Taking the Lead on LED
Lighting Contractor NCLED Helps Companies Flip the Switch
There was a no “light at the end of the tunnel” moment for Doug Schoenwalder. From his initial investigation into LED lighting, he knew that this illumination alternative could get low acceptance. The product technology was predominantly Asian-made and electrical contractors and the general public made, light of change in general. LED lighting could suffer the same fate as did efforts for the nation to adopt the metric system in the last quarter of the 20th century.
But he also knew that the technology was sound, the lighting was comparable and the savings were glaringly obvious.
That was 2016. Today, Schoenwalder heads New Covenant LED (better known as NCLED), which specializes in “flipping” companies and organizations from incandescent and fluorescent to LED lighting.
NCLED, based in De Pere, Wisconsin, south of Green Bay, specializes in the sales and installation of LED lighting, focusing on commercial and industrial properties. The company has nine employees.
“We are capable of providing a turnkey solution, taking care of everything from lighting design/layout, installation and the complete removal and recycling of all your old fixtures and bulbs,” Schoenwalder says.
Fade to Light
A 20-plus year veteran of the electrical industry, Schoenwalder had served seven years as electrical inspector for the City of Green Bay. After he started his own electrical contracting business, he says he “dabbled” in LED as a new technology. That led to hiring a person to research the market and the technology in 2016. And that led to a recognition that the lighting alternative both met the current standards and proved economically sound—for the public as well as his own company.
“With the improvement and mass production of LED chips, costs started coming down, making the return on investment manageable for most businesses,” he says.
Schoenwalder admits he was also looking for a new and exciting opportunity. After working in the industry all his life—in the role of contractor for 18 of those years—he was ready for a change, a new challenge. LED offered that to him, and with no real business models to copy, he created his own company with a focus on commercial properties.
His newfound energy not only made him committed to transitioning his own company, but it also gave him motivation to convince other prospective customers to … (ahem) see the light.
Successes have proven his predictions true. NCLED has convinced more than 100 companies and businesses to remove old lighting and install LED instead. Sales are up 61 percent. The company secured $80,000 in rebates for customers for switching to LED in the first quarter of 2018 alone.
Warming up Cold Calls
From the start, the company has had to make the case for LED conversion. That’s why NCLED closely tracks all projects. The database of companies that have switched with NCLED’s help shows how new fixtures and connections have reduced wattage use (often by more than 50, 60 or 70 percent per site), as well as the point at which a return on the investment was realized (usually between two and three years).
Besides internet and radio advertising, the small sales team does cold calls to find customers. The pitch involves describing the typical savings, the basic technology, the lighting comparisons and the greater life of LED hardware compared to other types.
“Lots of customers say they have lights that work already,” says NCLED’s Vice President, Jay Polena.That’s when he offers up his best rationale for going with LED: the energy savings; the lower maintenance cost to replace lamps, bulbs and ballasts; better quality lighting that also improves workers’ moods; and a lower carbon footprint.
The upfront cost to switch to LED might seem prohibitive to some, but NCLED makes the case that the expense is recouped after about 2.3 years. The company also helps customers get energy rebates from Wisconsin’s Focus On Energy program and bank loans to lessen the impact of the initial price tag.
Schoenwalder had what’s called a light-bulb moment, but he still guides the company with tried-and-true methods. He guides his employees like they are a family, with respect and commitment to each other and to customers, says Polena. “We have an open conversation about every project,” he says.
The president also takes his own and others’ professional growth seriously. He is an active member in the acclaimed TEC, The Executive Connection, a CEO coaching organization. He also encourages the training and growth of his team members. Polena has made business trips to China, a global leader in production and use of LED, to learn about the continued LED innovations and make various connections for the company.
Additionally, he models a servant mentality, serving customers by customizing information provided to them, communicating frequently with them and helping them realize the benefit of switching to LED. The company spends a fair amount of time upfront getting their customers to “yes.”
At the start, NCLED’s team gives a free analysis for any company open to LED installation. Considerations include the utility bills, the per-kilowatt-hour rate and light quality, and comparing all findings to LED facts.
The typical 15-page report shows likely monthly savings, the payback period for the initial investment and more.
“The worst excuse I’ve heard is ‘My accountant says this isn’t a good idea,’” Schoenwalder says. “LED is going to be in every fixture currently out there because the energy savings are typically at least 50 percent.”
NCLED also searches the market for the best LED lighting for a given company, installs the new lighting and recycles older fixtures.
In many instances, companies do not have a budget for updating their lighting. To resolve that issue, Schoenwalder has teamed up with a local bank for special financing. This allows the savings to pay for the entire project with no money down and with 36-month terms. With the lamps and fixtures having a seven-year warranty or longer, there is no risk to the customer.
“We’ve done three facilities where the client paid nothing at all,” says Polena. The savings, albeit delayed, more than paid for the switch.
Ninety-five percent of the business for the company is retrofitting with LED. Typical projects are to replace expensive high bay industrial lights (often fluorescent), as well as exterior lighting and parking lot lights that run from dusk to dawn.
Chrysler World auto dealership in Abrams, Wisconsin, was one such project, but then “they called back asking for more fixtures for the interior showroom, mechanic shop, etc.,” Schoenwalder says. Chrysler World went from 165,600 watts to 46,700 watts (a 71.8 percent decrease) and overcame the budget hit in 2.1 years.
Polena recalls the work at packaging and pallet manufacturer Performance Corporation, in Seymour, Wisconsin. The company was below OSHA standards. All three shifts were working in a low 9-foot candle illumination when 25 is optimum for that kind of space. NCLED’s installation brought it up to standards. Performance Corporation actually re-called NCLED for more improvements. Its initial investment showed a 53.5 percent drop in wattage use and the second a 73 percent drop.
Schoenwalder takes pride in his business decision, just a few years ago, to offer a lighting technology woefully underappreciated in the U.S. Still, he loves the evolving technology, the prospects for the future, his team’s energy and one other benefit: offering “Lighting as a Service” instead of just completing another contracting job.