Proper lighting can make a huge difference

An automobile dealership service department noticed that the mechanics doing routine maintenance such as oil change and tune up for cars were taking up too much time. After an exhausting search for various solutions the service manager brought in a lighting supplier to see if improving lighting in the service bays could solve the roblem. After evaluating lighting arrangements in the service area the consultant popped into the showroom and was horrified at what he saw. Expensive automobiles such  as Jaguar were displayed under fluorescent lighting. The lighting in the showroom was worst than lighting in maintenance bays!  He told the sales manager at the showroom that if he hired him to work for the dealership, he could become the top salesman at the dealership by simply bringing his own light fixtures to properly display the automobiles.

This story was told by Art Traynor who is a national account manager for Juno lighting, largest suppliers of lighting fixtures to the retail industry. His services account for Starbucks, Safeway supermarkets, Crate and Barrel, Forever 21 Hot topic, Metropark, Cold Water Creek, Infinity car dealership, Macy's and many more. His perspective from the supplier's point of view along with observations and suggestions reveals something which is very obvious and yet comes as surprise.

When preparing for a lecture for ASID, a group of interior designers and architects, on the subject of lighting, the research revealed some very interesting things. Designers said that lighting was a very important part of the design. However, when Art saw the projects done by the same designers, in most of the instances, the quality of lighting was mediocre to poor and many missed a great opportunity to enhance the design elements. Greater shock and surprise came when the same trends were present in lighting retail spaces. In competitive retail environments bad lighting will most likely guarantee failure of a retail venture. Great visual merchandising without proper lighting is like having a steak without the sizzle. The mistakes made in lighting in the retail environments are too great a price to pay. Many retailers with great merchandise, service and price points are achieving limited success due to ill-conceived lighting schemes.

Lighting design can help achieve the dynamism that nature provides

Some of the greatest spaces designed take on magical qualities when sunlight enters these at a specific time in a day, and intensity at a specific time in a year. Think of using lighting design to achieve the same dynamism that nature provides



Lighting design is an art as well as science. Most of the larger projects and projects with large budgets utilise lighting consultants. However, for many mid and small  size retail projects lighting design is done by either the architect, interior designer, or electrical engineerMajority of the time, light fixtures are added to the project well after the design is finalised and the electrical engineer is handed a background of reflected ceiling plans to plug in light fixtures. Many times the designers place light fixtures in a geometric pattern on the ceiling plan and the person doing the construction documents or the engineers select light fixtures to meet budgetary requirements. Many times light fixtures are solely selected on the criteria of how they look without thorough investigation if the type of light, the amount of light and the amount of area the fixture is supposed to illuminate.

The primary purpose of lighting design in retail is to enhance the customer’s shopping experience. If the lighting in a store is highlighting everything, it is actually not highlighting anything! Designing a well lit sales area with uniform illumination does not help sales. Using a three to one rule is essential to create the  drama which is essential to make customers notice the sales merchandise. The three to one ratio applies to the light level on the vertical surfaces and need to be a minimum of three times brighter than the light falling on horizontal surfaces. As an example, the general lighting for the store could be done with either fluorescent or incandescent down lights, cove lights or combination of the same to create uniform ambient light level and the lighting on the walls can be increased by aiming track light fixtures or the addition of light cornices and having built in light fixtures in the wall display systems. Stores with high ceiling can also utilise metal halide high bay or low bay light fixtures to provide ambient lighting. The three to one rule can be also used by the designer to allocate appropriate design time to make lighting design integral to the design process. For three hours spent on designing an interesting element one may spend one hour to explore ways to illuminate the  element so that the users can appreciate the colours, textures and any other unique attributes of the design feature. One may find it helpful to work backwards to form the desired effect or experience. Once that is clearly defined the designing of the element and selecting the correct way of lighting the same can happen concurrently. Successful retail designers have a knack of integrating lighting design as part of the design process. They also take into account the fact that people change the way light behaves in the space. A brightly lit empty store may suddenly appear not so well lit when the store is merchandised and shoppers occupy the space.

Lighting should not be viewed as a static element. Architects spend great amount of time and thought in finding a perfect placement of the building on a site to  optimise movement of sun at different time and seasons. Some of the greatest spaces designed take on magical qualities when sunlight enters these at a specific time in  a day, and intensity at a specific time in a year. Think of using lighting design to achieve the same dynamism that nature provides. With new technology it is possible to not only change the gradient of the light but also change the colour. Example of dynamic lighting is layered lighting where ambient, indirect, direct and accent lighting are utilised in the same space.

With new technology it is possible to change the colour of the light


Lighting is an integral part of every retail project as it not only adds something special to the design, but when used correctly it has the potential of maximising
sales and increasing profits. The benefit of having a well lit display window is that it can turn into great advertising for the store all year long!!

(The writer is the Founder & President, DRV Design, San Diego, USA. He earned his B Arch from Sir J J College of Architecture, Mumbai, and moved to the US in 1974. He can be contacted at