NPU completes massive lighting upgrade for Bob's Discount Furniture distribution center

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Norwich — Picture stacks of furniture, sofas, love seats, mattresses, chairs, stacked five racks high divided by aisles about 10 feet wide, and now try to read the precisely coded labels that identify each parcel with only a strip of lighting on the ceiling ranging from 24 to 38 feet above.

At the gigantic Bob’s Discount Furniture distribution center in Taftville, those labels are now perfectly clear following the completion two weeks ago of one of the largest commercial lighting upgrade projects Norwich Public Utilities has done to date.

Several NPU officials toured the 860,000 square-foot distribution center – the largest of five such facilities that serve the 110 stores in the Bob’s chain across the United States – Monday morning after presenting the company with its energy efficiency program rebate check totaling $64,065. The $208,467, five-week project replaced 11,493 incandescent and outdated lightbulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs and replaced 2,484 light fixtures.

Jesse Douglass, director of distribution center operations, said the benefits go beyond the rebate and the estimated annual energy cost savings of $109,390. The brighter environment improves safety and improves working conditions.

Ivan Kucher, area vice president of distribution center operations, said he joked with employees: “You can see the tags now, so no more mis-picks.”

“We didn’t realize how dark it was in some places,” Douglass added.

The Taftville distribution center has more than 500 employees working in tasks ranging from pulling carefully marked items from the racks and loading them onto trucks, to assembling chairs, tables and other items to customer service and maintenance. About 60,000 items are shipped out of the center each week. And although the center is not a retail store, about 150 customers per week come to the center to pick up their items in person.

“These original rooms were probably the darkest rooms you could ever work in,” Kucher said as the tour group headed from front to back in the expansive distribution center.

The building has been expanded three times as the company has grown, and now the distance from front to back is about a half mile, Douglass said. A fleet of electric-powered forklifts and flatbed haulers travel the floors painted with sidewalk areas and intersections equipped with stop signs.

Vehicles are prohibited from one center area, where all employees do stretching exercises before they begin each shift. An on-staff physical therapist coaches employees on the types of exercises that are best suited for their particular jobs, Douglass said. He called the workers “industrial athletes” and said the exercise program helps cut down on injuries and even helps employees recover from weekend muscle aches that could worsen during the week.

A second floor was constructed in one of the additions to handle furniture assembly. Douglass estimated 1,200 to 1,400 chairs are assembled per day in the center.

The lighting upgrade took five weeks and was a “seamless” project that didn’t interfere at all with the bustling daily operations of the distribution center, Douglass said. A five-person crew from New Jersey-based contractor Energy Management Associates LLC quickly worked its way through the complex, ripping out old fixtures and bulbs, installing new ones and moving to the next row. The final inspection walk-through two weeks ago marked completion of the project.

NPU acting General Manager Chris LaRose said the commercial lighting upgrade project is a key component of NPU’s energy efficiency program and helps keep the city’s valued commercial taxpayers in the city. Bob’s ranked fourth in the city’s top 10 taxpayers in 2017. The 2018 list following citywide property revaluation was not available Monday.

"NPU is proud to partner with Bob's on one of our largest energy-efficiency projects ever, helping a great company make a smart investment that will pay dividends for years to come," LaRose said in a press release announcing the rebate.

c.bessette@theday.com

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