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Light the way to better sales: a well-designed lighting layout can help an art and framing retailer turn "blah" sales into a booming business. (part one: design).

You say you've got the right location, a targeted mailing list and quality inventory, but are your sales still in a slump? You may need to shed more light on the subject, quite literally, to see your profits rise.

In fact, lighting can be one of the strongest influences on a consumer's experience in a retail environment. Effective lighting layouts that add drama to your inventory can motivate customers to buy, while poor lighting can have an equal, but opposite, effect: Rely on a boring lighting scheme, and you may watch as your customers stop, look--and leave.

"If customers walk into a store in which everything is lit and nothing is accented, they're not going to know what to go to. With general lighting, there's no interest, no path," said Kathy Abernathy, IALD, of Abernathy Lighting Design in North Providence, R.I. "But if you accent displays and layer your lighting, you add dimension. You let people know what you want them to see."

This article is the first of two in FBN, which will explore effective lighting for galleries and frame shops. Part One focuses on planning and design--how to evaluate your store's layout, make a lighting plan and set a budget. Next month, we'll look at the technical considerations of lighting--the types of bulbs available, the newest options in bulb technology and the concepts behind lighting terminology.

Lighting, like picture framing, is a complex topic, but a little education can go a long way, especially for a retail business. An effective lighting plan does more than make your business environment more pleasant--it sparks excitement about your merchandise, and most important, puts your business in the spotlight where it belongs.

In the Right Light

Because of the variety of light bulbs and fixtures available on the market, art and framing retailers can create endless combinations of lighting effects in their stores. With so many options, a good first step in determining what combination will work best is to evaluate your shop's current layout. Not all retail spaces are created equally, nor should they be lighted equally. Therefore, it's important to consider the following factors as you explore your lighting options:

Ceiling height will determine the wattage, number, beam spread and placement of light fixtures. "If you have high ceilings, you'll need to bring the lighting down" so that it reaches its target, said Mark Scott of USA Light & Electric, a supplier of light bulbs and fixtures in Patton, Calif. Or, if you have low ceilings, track lighting that extends downward may make your space seem claustrophobic. In this case, recessed lighting that is flush with the ceiling may be a better option, though it cannot be repositioned as easily as track lighting.

In addition, not all bulbs project long distances well, so consider the strength of the bulb. "Fluorescent light doesn't have the ability to project itself. It travels only about three to five feet and breaks up quickly," said Barry Cohen, president of Light Bulb Warehouse in San Diego. "Halogen bulbs can project light six to eight feet, while metal halide bulbs can travel 10 feet with ease."

Floor surface reflectivity also plays a role in lighting. "Carpet absorbs a lot of light, while a concrete surface will reflect light," noted Cohen. Neither carpet nor concrete is necessarily better than the other, he added, but they will produce different effects. "If you throw light on a statue that's sitting on concrete, you'll have light kicking back up, lighting the bottom as well," he said. "There are a lot of different variables, especially in galleries."

Wall color in a showroom is a matter of personal preference, said Scott of USA Light & Electric. But there is one color that may not work well if you're trying to create dramatic lighting effects: white.

"Your eye looks for the brightest thing in the room," he explained. "If your wall is white and you hang art on it, your eyes are going to go to the wall first. That's why many galleries and picture frame shops choose a color like gray for the walls. It won't interfere."

Wiring makes a difference in the versatility of your lighting scheme. For example, placing all your lights on a single switch may be convenient when closing up at night, but it will be inconvenient if you wish to light one area and darken another.

"It's a good thing to group your lights," advised Michael Johnson, owner of Tadporters Custom Framing & Gallery in Collierville, Tenn. "I've got well over 100 separate fixtures on the track, and it would be a bad thing if they were all on one switch. I also have my front lights on a separate switch, so I can leave them on all the time. Itemize your lights."

Windows are wonderful when it comes to providing natural light, but they also can create unwanted shadows. Take a day or two to evaluate the light your windows provide; take note if they create shadows that obscure merchandise at certain times of the day. Then, provide an artificial light source to counteract them.

Of course, well-lit windows can be a promotional tool: Accent lights and interesting fixtures in window displays can add personality to your storefront and draw the eyes of passersby to your store, said Johnson of Tadporters.

"I use six halogen lights in my front display window. Each has a cobalt-blue shade and hangs from 24-inch fixtures, which are flexible and can be bent into really wacky, snake-like shapes," he said. "They're artsy and funky. When you're walking by my window at night, they really stand out. They give people an idea of the kind of shop I run."

Add Drama, Dimension

No matter which bulbs you choose, it's important to combine them effectively and dramatically to achieve different looks in different parts of the store, noted Abernathy. A flat lighting plan--one that lights a space uniformly--is one of the least effective means of lighting a retail environment. Customers respond to points of visual interest, she emphasized. These, can be achieved through the proper "layering" of light.

"You can add dimension by playing with light contrasts. For instance, wash a wall with a dimmable flood light, and then punch an object you want people to see with an accent light," she advised.

To achieve this layered effect, she added, a retailer might keep the overall light level in the space low, while using accent lights throughout. This scheme has a two-fold benefit, she said. Not only do you add drama to the space, but "you get longer life from your bulbs and generate less heat in the room."

Johnson recently began a lighting "makeover" in his shop that works toward just such an effect. "I wanted a softer look, with more controlled lighting," he said. "I've used about 100 spotlights throughout the whole space, which is about 1,500 square feet." Johnson used track lighting with a combination of incandescent lights and 65-watt halogen bulbs, which he said give him the best color rendering possible. Soon, he plans to convert all the lighting in the gallery area to halogens.

Rotating your lighting scheme is as important as rotating your product and window displays, emphasized Alicia Kapheim, a lighting application designer with Philips Lighting. "Track fixtures are very prevalent in retail, but often, no one maintains them, experiments with the beam spread or re-aims them at different products," she said. Change your lighting scheme regularly, she advised, to "create new focal points."

Light for the Frame Shop

In the art showroom, retailers want their lighting to create drama and interest around art objects; but in framing areas, they often want a steadier, more abundant source of light. Furthermore, the two aspects of framing--design and production--often require two different types of light. A steady wash of dear, color-corrected light is a must for the design table, but retailers can be less color-conscious in their back rooms.

Although Johnson uses a series of spotlights throughout his showroom, he uses a circular halogen floodlight over the frame design area. "I wanted to be able to isolate certain artworks in the gallery with track-mounted directional spotlights," he said. "But my frame design area has a softer, cozier look. I achieved that by installing bulbs that wash over a larger area, rather than a straight-line pattern."

Because color-corrected bulbs can be more costly than less true-to-color bulbs, framing production areas can use less expensive bulbs that provide uniform lighting, but not necessarily a 100-percent accurate representation of color. In fact, such bulbs, often members of the older generation of fluorescents, are preferable to their more expensive color-corrected counterparts in the work area.

Roy Saper of Saper Galleries in East Lansing, Mich., uses a wash of natural light from a central skylight, with fluorescents providing an auxiliary light source in his framing area. Fluorescent light eliminates the shadows that can be created by other light sources, which is important when assembling a frame package or checking it for small debris, he explained.

"Fluorescent bulbs last nearly forever and are very efficient for general illumination in work areas," he added.

Cheap's Not Always the Better Choice

An initial investment in lighting can range from a few hundred dollars for the right types of bulbs to a few thousand dollars for new fixtures and wiring. But it can be money well spent. When deciding on a budget, just keep in mind the life of bulbs and the return on the investment to your business. A cheaper product does not necessarily mean they'll cost less in the long run.

Consider the cost of the electricity required to power the lights, the potential increase in sales good lighting can spark and yes, how many employee man-hours it really takes to change your light bulbs in a year, said Saper.

"Cheap bulbs last as long as it takes to drink a cup of hot chocolate and expensive bulbs last a year," said Saper. "Cheaper is not necessarily better." Saper uses a combination of $4-to $20300-watt halogen bulbs, fluorescent fixtures and natural light in his shop; he has installed fixtures from Lightolier, a company in Fall River, Mass., that cost $75 to $350 each. He recommends that once retailers choose the type of lighting they want, they be careful when choosing the brand.

"Buy more than one brand of an otherwise identical bulb," Saper advised. "If you have a track with six fixtures, put three bulbs from one manufacturer into three of the fixtures and three from another in the other three. Record the date of installation or pencil it on the side of the fixture. Since the bulbs will be on for the same amount of time, it should be clear which manufacturer provides the longer-lasting bulb."

As you set a budget for lighting your store, also realize you do not have to tackle the job all at once, Johnson of Tadporter's pointed out. With many stylized fixtures costing $75 to $200, retailers on a budget can afford even expensive fixtures--if they tackle the project one area at a time.

"When I renovated this building three years ago, I spent $1,200 on track incandescent lighting," he said. As he replaces that lighting with new halogen bulbs and fixtures, he spends, on average, $60 to $80 per fixture, plus $5 per bulb. "I can spend $500 pretty quickly," he noted.

As a result, Johnson is converting the fixtures of his 1,500-square-foot space a few at a time to make it more affordable. He started with the front lights, which have more impact on a customer, and has worked his way from there. "I have converted about 50, and I have another 50 that I need to convert so far," he said.

As a rough rule of thumb, said Scott of USA Light & Electric, expect to spend a minimum of $600 per 1,000 square feet of space to create an effective lighting layout, more if you want a more stylized look. However, with that investment, a retail space can be transformed from flat and uninspiring to bold and beautiful.

"Lighting needs to be true to color and dramatic when your goal is to sell artwork and framing," he emphasized. "Good lighting will always increase sales."

Next month, look for part two of "Light the Way to Better Sales," which will focus on lighting technology and terminology that a retailer should know.

SOURCES

Abernathy Lighting Design (401) 233-4412

Light Bulb Warehouse 800-495-5554

Philips Lighting 800-555-0050

USA Light & Electric 800-854-8794
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Author:Bisoux, Tricia
Publication:Art Business News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:2083
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