofit business could be one of the best ways for ECs to maintain their role in the lighting business.

About the Author

Andrew P. McCoy and Fred Sargent

SARGENT is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at fred@sargent.com. MCCOY is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and department head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson...

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