Lighting can provide an easy and profitable addition to a cabinet shop’s bottom line.

By Brad Stewart

Imagine being a time traveler with a passion for kitchen cabinet design. From early colonial times to the late 20th century, many changes could be seen. Higher quality boxes, solid surface countertops, decorative hardware, functional hardware, power appliances, etc., would all be considered the marvels of modern times.

Interestingly, changes over the past 10 years may have been exponentially faster and more significant than during the previous 200. Americans have more money than ever…and they are spending it. This cash influx is driving technological and design evolution to new levels. Currently, according to the NKBA, the average American kitchen remodel costs $40,000. That’s more than double what it was just a few years ago.

When architects erased formal dining and living rooms from floor plans, the kitchen became a much more critical room in the house.

Whether it is the party patrol or your child drinking chocolate milk at the bar, more than ever, the kitchen is one of the main places Americans hang out.

Considering the tide of baby boomers, poised to take the beach of retirement by storm, a $60,000 kitchen may soon be the standard.

One of the most interesting asides is that, of customers buying a $60,000 kitchen remodel, only a small percentage cook. So, what do they do in this space? They entertain. When they entertain, they want their kitchen to look better than the neighbor’s kitchen. If it also costs more, that's a bonus.

One of the most important new (and growing) profit centers has been the use of cabinet lighting in kitchen design. Customers have figured out that when they spend more than $40,000 on granite countertops, tile backsplashes, premium cabinets and stainless steel appliances, they want them seen in their best light. According to industry sources, most kitchen designers/manufacturers understand this trend, because lighting ranks fourth amongst additional integrated features, besides the kitchen cabinet itself. The question is, how to turn that trend into profit?

This leads to a few questions custom cabinetmakers might want to ponder: Are you capitalizing on the demand for lighting? How do you respond when your customer requests cabinet lighting? Do you handle the opportunity or turn it over to an electrician? If you're doing the latter, lighting might offer a win/win for you and your customer. Consider the following:

• “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Think about the before-and-after photos showing a $40,000 kitchen without lighting and a $43,500 kitchen with lighting, as shown below. A good rule of thumb comes from designer Gary White of Kitchen and Bath Design, Newport Beach, CA, who says, “Lighting represents 50 percent of the ambiance of any designed space, at what should be 10 percent of the overall cost.”

• The economic logic. According to industry experts, well over 75 percent of your business most likely comes from referrals, and an installed kitchen is your number one source of advertising. If 100 percent of your installed kitchen cabinets had properly designed cabinet lighting, they would look 50 percent better. As a result, how many more kitchens would you sell each year?

Maybe your main customers are new construction builders, who tend to care less about extra design enhancements. If so, lighting may not represent an opportunity for you. However, if your customer is the end consumer (especially one who entertains), providing good lighting will definitely pay off because your installed kitchens will look 50 percent better. You will enhance your customer’s daily environment, and their friends will notice.

• You have to manage the lighting anyway. If you currently farm the lighting to an electrician, he will want to know: Where should we drill holes for the lighting? Where is the power coming from? How should we plan to run the cables? Can you send me a layout? Plus, you have another contractor to manage. Instead of hiring an electrician for everything, consider getting paid the extra $1,500 to $2,500, for the work you are already doing.

• Today, cabinet lighting is truly “plug-and-play.” You still need to pay your electrician to install switch-controlled outlets. But now you can make a profit off the lighting and the installation of it. More importantly, you can control the quality of lighting, reducing failures and recall visits, while enhancing customer satisfaction and your bank account, all at the same time.

How Many Lights?

The number one question asked about lighting by most cabinetmakers is, “How many lights are needed in a given space?” That is a difficult question to answer, however, because it is so subjective.

Enough light for one customer will not be enough for another. Plus, other factors, such as how much ambient light is in the room, the color of the countertop, how much sun shines through the window, etc., affect the amount of foot candles in a certain area. You can have as many as one every 6 inches, but a good rule of thumb for spacing is 10 to 18 inches between halogen spotlights.

If you are still unsure, integrating dimmer switches will help, because they make it hard to over-illuminate an area. If they are too bright, the customer can set the dimmer to a lower level. Unfortunately, fluorescent and LED products are usually not dimmable (especially in cabinet lighting).

If you have never worked with kitchen cabinet lighting, or have before but not for some time, you might be surprised at how easy it is, first to include it in your designs and sell it either as standard or as an upgrade and, ultimately, to implement. One kitchen cabinet designer/dealer reports that lighting has become his number two profit center behind kitchen cabinets. It could provide an equal boost to your sales and profits as well.

Easier Than You Think

In the United States, kitchen cabinet lighting was virtually unheard of until the early 1990s. When it was first introduced, it was considered a confusing and cumbersome product category. The good news is that, with current solutions, understanding how to integrate lighting into your kitchen and bath design is a simple three-step process:

1.) Pick the right type of light to fit the a

As can be seen in these “before-and-after” photos, lighting makes a vast difference in the look and ambiance of a kitchen.

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