Industry Trends: What is Driving LED Cabinet Lighting?

What is pushing LEDs into the sign cabinets your business sells? Is it LEEDS, ‘going green,’ the end user, or you? If none of the above, then why not? Learn why it makes good common sense for your business and your clients.

By Fritz Meyne, Jr

Let’s start with “you” the sign professional. I think we all would be hard pressed to find a case where LED sign cabinet lighting has a price point lower than traditional fluorescent lamps. At the recent USSC show in Atlantic City, while talking with a visitor they boldly offered, “I’ll use LED cabinet lighting when it is lower (in cost) than fluorescent.” This type of response is in line with the early days of channel letter LED price points relative to neon.

LED is here to stay 
To be fair, LED cabinet lighting options will probably take longer to come in line with fluorescents from a price point than LED and neon for channel letters. But maybe not, as white LED has matured and numerous LED integrators and chip manufacturers realize the total illumination market is there for the picking! More market acceptance equals better chip prices for all of us.

With LED cabinet lighting options from the main players offering similar “completed” illumination, there is naturally still some wide spreads relative to price. So how do you, the sign manufacturer respond to the decision to offer or even counter LED?

I am not sure it can be argued otherwise, but LED as a cabinet lighting option is here to stay and the market will only grow larger, much larger. One thing different between channel letter LED introduction and LED cabinet lighting is the time that has passed and the universal and world wide acceptance of LED. As a matter of fact, it is the End User who is driving the cabinet lighting switch to LED, not the manufacturer.

One only has to think like an “owner” of a national account and the compelling facts to see why LED are being implemented. On the other hand that same reason the End User wants LED, somewhat counters one of the long standing cash cows of the sign industry: after the sale maintenance!

The comparison
On a recent direct comparison of fluorescent lamps vs. LED cabinet lighting for a 10Ft x 26Ft sign for a European customer, the LED option consumes 768 total watts and the fluorescent option consumes 3,120 total watts. At 12 hours per day and $.22KWH, LED annual electrical consumption in dollars is $740.04 and the fluorescent is $3,006.92. Thus LED offers a real world, real cash in the pocket annual savings for electricity “only” at $2,266.39. Add in the LED labor/maintenance savings and eventually the End User can see a very real ROI. With these simple numbers, the End User can see an immediate reason to consider LED! You the sign manufacturer, on the other hand, might care less in general terms. Without the End User, and their needs taken into consideration, you might just have lost a sale, or worse a multiple regional or national account.

To be realistic, what I call the T-Shirt mentality where the small business owner opens on a limited budget and hopes he can make it thru the summer season —- try selling the benefits of a 5 year warranty and higher front end cost and it is lost on the fact they opened on a limited budget at best. So for the fluorescent lovers out there, there will always be a price point market segment. On the other hand your long term customer, who is building a new location or even moving, might very well entertain the higher front end costs that save money over the longer term. That is exactly where the national accounts are in their mind set. ROI, or Return On Investment, is a very effective business tool that gets past the initial purchase price and can actually confirm any given “deal or proposal” and is worth the initial investment over the projected life. It takes various parameters and places a value on the total package and “weights” the important segments. You, the sign manufacturer are running your business that way.

Going Green is somewhat out of your control, in that if the End User does not care about going green the LED option might be a harder sell. However if they are in the Save the Planet mind set, they should be understanding of paying more (up front) for a higher technology product as their payback is on the backside. Being LEEDS certified is out of our control, but you still need to know if your prospect or customer is interested in being LEEDS certified. Both of these two scenarios are critical to your sales success. If you are not aware of these options and you present fluorescents, you might very well be eliminated from the competition, or be late to the Prom, or even worse, not be considered at all.

You decide
In conclusion, LED sign cabinet lighting is an alternative for fluorescents right now. As with any new technology application and use, you have the burden of learning who are the proper vendors and the various price points of each. Of the two primary cabinet lighting technologies, direct or indirect, available right now from three to four vendors, which one best meets you and your customers needs? The price ranges are as different as channel letter LED and the warranties are not all the same. Some are very easy to install and some are multiple part systems and even some vary between S/F and D/F.

The more you know the better your selling chances are and in this ever changing world, knowledge is “key” to your success. As I always offer, Buyer Beware!

Fritz Meyne, Jr / VP-Business Development / Light Engines / / etc.

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