Lighting The Way A small Maryland lighting company is changing the way customers see shopping centers. In this age when shopping center owners and developers are constantly opening newer, bigger, better centers, managers of older centers must keep their malls looking attractive and feeling safe. However, they are faced with few options that don't require lengthy construction schedules and big budgets.

There may be a solution. Site Photometrics LLC, Linthicum, Md., provides clients and their customers peace of mind by updating lackluster lighting in aging parking lots. The results speak for themselves. Poorly lit areas are transformed into bright spaces, leaving potential criminals with few places to hide. There are hundreds of companies that produce lighting products. Site Photometrics works with a select few to create light.

Getting started The company was born out of a long-standing relationship between Baltimore-based Valley Lighting and The Rouse Co., Columbia, Md., says Site Photometrics vice president Jerome Morstein. Morstein, who worked for The Rouse Co. from 1987 to 1995, had the responsibility of working with Valley Lighting to figure out why so many of the lighting systems in the developer's portfolio were failing to meet expectations.

"We were talking to people in the industry and began to formulate a comprehensive list of issues: the lamp's performance was overstated; the ballast's performance was overstated; the performance of many optical systems was overstated; a lack of coordination between designers and contractors and a lack of quality control caused light poles to be mis-located, luiminaires to be incorrectly installed and directional optical systems to be mis-aimed. Once completed and turned over to the operators those systems were not being properly maintained," he says. As a result, the systems are consistently operating at less than 40% of their intended footcandle levels.

After leaving The Rouse Co., Morstein teamed up with Valley Lighting owner Gerald Portnoy to form Site Photometrics in early 1996.

Other valuable partnerships Having learned during The Rouse Co. experience that lighting products don't always perform as promised, Site Photometrics decided to challenge premier lighting manufacturers to produce products that met and exceeded their expectations. The result: partnerships with Thomas Outdoor Lighting, Gardco, Advance Transformer and Venture Lighting, which all produce "Gold Label" products exclusively for Site Photometrics.

"We have gone to the companies that design and manufacture all the individual components and challenged them to make the best of everything they can and package it in a line of products for our exclusive use," Morstein says.

The partnerships have paid off. The company can choose from existing Gold Label products, or, if met with a new challenge, work with their partners to develop new ones.

One case challenged the company and changed the whole spectrum for Site Photometrics. "Wal-Mart came to us and said we need to double or triple our light, and you can't add poles or change the height, subtantially increase operating wattage, or do anything to compromise quality," Morstein recalls. "We had to go back and put our heads together. It was a real challenge from a real player. We knew that if we could find the answer, there was the potential for a breakthrough that would justify the investment in that solution."

The result was the 420-watt Gold Label series of reflectors, lamps and ballasts designed to replace conventional 400-watt products. With the 420-watt luminaires, light output is increased by 200% at a 5% energy premium with improved light distribution and extended lamp life. The solution worked so well that Wal-Mart has made the 420-watt operating system its store standard. By the end of 1998, Site Photometrics will have converted 60 of their existing sites to the system.

The formula Once the company is contacted about an existing property, the first step is to obtain an accurate site plan that locates all perimeter curb lines, parking aisles and light poles. While a surveyor is handling that process, the company is evaluating the condition and potential of the existing infrastructure -- poles, lights, bases, etc. Site Photometrics contracts with an independent company to measure the existing footcandle levels at 50 to 200 certification points, depending on the size of the site, throughout the parking lot. These points will be used again after the upgrade to verify the company's promised results.

This pre-upgrade measurement is necessary, Morstein says: "We feel compelled to document for the customers their current state, letting them know where they are before we do anything from a lighting perspective. We show them how bad their site is, if it really is bad. People know they don't feel comfortable, but we work in a quantitative world of numbers and can give them a graphic representation of the footcandles they have."

With this information gathered, the company prepares a computer-generated graphic presentation of the current system's level of performance in both point-by-point and gray-scale formats. This presentation can be used to show the areas of the lot that are lit at levels lower than what the client requires.

Clients are then given a report that includes options ranging from "Best It Can Be," a system that utilizes existing hardware and the highest available performance lamps, to a host of capital improvements with varying levels of lighting performance and cost. The various options allow clients the opportunity to spend as much or as little as they want, understanding the trade-offs in performance and cost.

Each upgrade is performed on a complete, turn-key basis. Site Photometrics is responsible for furnishing and installing the entire system on an agreed upon schedule and price. To ensure that every project is installed correctly, they use the same contractors for each job, along with on-site company supervision.

Once the work has been completed, the independent company that measured the pre-enhancement light levels returns and measures the post-enhancement light levels at every one of those certification points. If the light levels do not achieve the promised results, then Site Photometrics will go back and make any necessary changes, doing whatever it takes to deliver the guaranteed improvement.

"We don't sit in our office in Maryland and tell a guy in Phoenix, 'Here's a list, go do this and it will be better,' because we know it will never get done right," Morstein says. "We're only going to get involved if that guy in Phoenix wants us not only to tell him how to solve the problem and achieve those results, but is prepared to work with us to implement the solution for him."

Jobs requiring retrofit can be accomplished in a matter of days, while bigger jobs -- those requiring new poles and wiring -- may take a few weeks. The company realizes that time is of the essence, as few shopping center managers want their parking lots closed off from the buying public for an extended length of time.

In one example, Site Photometrics was hired to perform a site assessment and offered a solution that would have achieved the footcandle requirements without requiring new bases or new wiring. The job would have taken less than two weeks onsite to complete. As the contract negotiations were about to be finalized, someone at the management company's headquarters put a stop on the work order, giving the job to its electrical contractor.

"He solved their lighting problem by adding a fifth pole in the center of every four-pole configuration. He ended up adding 17 light poles and bases. Every time you do this, you have to dig a trench somewhere for wiring," Morstein says.

The other contractor began in early November and finished in mid-February, meaning the parking lot of this mall was torn up in one way or another for the entire holiday season. In addition, the cost was $5,000 more than Site Photometrics proposal, and the mall now has a 20% higher electrical bill due to the added fixtures, Morestein says.

"We're now doing work for that developer," he added.

Slow growth Though the company has completed more than 175 projects in the past two years and is seeking additional clients, Site Photometrics realizes that each project solution requires a significant investment of its time.

"We don't want to get involved in too many commitments that we can't possibly satisfy," Morstein says. "We will never allow those customers who showed confidence in us originally to be jeopardized because we tried to grow too fast."