Don’t ask, don’t tell
Smart lighting costs are usually a mystery. You know the old saying “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it”? That seems to be what you face when trying to figure out the acutal cost of installing lighting automation.
A lot of sales people don’t like to talk smart lighting costs. The traditional ‘old school’ sales manuals say hook the customer first then deliver the bad news.
“Sell the sizzle, not the steak” was my first introduction to sales by a Type A, quota-busting sales person. (In spite of that, we went on to become the best of friends).
Entice the customer with sexy, superficial features and visual eye-pleasing razzle/dazzle. Don’t bore them to death with an actual description of what the product can do.
When prospective customers with more than a grammar school education starting seeing through this high-pressure, sometimes deceitful approach, the new mantra became “sell the benefits, not the features”.
So we lived through an era of fancy Powerpoint presentations with lots of graphs and charts. All trying to explain the advantages (benefits) of buying system x over system y.
That just made every sales pitch the same generic story. Buy our product and it will save you money, make you more productive, and let you go home earlier in the day.
Ever notice how the larger the company, and the more me-too their products, their sales pitch is much more generic. It only talks about high-level benefits like saving money or increasing productivity?
That’s the pinnacle of “sell the benefits”. Sometimes I think it should be called “sell the BS, when you have nothing much else to sell”.
A refreshing new sales technique
There is a new approach to sales which has been gathering steam with the rise of eCommerce and the Internet.
The basic idea is to provide information, lots of information, on your product and services. Give the actual smart lighting costs up front.
In this new approach, you put the information out there and let the prospective customers educate themselves and make an informed decision.
Instead of randomly trying to find customers and forcefully get them interested in your products, put your best foot forward and let them come to you.
TMI – marketing and sales lingo
This new approach is called content marketing and inbound marketing. The traditional approach we all hate – both as salespeople and consumers, is called outbound marketing and cold calling.
Showing your pricing saves everyone time. If a consumer is willing to spend around $100 but doesn’t know if what they are looking at costs $500 or $5,000, a lot of time is wasted only to get sticker shock.
This is not as easy as it sounds. If you are selling a consumer product like a grocery store or hardware store, prices are straightforward and can be published easily (if you want to).
When your product or service is customized to each buyer, includes design tasks, planning, installation, and programming, it is a lot harder.
You may not know the actual cost until the scope of the project is defined, equipment is selected from amongst multiple choices, and labor time has been determined.
Into the hornet’s nest
Nonetheless, I’m going to provide actual smart lighting costs for a typical starter lighting automation project as follows:
Kitchen overhead lighting with six downlight floodlights installed in ceiling fixtures (cans).
Adjacent Family Room lighting with two tabletop lamps and power cords plugged into the wall.
To keep it simple, just white lights, no color changing stuff.
I’m including two possible scenarios – using Philips Hue Smartbulbs or using Lutron Caseta Lighting system.
Both solutions can work with Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa and that’s important because many other solutions are still proprietary and not as flexible.
Both solutions have both app-based user interface and physical button/dimmer controls available.
I’m actually giving Philips Hue an unfair advantage by using the new Lutron Aurora dimmer designed specifically for them that fits over a regular toggle wall switch.
I’m biased to prefer smart switches instead of smart bulbs, but have used both so here goes:
Both Philips and Lutron offer multiple starter kits which include the hub or bridge (one needed per entire home), and several dimmers, switches, remotes, or LED bulbs.
Half the battle is figuring out which starter kit and expansion options are the best way to get what is needed. There are multiple ways to configure the solution, so be sure and do your homework when you are actually ready to buy.
For an explanation of the difference between dimmers and switches, check this out.
Prices as of 27-June-2021, approximate retail from big box or online stores.
Philips Hue solution:
For Philips Hue, each of the six in-ceiling cans needs a Philips Hue smart LED bulb. I’ve chosen the starter kit that includes the Philips Hue bridge and two floodlight BR30 LED bulbs. Those are typically used for recessed ceiling lights.
Since the kitchen has a total of six cans, four additional Philips Hue BR30 LED bulbs must be purchased. I’ve chosen to include two packs, so two of those are needed for the four additional bulbs.
To provide a reasonable way to control the ceiling lights, I’ve added the Lutron Aurora smart dimmer which fits over the existing paddle switch. It’s a fake switch needed for Philips Hue. The existing wall switch can’t be used and must left on all the time. The Lutron Aurora covers that existing switch (in the on position) and provides it own fake on/off along with dimming.
This gives you a wall mounted dimmer so the kitchen lights can be used as expected with a wall switch/dimmer to control them.
For the two adjoining table lamps, I’ve added two Philips Hue A19 LED bulbs and two Philips dimmer switches to go along with them.
Philips Hue BR30 Starter Kit with bridge & two Philips BR30 LED flood lamp bulbs $79.99
Two sets of two additional white Philips BR30 LED floodlight smart bulbs $34.99 x 2
Two Philips Hue LED A19 Table lamp bulbs $29.99
One Lutron Aurora smart dimmer wall mount retrofit $39.95
Two Philips Hue Smart Dimmer Switches for table lamps $24.97 x 2
Philips total equipment cost: $269.85 plus tax
Lutron Caseta solution:
For the Lutron approach, a single in-wall dimmer and control switch replaces the existing dumb switch to control all six in-ceiling lights.
The two table lamps are controlled with plug-in modules and tabletop Pico remote controls that rest on weighted pedestal stands.
Lutron Caseta Smart Lighting Lamp Dimmer Starter kit with two Caseta plug-in lamp dimmers, two Lutron Pico remotes with pedestals, and one Lutron bridge for $189.95
One Lutron Caseta in-wall dimmer with Pico remote for $55.99
Lutron total equipment cost: $245.94 plus tax
And the Lutron cost savings when you expand to more light fixtures only gets bigger!
Caveat emptor (buyer beware)
This a reasonable oranges-to-oranges comparison, but of course there are notes and disclaimers that have to go with it.
No installation, configuration, or programming labor has been included. If this becomes your weekend project, you’re good and this is a realistic DIY cost projection.
If you’re going to hire an electrician to do the 110V power work of installing the single in-wall dimmer for the Lutron Caseta solution, you’ll need to include that cost.
That still leaves installing the apps, physically connecting the bridge, configuring all the switches and/or bulbs, and testing everything. That completes what we call onboarding the hardware and provisioning.
You’ll still need to configure any scenes or automations, set the keypad buttons to do what you want (where possible), and generally tune the installation to your liking.
That’s the programming part of the project: You don’t write actual software code but you tell each piece of equipment and the automation system what to do under various scenarios or circumstances.
Once you’ve got it working, be sure and have some fun by adding voice controlled lighting too!