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Crate & Barrel brings cost vs. presentation to light

While most retailers use incandescent lighting to highlight particular products and displays, Crate & Barrel relies on it for nearly all of its ambient lighting needs. What it loses in energy costs, the company feels it gains in aesthetic appeal.

In its early stores, the Northbrook, Ill.-based chain relied on 150W and 300W PAR lamps, pushing energy use above 10W per sq. ft., says Raymond Arenson, Crate & Barrel's vice president of design. Today, through deployment of Sylvania 120W PAR 38 Capsylite lamps for wide-area lighting and Sylvania 50W Tru-Aim MR-16's for spotlighting, the retailer has reduced energy usage to under 7W per sq. ft., he notes.

Steve Meek, product group marketing manager for Danvers, Mass.-based OSRAM Sylvania, reports that Crate & Barrel's energy costs still run higher than they would if the company adopted the standard practice of using fluorescent bulbs to provide ambient lighting and incandescent for spotlighting. What the home goods retailer gets in return, he says, is vastly superior product presentation.

"Crate & Barrel wanted their stores to have as close to a natural light as they can get, and that means incandescent," he says, adding that incandescent lighting is the benchmark for color rendition. "A red dress is going to be red under incandescent, but under fluorescent it could be brown-red or more of a pink," he explains.

Use of incandescent lighting is particularly important in a home goods store, some industry pundits say, because most people use incandescent bulbs in their homes. Incandescent also is closer than fluorescent to natural daylight.

Halogen, in particular, is a close match to sunlight's color spectrum. Therefore, with halogen lighting, the store's conditions duplicate those in which the merchandise will ultimately be used.

Since design is a key element of Crate & Barrel merchandising, accurate representation is critical. Customers do not want to get home and discover the fabric they selected specifically to match their carpeting in fact does not, Meek says.

The dramatic possibilities of incandescent lighting mark another of its overall strengths, says Arenson. Whereas fluorescent lighting tends to create an even background light and eliminate shadows, incandescent lighting creates a more interesting interplay between light and dark that allows for a more theatrical presentation.

With Crate & Barrel moving toward larger stores as it incorporates larger home furnishings into its traditional mix of glassware, china and accessories, the issue of energy cost looms larger. The chain's newer stores range from 35,000 to 50,000 sq. ft., compared to about 12,000 sq. ft. in the past.

However, furniture tends to require fewer fixtures per square foot than smaller items, says Adrienne Litwin, Crate & Barrel's purchasing director. Consequently, even though new stores are three times the size of older ones, they need only twice the number of light fixtures -- for example, 1,400 to 1,500 track heads compared to about 700 in the past.

Meek admits incandescent lighting will never compete with fluorescent in cost. Even though advances are constantly being made that improve energy efficiency, he says, the same kind of advances are being made in the design of fluorescent bulbs, keeping fluorescent a few steps ahead.

Arenson says Crate & Barrel is open to the idea of using fluorescent lighting more, but so far no product has come along that meets the retailer's standards. "We continue to experiment with new technologies such as improved versions of fluorescent and metal halide, but nothing has matched the dramatic presentation of halogen yet," he says.

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