LAPD’s collaboration with Next dates back to 2009. Their stores utilised halogen and metal halide light sources, with fluorescent battens concealed within coves and recessed troughs.
The lit environment was bright, but flat, with little to no variation in light levels across the sales floor and none between departments. Feature lighting appeared only in double height atria spaces and the full height “island stone” wall that adjoined every escalator.
The majority of sales floor luminaires were large and often clunky in appearance. Adjustable lighting protruded below the ceiling line, set at shallow angles to illuminate vertical surface. This created a lot of glare and contributed heavily to ceiling clutter, in conjunction with several rows of other luminaires, HVAC, sprinklers, cameras and speakers.
Our immediate brief was to improve the lit environment by bringing more contrast into the stores and by creating clear differentiation between departments. Upon successful completion of this brief, clearing some of the clutter from the ceiling would become paramount.
The switch to LED
Improvements in LED lifespan, efficiency and colour rendering allowed us to approach Next with the proof that LEDs had become a viable alternative to conventional light sources. This marked a shift towards LED, resulting in one of the largest orders for LED luminaires in the UK. By committing to LEDs in such a way and by trusting in the future of the technology, Next set a precedent that the rest of the market could follow.
Taking advantage of the efficiency and size of LED chips, we lowered the luminaires sizes without sacrificing output or adjustability.
Optical control is critical for LED luminaires. The revised specification for Next utilised narrower beams to create variations in lighting levels across the store. This was particularly true on mannequins, perimeter and spine walls. Here, key product lines are lit to their best by the variations in lit intensity.
As a result, the first big test for LAPD and for LED technology was to improve display window lighting. Typically a challenging area due to amount of natural light, the selected specification performed well. We added layers of light that were previously difficult to implement. Slim linear wall grazing uplights put light on to graphic backdrops without intrusion into the display space. Small floor-mounted LED spotlights increased versatility, fitting into spaces that older fittings could not.
Following the success of the display windows, we moved into the main store environment. The light levels were high, but did not enhance the carefully considered store architecture or finishes.
In addition to the bland lit environment, ceiling surfaces were too busy and large luminaires protruding below the ceiling line created visual clutter and obstruction to signage, graphics and merchandise.
The vast improvements made across the sales floor would not have been possible without the use of LEDs.
Optical control was at the heart of the improvement to the light levels. With ample light output, it was clear that the optical specification required updating more than anything else. At Next’s purpose-built trial space, we demonstrated narrow and medium beam optics, garnering approval for use in stores. With better control came higher contrast and the ability to truly highlight key product lines, therefore driving sales.
Smaller luminaire size meant that more was possible within a more compact space. The existing lighting scheme used 6 large fittings that broke the ceiling line to illuminate 2.4 metres of perimeter wall. Our proposal used only 2 recessed triple gimbals. This not only provided the same level of illumination, but made the wall a much more appealing display through higher contrast.
Using multi-way gimbals provided benefits beyond the improvement of the lit environment. The gimbals reduced the number of cut-outs in the ceiling by two thirds, leaving the ceiling instantly cleaner. With fewer cut-outs and only one electrical termination per luminaire, the costs of the electrical installation dropped, dramatically. As perhaps the most noticeable improvement, none of the gimbals broke the ceiling line, leaving views across the ceiling unobstructed.
The use of the triple gimbals was naturally extended to sales floor spine walls, where the same benefits were reaped. As a result, we created internal store perimeters that could enhance any product.
With the perimeters and walls so vastly improved, we wanted to increase the contrast and appeal of the mid-floor areas as well. A combination of fixed downlights and twin gimbals blended excellent ambient light levels with punchy accent. In revising the specification of the mid-floor luminaires, glare was all but eliminated.
A revolution in reflector technology relative to the existing scheme made an instant and welcomed enhancement. The fixed downlights still offered a wide beam, but without any of the glare due to the polished, darklight reflectors. The same polished pure aluminium, present in all of the gimbals, ensures that the maximum percentage of the available light is cast on to products and not held in the luminaire.
With the enhanced optical capabilities of the new recessed LED scheme, it was possible to eliminate an entire row of luminaires from the ceiling. This represented a 20% reduction in cut-outs and wiring. With 20% fewer fittings in the ceiling, the surface was finally revealed as a single, pure plane. The transformative effect this had on Next stores elevated them into the aesthetic realm usually seen in high-end boutique stores.
As fewer rows of recessed luminaires had such an impact on the ceiling, we then focussed on the recessed troughs.
Replacing the fluorescent battens in coves and troughs with LED strips was a viable option, proven in several live stores. The success of this approach was reinforced with several mock ups at Next HQ. Now we wanted to minimise the trough size, making them sleeker, to take another step in cleaning up the ceiling. Simultaneously, Next wanted to reduce the cost. With two runs of LED in each trough and some stores requiring huge lengths, cost threatened to eliminate the feature altogether.
Reducing the width of the trough created no problems with the LED strips, but required a new bespoke spotlight that would maintain a pristine ceiling line and full adjustability.
Mock-ups created by the manufacturer helped to determine the best spotlight dimensions. An all-new fitting was born from these trials, one that featured the looks that Next wanted, with the performance required.
At this point, a single-sided run of LEDs was trialled within the trough. The aim was to reduce the cost of the feature illumination. With uniform illumination of the trough and no noticeable shadowing from the mounting hardware of the spotlights, the single run of LEDs capped a successful trial period. Implementation into stores began immediately thereafter.
The interior design had been successful in creating differentiation between the departments. Likewise, we wanted the lighting to build on those differences.
The latest Next lighting design uses the form and finish of the luminaires to create subtle points of difference.
The recessed troughs and fittings, painted dark grey in the Menswear department, create the biggest impact. The ceilings between the troughs maintain their pure white surface, while the dark grey creates a clean, impactful contrast. This contrast serves to enhance the store environment, but does not detract from merchandise or store design.
Bespoke pendants are also a hallmark of Next Men’s formal wear. Large drum pendants that used to contain tungsten GLS lamps, now with LED replacements, have a soft, warm surface glow. This glow does not affect the colour rendering of the primary sales floor yet offers departmental identification from afar.
Feature lighting is not limited to the atrium and Men’s formal wear. We work with Next’s interior designers, Dalziel & Pow, to source the best options for Next feature lighting, from atrium and fitting room pendants, to internally lit shoe shelves and walls.
Our consultancy constantly strives to improve these features. Our research looks at the best methods for lighting them with the best products. As a result, from light source, lamp specification and colour temperature to glare control and cable routing, we provide Next with the best.
Our contribution to date has made for an incredible improvement in the lit environment and ceiling aesthetics in Next stores.
By ensuring that the specification in Next stores constantly evolves, we continue to improve Next’s already high-end lit environment.
With technology always improving, it is important for us to regularly re-evaluate the lit environment. This will provide Next with the latest in-store aesthetics, driven by the latest technology. Consequently, they will remain at the forefront of retail lighting.