Every industry has its experts – trained, licensed, accredited. Every industry also has its counterfeits – un-trained, non-licensed, opportunists. When purchasing your lighting package, which can easily range from $5,000 to well over $50,000, it pays to seek those who are experienced, professional and up-to-date. In the end, the product will cost about the same, but the resulting impact of the lighting could be significantly different.
In the residential lighting industry, the American Lighting Association (ALA) is the government-sanctioned accreditation source for lighting professionals. They offer several levels of training and achievement:
- Lighting Associate (LA) which is a basic course for lighting salespeople, identifying terms and concepts. It does not “train”, it simply explains. At the very minimum, a lighting salesperson should have taken this program so that they can adequately recognize lighting issues and explain common solutions.
- Lighting Specialist (LS) which is a much more thorough training program, usually taking several months to complete, that trains the salesperson/consultant in depth:
Light Sources and Types (Incandescent, LED, Fluorescent, Halogen, etc)
Decorative Lighting Fixtures (Styles, Finishes, Materials, etc.)
Electricity and Lighting Controls
Architectural Lighting Fixtures
Lighting Design and Lighting Recommendations
An accredited Lighting Specialist can usually interpret your house plans and draw up recommendations for the entire home. They are skilled at interpreting your décor vision and at selecting the lighting that will achieve the “look”. They are cognizant of the budget range, the subtleties and the impact pieces. A Lighting Specialist is in the business because they consider themselves a professional and are eager to accept the challenges that each project brings. Many residential lighting specialists also have strong backgrounds in interior design.
- Certified Lighting Consultant (CLC) – a professional that can be involved in the design of a project to ensure that code requirements are being met, electrical loads are not exceeded and that sufficient light is available for all task areas. The CLC-professional usually works with builders, architects and project teams to design the lighting layout and, in some cases, secure lighting products to fulfill the design criteria. They do not normally work in the residential lighting showroom environment.
When choosing a lighting salesperson to work with, “credentials” are somewhat of a safety net, but they do not necessarily guarantee a good “fit” with the customer. In many lighting showrooms there are salespeople with many years of experience, with excellent ability to connect with the customer and who have a vast library of lighting products in their heads, but have no accreditation. It comes down to making the lighting selections “work” for the customer. In the least, accreditation shows some personal dedication to the industry, to the profession.
The best credentials, however, come from actual customers. To ensure that you will be taken care of properly and professionally, ask your lighting salesperson for several customers to contact who had similar sized projects. Ask the customer about the overall project, about the final impact, about the interaction with the salesperson and the ability to solve problems and rectify issues. Ask about return policies – especially after installation (Wires cut? Packaging gone?). Ask for the details on special ordered products and price-matching for bona-fide competitive orders. Ask about the relationship and if they would repeat the experience.
Probably the best thing you can do is that when you have settled on the store and salesperson with whom you feel that you can trust and work, stick with them. Build the relationship… it will benefit you now and in the future. Don’t be shy about asking for credentials or experience background either.
Credentials are important as they provide a foundation, but the best credential is always market success. Who wins the awards? Whom do the best builders use? What do the customers say? Start there. Usually you will find that that the smaller, specialized lighting stores will be the best to work with. Unless a tight budget is the top priority, stay away from on-line and big-box stores for your lighting package.