News, Retail

Meet the man behind Coles’ LED lighting rollout

Photo: Simon Woodcock

Mark McKenzie is the head of facilities maintenance, energy and sustainability at Coles Supermarkets. Lux met him to find out about how the retailer is using new lighting technology to improve stores, reduce maintenance and cut energy costs.


It’s all about the customer experience
I manage the facilities and maintenance for more than 1,600 supermarket and liquor stores across Australia. For us, the customer experience is paramount, so getting the correct lighting is essential and it’s all about ‘tick boxes’. Aisles and fridges have different lighting needs to meat counters, fresh produce areas and the health and beauty sections.


You’ve got to consider maintenance
Lighting accounts for around 15 per cent of our energy bill so from an energy perspective, we strive for efficiency. But maintenance can also be a big challenge. Coles has a dedicated maintenance crew of around 450 staff across Australia. Every time we send a technician up a ladder it costs money – when they’re up a ladder changing a light bulb, they can’t be working elsewhere. Generally you get three years out of traditional light bulbs, so we look to any way in which we can save money on lighting maintenance; with over 700 light bulbs per store, if we save an hour per store per year in maintenance, it soon adds up. Plus any maintenance being carried out can’t impact on the customer experience – you often can’t change a light bulb or do other maintenance in trading hours and this all adds to the cost, so it takes a lot of juggling.


Retrofitting is not just about LED
LED lighting is far more efficient from an energy perspective but you have to balance the cost of a retrofit with the return. Our stores are nationwide, so we have to take into consideration the different energy tariffs around the country. Also our stores are very different in size and shape; we have inherited a lot of purchased buildings, and we’re renting some stores. All have different requirements and it can involve negotiating with other parties at times. Our reviews for a retrofit also include labour costs as these can be high. While we primarily look at tariff, payback and economics, we review our stores on an individual basis; what works for one store may not be practical for another.

“If we save an hour per store per year in maintenance, it soon adds up”

LEDs are challenging fluorescent now
A fluoro bulb’s degradation is quicker towards the end of its lifespan so you lose the brightness, while LEDs look brighter for longer. LED technology is moving very quickly and here’s where the debate starts as there could be something better in the pipeline. Ideally we look to install lighting which will have a less than five year payback.


We take a staged approach to retrofits
We are moving towards a model of being wholly LED, and we are rolling out our retrofits in stages. Three years ago we started our freezer and deli case lighting retrofit and we have already completed rollouts to fresh produce, bakery, health and beauty sections, freezer rooms and back of house. We have also installed LED lighting in aisles in about 200 stores. This has been a big step and we worked very closely with suppliers to get lights that were compatible with existing fittings as well as being the most cost effective. In 20 stores, we very quickly made the switch to LED on the trading floor and back of house.


We can make savings inside and out
As well as reviewing our internal lighting, we have been looking at alternative lighting which is just as effective but energy efficient for the external areas of our stores, such as our car parks and signage. This can create other challenges as we sometimes need to work with the developer. We’re looking to use more LED in signage and we’re considering solar power solutions as a viable option for car parks. As an energy-saving and environmentally friendly initiative, we have put some solar panels on the roof on our store in Budgewoi, New South Wales. However even if we had panels covering the whole roof, they still wouldn’t create enough power to run the store and we’d still have to use energy from the grid. Where we have built our own store, we have included skylights to take advantage of natural lighting and we’ve also incorporated intelligent lighting in the store. Even when we build our own store, again, it is still a challenge to make the lighting system commercially viable while maintaining a sustainable practice.


We want our products to last
For us, the warranty of a product is an area we negotiate with suppliers; while the cost of the tube or fitting is covered, the cost to send someone to repair or change it. So we look for efficient lights which will last the distance and are economically viable. We do consider replacing the whole lighting system, but we often try to look for products which can fit into existing fittings. This makes it far more cost effective.


Intelligent lighting is an interesting development
One area we are keeping an eye on is intelligent lighting, and we’re currently trialling motion sensors in the back-of-house areas of some stores. Smarter controls do save energy, but balancing this with maintaining the customer experience has to be taken into consideration. Other areas we’re looking at include the examining the lighting being used in peak tariff periods, and we’re also assessing efficient ways to light promotions and special displays. We’re constantly looking at new products and there’s a lot of interesting technology coming out of Europe at the moment.