Professional Jeweler Archive: Light Up

April 2000

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Light Up

What was once the Kmart look goes upscale: U.S. retailers turn up the lights


In the U.S., bright commercial lighting has long been associated with discount stores. But improved lighting technology is leading high-end stores to adopt what has been standard in Europe: bright lights, cool color temperatures and little or no contrast or accent lighting.

The trend is evident in the most exclusive specialty stores of Rodeo Drive, according to Visual Merchandising & Store Design magazine. It also was a topic of discussion among retailers from The Limited, Saks Fifth Avenue and This End Up at a recent roundtable sponsored by Chain Store Age magazine. “Brightness is psychologically more appealing,” L.J. Mohan, vice president of facilities management for Saks, said at the roundtable. “A brighter space is perceived as a more lively space. It tends to have more activity (and) is very appealing to most people.”

Traditionally, U.S. specialty retailers have used subdued lighting overall and bright accent lights to create dramatic displays. Incandescent lights are preferred because their yellowish tone casts a warm, cozy, home-like feeling.

But in Europe, specialty stores follow a minimalist approach with fluorescent and metal halide lights mounted directly on the ceiling without shields, without concern for glare.

Improved lamps and fixtures have made the bright European look acceptable to U.S. sensibilities, says Earl Print, director of sales and development and lighting education for Lightolier, a lighting fixture manufacturer in Fall River, MA. Ceramic arc tube PAR lamps give off a warmer light and use less energy (PAR stands for parabolic reflector lamp). Luminaires, which illuminate a specific area, are more deeply shielded to produce less glare. Better louvers and reflectors direct light uniformly throughout the store.

Even retailers who prefer more subdued lighting are being forced to use brighter lights as the shopping malls where they’re located increase lighting levels in common areas. Storefronts must often reach levels of 100 foot-candles, with accent levels above 500 foot-candles, to achieve adequate contrast in window displays and attract the attention of shoppers, says Chain Store Age.

“But instead of bright, some stores are going white,” says Ron Rau, manager of operational planning/purchasing for The Limited Stores. “They use 4100 Kelvin lamps with stark, almost pristine walls and very light fixtures. The store looks white; it definitely has a presence.”

– by Mark E. Dixon

Jeweler Tests Lighting Theory and Is a Believer

Informal test shows shoppers prefer brighter stores

It didn’t take a lighting consultant to convince jeweler Jalil Bami he needed to brighten his store, Milanj Jewelers, at an upscale shopping mall in King of Prussia, PA. It took an observant eye and six college guys.

Bami noticed brighter lighting at Bloomingdale’s, one of the mall’s anchor stores, and wondered about the effect on consumer attitudes. “I’m very much into the psychology of consumer behavior,” he says. “I think white light makes people livelier. Yellow [incandescent] light seems to make them subdued.”

To test the theory, he drove to a nearby college, buttonholed a half-dozen male students and offered each $25 to visit the mall and share their opinions.

“I wanted a mix, so I picked a punk guy, a conservative-looking guy, a sophisticated-looking guy,” says Bamil. “They had to be guys because men buy jewelry for women. The core of our business is engagement jewelry.”

Bami walked the students through several mall stores, including his own and the brightly lighted Bloomingdale’s. Guess what? They all preferred bright lights.


Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications