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What is the best lighting for car dealerships?

Crucial tips for car dealership lighting from industry experts

What is the best lighting for a car dealership? A better question might be, “How do you make a customer’s dream a reality?” according to Jeff Richmond, General Manager at Valley Imports in Fargo, North Dakota.

“You have to keep the dream of the customer alive,” he said. “You don’t want what they fell in love with online to die when they walk in.”

Jeff has been in the car dealership industry for over 30 years. He’s watched as the industry and customer behavior has changed with the times — perhaps the biggest change being the shift from in-person shopping to online shopping.

In earlier years, customers would come and drive by the dealerships, or walk through the parking lots, checking out each vehicle to see which one they want. At that time, Jeff said, lighting was crucial for drawing customer attention and making the sale.

“You have to keep the dream of the customer alive.

You don’t want what they fell in love with online to die when they walk in.”

— Jeff Richmond, Valley Imports General Manager

Today, customers usually do all their shopping and research online, he said. They decide which car they want to buy before they’ve even seen it on the lot. Now, lighting and presentation are responsible for living up to the pristine photos that customers see on your website.

At Valley Imports in Fargo, where they sell Audi, Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen, and Mitsubishi, presentation is everything — from screen to reality.

“We offer 40-60 pictures on our website for each of our cars, because our cars have so many options. For the fancier cars, people like to look for their unique customizations. If we don’t give them a quality online experience, we’ve failed them,” he said. “And when they do finally decide to pull that ripcord and drive on the lot, if that car doesn’t look as good as it does in the pictures online, we’ve failed them again.”

Audi Lighting at Valley Imports in Fargo
A new 2020 Audi sparkles in the Valley Imports showroom.

Jeff equates it to the experience of seeing a juicy Hardy’s hamburger in a commercial.

“In the commercial, the burger looks like a million bucks. Then you run over to Hardy’s and you open the box and the burger looks nothing like it,” he said. “There’s a level of disappointment that the next time you see a commercial, you may not go get it. That’s what we’re trying to avoid with the right light.”

So what is the right light? Jeff Richards turns to the lighting experts at GoodBulb for that. As a long-time customer — over a decade! — Jeff knows that by working with experts, Valley Imports is able to follow the lighting designs sent over from the car manufacturers and create a dazzling showroom experience for customers.

“I like to think that I better be able to see my reflection in the paint. Again, you can only do that with the right lights,” Jeff said. “The diagram is important, but having the right bulbs is 75% of the job.”

Tip from GoodBulb Lighting Expert Adam:  Lighting that is 2700K to 3500K won’t make your car dealership look as clean and new. Going with a 5000K color temperature is going to make everything look extra clean and extra new.

Is LED lighting a good choice for car dealerships?

At Valley Imports, you can find the showroom lights on 24/7.

“People like to press their nose up to the glass and see the cars,” Jeff said. “I think the lighting on our brands gets people to stop, and then the lighting on the interior gets people to stay.”

Using long-lasting, sustainable LED lighting has been a game-changer when it comes to longevity and energy-saving, Jeff said. 

“When this facility was built in 1998, non-LED bulbs were used throughout,” Jeff said. “Today, even with rising energy costs, we spend much less than we did in 1998. We’ve added two showrooms since then as well, and our bills are still less than they were.”

Yes, LEDs do cost more upfront, Jeff said — but in the long-run, they not only look better, but they also make up the cost by lowering your energy bill over time.

“It costs you a little bit more now, but the longevity for the life of the LED bulb, and the difference they make, it’s really a no-brainer,” he said.

What is the best lighting for the service department?

Another area of the car dealership where lighting becomes crucial is the service department. Here is where technicians take your vehicle for upkeep — and no, it’s not a dark, greasy, place.

“The old perception of dealership service departments being dark and dingy and technicians being covered in grease, and lighting being bad — people get that from TV shows,” Jeff said. “Today, it’s not like that. First of all, most shops today are pretty open. A customer walks in, and they can see almost all of the 27 bays we have without walking too far. They want to be able to see their car, see it up on the hoist, and see the work being done that they expect. It’s important to be light and bright and inviting.”

Having proper lighting for your service department is important not just for customers to see, but of course, for the technicians too! Jeff sees it as an investment that enables technicians to do their job better, as well as show them you value their work.

“From an employee view, technicians deserve to work in a well-lit environment,” he said. “You come to work each day and your bay is bright and clean. They don’t get down in the dumps in the middle of the day because they’re working in a dungeon. So you can see what you’re doing, and you feel valued as a technician.”

What is the best lighting for car dealership parking lots?

While customers may not be doing their drive-by shopping as much as the pre-online-shopping era — people are still checking out your cars while they drive by. This is where parking lot lighting can shine. Jeff’s seen it happen time and time again:

“Say you want a bright red beetle, and it looks like a million bucks online. One Sunday afternoon, when the dealership is closed because you don’t want to get hassled, you come over and look at the car. You can see it while you’re driving down the road. But when you pull up, and it does not look good. The lighting is so poor that you can’t even really tell. You cant see the interior, the shine on the aloe wheels, the shine on the Volkswagen logo on the hood of the car. All of those disappointment touches, you can avoid if you have the right lighting.”

GoodBulb works with Valley Imports to maintain clean, bright parking lot lights. GoodBulb experts call to check-in in advance, to make sure that no bulbs are dimming, and send new ones when they do. 

“I can tell you that there’s not a lot of dealers who do a good job with lighting in small towns. Because it seems like a waste of money. But it’s not a waste of money; they have no idea how many sales they’re losing by their cars not standing tall on their lot.”

— Jeff Richmond, Valley Imports

Why is lighting important for car dealerships?

Sometimes, Jeff said, it can be hard to demonstrate the value of investing in good lighting for your car dealership. However, the ROI is undebatable, he said.

“I can tell you that there’s not a lot of dealers who do a good job with lighting in small towns. Because it seems like a waste of money,” Jeff said. “But it’s not a waste of money. They have no idea how many sales they’re losing by their cars not standing tall on their lot.”

It’s part of staying competitive in an industry that is swiftly changing, with new competition always around the corner. Jeff looks to new competitors – such as purely online car sales or car vending machines — and shakes his head. In the end, small-town car dealerships aren’t simply a place to buy a car; they’re a place where you build a relationship with your “car guy,” and where you can see a friendly face. It’s a business name you might see as a sponsor for local community events, or at your kid’s school.

“I saw a billboard that said, ‘When was the last time Amazon sponsored your Little League team?’” Jeff said. “Local dealerships are some of the biggest providers of sponsorships to organizations. I hope people think about that.”

Nevertheless, change is already here. It’s up to small-town dealerships to find ways to stay competitive in these new markets.

“You have to figure out a different way to set yourself apart,” Jeff said. “Having your car stand tall no matter where they are — online, in your lot, in your showroom. As soon as a customer is let down, they’ll leave. Your cars have to be looking like a million bucks all the time. And with the right lighting, they can.”

Photos courtesy of Valley Imports.