Interview with Darin at Wausau Supplies : HID to T8 to LED
Published March 2017
About Darin & his work at Wausau Supply:
I’m currently Central Regional Manager for Wausau Supply, so I have five locations I watch over. I started in 2000 at Wausau Supply and came in as a day shift manager. I progressed to Operations manager, running just this location. After that I started the position they call District Manager, doing what I do now for the Central Region, watching over five locations.
Sounds busy! Are all of your locations in Minnesota?
It’s quite a bit of travel. The locations I oversee are in Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas.
I know you’ve worked with TRC in the past on projects at one of your facilities back in 2009, and again most recently in 2016 on a different lighting project – can you tell me about that?
The first project was in 2009, and that was to address the metal halide bulbs that we had. We saved a ton of money when we switched to T8’s, which was the most current technology at the time. We still have that system in the warehouse. It saved a lot of money and it’s still saving compared to what it would have been if we continued to use metal halide.
Then we were talking to TRC rep, LuAnn, and she was proposing LED lights for us. We decided to give them a try in the space for this most recent 2016 project, and they’re fabulous. The lighting is so much better. You can see all the way to the ground underneath the shelves even. Before the upgrade, the bottom shelf would be dark. With the LED lights we get all the way down there and can see things on the bottom.
How did you originally connect with The Retrofit Companies?
One of your sales people just stopped in. The rebates were really good back then, 2008 or 2007, and she stopped in and said, “Do you mind if I take a look in your warehouse to see what you have for lighting?” And we said yes. So they looked at it and said, “We could really save you a lot of money if you just let us give a proposal to you.” We sat and listened, and ended up rolling out that plan at five or six other locations.
We knew it was kind of dumb to have metal halides, even at that time, when there’s so much better technology out there.
For your most recent LED project, you decided to purchase the Investment Grade Audit reports from TRC. Did you take that plan to any other contractors to get comparison bids?
No, but since we have a pretty good relationship with TRC, every once in a while someone will randomly stop in and want to propose to us. Then I’ll send it on to LuAnn, and say, “LuAnn, shoot some holes in this proposal for me.” She’ll say, “Oh my gosh, they’re not even talking about this!” or “They don’t even know the lighting level.” The competition is just trying to undercut everybody, and a few years down the road you’re probably not going to be too happy with it.
With the investment grade audit you know what to expect. It does cost a little bit more, but then you do know what you’re getting and they ask for your input, too.
The next project we’ve already greenlighted is the exterior lighting. It’s all metal halide and long overdue. Your team looked through it, asked some questions and determined that we needed one more light on a building. So, they’re redesigning it a bit based on our conversation.
So, you’ve seen a difference between The Retrofit Companies and our competitors?
I feel more comfortable that TRC is doing a complete job. We don’t want the cheapest job, we want a complete job – something you’re going to stand behind, that you’re going to do it the way that we want it, and listen to us. We’ve found that to be true with The Retrofit Companies, so I haven’t really needed to competitively shop.
Back in 2009, the TRC rep presented an opportunity to save with your upgrade from metal halide (HID) to T8 fluorescent, and now you have this opportunity to improve again with LED technology. What are your goals for this project?
We’d like to save somewhere in that vicinity again. We’re doing it in small bites because the philosophy at the corporate level is that we’ve got a few locations much worse off (lighting efficiency-wise) than we are here. So, if we can do that LED project somewhere else as a proving ground it will help – for example in our Montana facility which is still all HID.
We’re doing these small bits at our facility, the lockroom and exterior, but maybe another facility will be lucky enough to get their entire warehouse in LED. We’ll be able to do that eventually, it makes sense to within the next few years.
With the recent lockroom project, going to LED lighting, were there any surprising results? You mentioned earlier about the light reaching the bottom of the racks, and that it never had before.
The lighting is even and it’s not harsh at all. It’s subtle, like a daylight feel. We were hoping it wasn’t going to be a drastic change where it wouldn’t give us headaches or like the fluorescents that would sometimes have a harsh glare. Everyone likes the light, it’s nice and even and bright throughout the whole space – not overly bright. Everyone has said they like it, no one has had any complaints. Usually, when you get some kind of a new lighting system someone’s going to think it’s too bright, it gives them a headache, or something, but I haven’t heard any complaints at all.
In your job, I’m sure you worked with many different contractors on various types of projects, and you’ve now worked with TRC at least twice on projects over the years – is there anything you can say about your experience with TRC, how it might have changed, or how it might be different from your experience with other contractors?
This latest project was all good, the install was very quick. They were attentive to what we were doing because they had to work around us, and did a great job keeping everything neat and organized. For example, the used fixtures were out of the way, not in our way, and your electrician did a favor for me. I asked him if he could take a couple of the old T8’s he was taking out and put a cord on there for us so we could use them as shop lights in our tool cage where we had some terrible lights. He said, “No problem,” and threw on two cords so we could also have new lights in that tool cage. I thought that was pretty cool, he didn’t even think about it at all, it was no problem.
Are there any other aspects of the installation or bid process that stood out to you?
This project was only an 8 light switch over, so it was a small project. The electrician came in at 8 a.m. and he was done by 3. All cleaned up and had our pallet of old fixtures ready to recycle, and they had someone from TRC come out and pick them up. At least I think they did, I have to check…
Well, if they haven’t yet, let us know and we’ll have someone come out for you!
Have you been able to take advantage of utility rebates with your projects? Did TRC help with that?
Every project we’ve done has had rebates involved. The first one (2009 warehouse project) was pretty huge, about 30-40,000 dollar rebate and it really helped out. This last one, was a smaller project so a smaller amount, but the upcoming exterior project anticipates a fair amount of rebate. I probably wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a rebate. We would probably wait because rebates seem to cycle in and out every few months so it would be dumb not to use a rebate.
How about sensors? What has been your experience with sensors on your lighting systems?
They have sensors on them now, they’re all sensored. That is something that should always be sold with a project. It saves us TONS of money because most of these companies (warehouses) aren’t flying around in all those aisles all night long. The sensors save us a lot. We had metal halides burning the whole time the warehouse was open, and now with sensors on the fixtures those lights might stay off 3 or 4 hours at a time. Consider all the hours saved in a year and that’s a lot of money.
Last question, do you have any advice for other companies that are just beginning to research energy-efficient lighting projects, or just starting out with hiring contractors for energy-efficient lighting project?
I would say, let them show you the numbers. The numbers don’t lie. Let them show you the proposal, show you what the project could save you if you switched over to new fixtures, the breakdown of how quickly it will payback. If the payback is within five to seven years it should be a no-brainer to anybody, whether you’re putting in carpeting or lighting. It would definitely be well worth an hour of your time, especially if you have metal halide lighting. What you’re going to save is going to be phenomenal. You’re going to be a hero within your company for doing it. =
Did this interview help you get some insight on what it’s like to work with The Retrofit Companies? You can read more customer stories here, or go ahead and get our guide to help you ask the right questions when choosing a partner for your next lighting project!