Lighting Retrofit During a Crisis? How to Thrive in a Skittish Market

Tim Driscoll | Jul 28, '20

Lighting Retrofit During a Crisis? How to Thrive in a Skittish Market.

“Is it safe to let people into my building to do work?”

“What will our cash flow look like in the next six months?”

“What will our business even look like a year from now?”

Fear is one of the most powerful levers for how we think, how we act, and how we respond to situations. And right now, there is definitely no shortage of fear and uncertainty out there, as facility owners deal with the massive question mark the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the rest of this year’s calendar.

As a lighting retrofit business owner, addressing facility owners’ concerns is a standard part of your process. In times of crisis, however, those concerns are often strong enough to make facility owners skittish about any cash outlay. So, they retreat into “Not right now” mode…and your pipeline turns into the Sahara Desert.

Are you out of luck?


As it turns out, a time of crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis for your business – not if you follow the three B’s:

  1. Be present
  2. Be thorough
  3. Be flexible

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Be Present

At a time like this, your instinct might be to ease off and leave your potential clients alone until things start to get a bit more normal.

This is a big mistake.

For example, if a tenant moves out of a large warehouse, you might think the building owner would not want to take on a retrofit project. However, we had just that situation – and the owner realized that while the facility was empty, it was a great time to complete the project. Now, the owner is in the perfect position to market a facility with brand-new, energy-efficient lighting and has seen a much higher level of interest than in his other facilities.

The owner realized this because we stayed present.

Instead of disappearing on your leads out of a misguided sense of politeness (or just as bad, pushing them hard because of your own desperation), it’s better to stay in contact with your customers and leads. Treat them as human beings: Call them and ask how they’ve been doing, how business is going, what they’re going through right now. Be empathetic and helpful, like you’re talking to a friend.

This isn’t something you can do with just an email blast and it isn’t a one-and-done. Be patient, listen carefully, and ask questions. It could be that they are ready and were just waiting for internal consensus. It could be that they’re not ready yet, but when they are, you’ll be top of mind.

And…it could be that they might be ready, given the right incentive.

That’s where thoroughness comes in.

Be Thorough

Cash is king. And right now, cash flow is a harsh ruler, cruelly placing many facility owners’ goals far out of their reach.

Does low cash flow equal an automatic “no”? It doesn’t have to. Not if you’re thorough.

There are multiple ways in which facility owners can sign on to a retrofit project without touching their cash flow, so it’s up to you to make sure they’re aware of every option:

  • If you offer financing, or can arrange it through a financing partner, make sure your customer knows what it entails and how it can benefit them. Many facility owners may not realize that by financing their project, they’re not only saving their cash, but the energy savings may meet or even exceed their monthly payment, putting them in a great net cash position.
  • Make sure you have a profound understanding of the rebates available to your customers via their utility providers, and how you can use these rebates to maximize the money you can get on your customers’ behalf.
  • After you’ve done your homework on rebates, take the time to thoroughly research tax incentives. For example, right now there’s a tax incentive available as part of the CARES Act, covering an array of interior improvements to non-residential properties. You don’t need to be as well-versed in it as a tax attorney might be, but do take the time to gather some information from your accountant that you can pass along to your customers (a great reason for a check-in call!)
  • Don’t forget to future-plan. Control systems are the next generation of energy savings, and it’s here now, not two or three years from now. A great way to be thorough is to fully understand what controls are available and what their benefits are. Then, be sure to put a controls option in every single quote that goes out the door, and explain to your customers why it’s so important (and such a big money-saver) to have fixtures that, at the very least, are controls-ready. After all, your customer won’t appreciate saying yes to your retrofit project if, 18 months later, they need an entirely new retrofit to be able to implement IoT technology and controls.

Be Flexible

And what if your clients and leads simply aren’t ready to pull the trigger, despite the many benefits you’ve pointed out to them?

That’s when it’s time to break out of your rut and look for who is ready. Here are a few examples that we’re seeing at Donovan Energy.

  • Worship space is usually an incredibly difficult place to do retrofit projects, due to the nature of the building and the fact that people are bound to be there every week. After all, you can’t exactly have scaffolding or lifts up in the air when someone’s trying to perform a service (the higher the scaffolding, the closer to God, one supposes…). But right now, many churches are closed, creating an excellent opportunity to update the lighting and make it more energy efficient.
  • Parking facilities are another place where traffic has thinned out. While people are still working from home, many parking facilities sit largely empty. But the lights are still burning 24/7, so their bill hasn’t gone down even though revenue has decreased. Updating their lighting will greatly reduce their energy bill, helping them stay afloat. And then once traffic comes back? They’ll be in an excellent cash flow position.
  • Arenas and convention space are also largely empty right now due to the mass cancellation of live events. And lighting these huge spaces can be eye-wateringly expensive. Financing a retrofit project can be a smart way for these facilities to slash their utility costs, helping them weather this downturn and setting them up for a strong recovery.
  • Playgrounds and parks are often hard to upgrade safely due to constant foot traffic. Anywhere these areas are closed is an opportunity to get in touch and talk about upgrading their old lighting while things are quiet.
  • Airports and mass transit stations are ghost towns right now compared to their usual level of traffic. Normally, a retrofit project would be disruptive to travelers. With so many fewer of them, however, a retrofit team could efficiently, quickly, and safely pull off a major project.

One caveat: Don’t paint with too broad of a brush. Many businesses are genuinely hurting right now and are struggling to manage even the first stage of their recovery. This is why it’s so important to be present and ask customers and leads how they’re doing before nudging them toward a project. Looking for opportunities is smart, but make sure you treat the client with respect. By having these conversations, and by being flexible, you might come up with some great solutions. For example, if the customer is too apprehensive about having your team inside their facility, they may be willing to phase the project and do the exterior first. Or, they may be more comfortable if your audit team consists of one person, the SnapCount platform, and a well-flown drone.

Times of crisis can make even the most well-positioned facility owner a bit skittish when it comes to retrofit projects. But that doesn’t mean your business is in trouble. Be present, so you build and maintain a strong, transparent relationship with your customers and can understand their fears. Be thorough, so you – and they – are fully aware of any cash they might be leaving on the table. And be flexible, so you can find the solid opportunities that will help you move through this period, allowing you to wait patiently for your other customers to set their own fear aside, warm back up, and give you the green light.

New call-to-action

Tim Driscoll

Written by Tim Driscoll

Tim Driscoll brings more than 20 years of executive experience in energy efficiency and telecommunications to Donovan Energy. He found his passion for clean energy while leading commercial sales of energy-efficient lighting (primarily LED lighting) at Richards Electric Supply, one of Cincinnati’s Top 100 Private Companies. Prior to joining the energy industry, Tim served as regional president of Verizon Wireless. He also has acted as head coach for the Xavier University Men’s Hockey team for the past eight years. Tim holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Dayton.

Subscribe to SnapCount Insights

Get the latest updates!