June Lightovation feels incomplete without the Showroom of the Year awards ceremony. This year, amazing retailers from across the continent came to Dallas Market Center for the big announcement on June 21, and six showrooms — the Lighting Design Center at Warshauer Electric, Ferguson Enterprises, Lightology, WaterPlace, Crest Lighting and Montreal Lighting & Hardware — took home top prizes.
So what does it mean to be a Showroom of the Year winner? We asked these cutting-edge showrooms how they take chances, invest in technology and look to the future.
Revenue Under $2 Million: The Lighting Design Center at Warshauer Electric, Tinton Falls, NJ
Family-owned for more than 60 years, the Lighting Design Center at Warshauer Electric blends the latest technologies with expert lighting design, offering an exclusive product selection from the industry’s leading manufacturers. “This award is true validation of all our hard work, energy, effort and resources spent to bring our Lighting Design Center to where it is today,” Executive Vice President James Dunn says. “It was truly an entire team effort — from our management team, marketing staff, lighting designers, vo-tech employees, to our fully committed manufacturer partners and their representatives. Everyone bought in 100 percent and are all equally responsible for our success.”
Dunn on the biggest risk ever taken:
In 2010, we invested in a complete remodel/makeover in the throes of a recession. Not only was our showroom business off drastically, but also our overall electrical supply business was in sharp decline. Thankfully, our owner, Jim Warshauer, trusted the vision to invest instead of recoil, and we took the downturn as an opportunity and completely remodeled our entire showroom. Seven years later, the business is doing very well. We went from two full-time designers to six, and we are the current Lutron 5-Star Showroom of the Year winner and now our latest award — just awesome.
Dunn on the biggest challenges facing the home design/retail industry:
Keeping up with the changing technologies, especially LED, is one. Installing LED fixtures is a lot like installing a laptop: The minute it’s up and running, it’s obsolete and replaced by something brighter and more energy-efficient. The second biggest challenge is getting paid for adding the real value our designers offer everyday. We do complete designs, specify the right products for the right applications, ensure total satisfaction, just to have the homeowner or business owner shop our prices online or at a competitor who did nothing more than lower a price. Hopefully, the first part will be handled by our manufacturer partners strictly enforcing healthy IMAP policies.
Dunn on the most exciting technology:
Voice-activated automation like Google Home that really simplifies lighting control by using voice commands. We recently became a Google Nest Pro distributor, so we are in the process of rolling out a complete Google Home automation story tied in to our existing lighting control vendors that support it. Simple home automation has been around a long time, but has yet to really hit the mainstream — when Amazon sold out of Alexa this holiday season, it really hit home that this new technology is here to stay. We feel Google Home, and independent tests have proven, take this voice automation to a whole new level.
Dunn on the future:
I think we’ll be selling most of our one-off products and accessories online, and our Lighting Design Center will be
100 percent focused on projects — whole home, major renovations or boutique stores and restaurants.
Revenue Under $5 Million: Ferguson Enterprises, Clive, IA
Though they were unable to attend Lightovation in person, Ferguson consultants Amber Pirillo, Amy Kimberley and Jessica Richardson huddled together to watch the live stream of the ceremony in Iowa. When their name was called, they screamed, hugged each other and started crying. “We are honored to receive such a prestigious industry award and can’t thank the judges enough for believing in our showroom the way that we do,” Pirillo says.
Pirillo on the biggest risk ever taken:
We take risks everyday in our showroom, to think outside of the box and create new design trends. We want to stay ahead of current trends, be innovative and different. Whether it be creating a custom shower design tailored to a client’s needs, or selecting light fixtures that don’t match, per se, but bring an entire open floor plan together by mixing finishes, styles and textures, if you want to be a trendsetter, you have to take risks.
Pirillo on the biggest challenges facing the home design/retail industry:
Internet shopping. Clients have found that online shopping is oftentimes less expensive than coming into a specialty showroom. Well, let’s face it: A lot of the times, fixtures can be less expensive when purchased online. The way we overcome the challenge is by explaining that by visiting a showroom, they are not only receiving the fixture they need, but they are receiving guidance in the selection process by consultants with years of experience in the industry, assurance that they select a fixture that will perform the way they need it to, and a name and face of someone they can count on to give them a personal shopping experience that they will never forget. Our industry is all about building relationships. You can’t get that experience by ordering something online.
Pirillo on the most exciting technology:
Technology changes faster than I update my wardrobe, which is too often according to my husband. The convenience of controlling lighting in your home, or away from home, has become an amenity homeowners can’t get enough of. You not only have access from your cell phone or tablet, but also you can control it with your voice. Amazon Echo allows you to control light bulbs that work with Alexa by voice activation.
Pirillo on the future:
Change ignites creativity and allows for industry innovation — change is a good thing. In five years, I think our showroom will expand both in size and reputability within the lighting industry. We will continue to grow stronger as a team and strive to be the best we have ever been. It only gets better from here!
Revenue $5 Million and Over: Lightology, Chicago, IL
Winner in this category for the second year in a row, Lightology continues to keep its finger on the pulse of design, always looking for new ways to make design more accessible. “Amongst a field of some of the most innovative and successful lighting showrooms in North America,” Steven Schranz, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, says, “we are truly grateful to be considered one of the leaders in contemporary lighting.”
Schranz on the biggest risk ever taken:
Early on, we decided to curate a selection of lighting no other showroom had in North America. To achieve this, we traveled frequently to Europe and worked with countless vendors around the globe, hand-selecting some of the most unique and groundbreaking lights on the market today. The technical differences between lighting overseas and lighting in the U.S. can be like night and day, but we committed to helping many of these boutique brands redesign and engineer their products for the U.S. market, and today it’s what truly sets us apart.
Schranz on the biggest challenges facing the home design/retail industry:
Like every industry, technology is advancing lighting at a breakneck speed. LED and computer-driven technology have changed the lighting landscape, with every element of your fixture now controllable with the tap of a button. We have an incredibly knowledgeable staff and hold four-month-long lighting classes twice a year to keep us on the cutting edge. If you have a vision for your space, we can make it work, from ideas and prints to installation, complete with all the latest LED controls.
Schranz on the most exciting technology:
Tunable white LED lighting is one of the most exciting technologies we see evolving in the lighting industry. Tunable white fixtures give you the ability to completely customize the lighting in your living or working environment. With the turn of a dial, you can change your room from a bright, cheerful 4000K daylight to a warm, cozy 2000K sunset color temperature.
Schranz on the future:
The retail landscape has changed drastically over the past few years and will continue to evolve as digital channels grow. Succeeding in the future will require a retailer to distribute through multiple selling channels, offer unique value-adds and services, such as custom lighting designs and consultations; fine tune their marketing towards micro-audiences; and showcase new technologies, both in-store and online. At Lightology, we strive to understand what technologies and sales channels drive our customers’ buying behavior and patterns and adapt our operation to meet their needs. We work hard to ensure our digital footprint and showroom experience go hand-in-hand.
Outstanding Merchandising Display: WaterPlace, Crown Point, IN
When designer Doug Van Der Weide heard his showroom’s name called, he says he felt utter and complete shock. Since the showroom opened last October, it’s been a whirlwind experience. “We are humbly thankful, blessed and appreciative for just being considered,” he says.
Van Der Weide on the biggest risk ever taken:
The showroom itself is our biggest risk. Even though we have been in business since 1954, creating a new showroom brand over the past year with a wider offering of quality products at competitive prices is a huge risk for us. We expanded to include lighting, cabinets, furniture vanities, kitchens, tops, hardware and accessories on top of decorative plumbing fixtures. We also wanted to create a showroom that doesn’t look and feel like everyone else’s. It is all about the customer’s personal experience that we focus on.
Van Der Weide on the biggest challenges facing the home design/retail industry:
Not being stale, thinking out of the box. Showrooms tend to go with the “Well this is how it has always been done” attitude. We at WaterPlace realize that the next generation is slowly returning to the brick-and-mortar store to make a purchase, but they don’t want to visit a stale outdated showroom from a time gone by. Today’s showrooms must have more than just an educated staff: You need to create an emotional, personal shopping experience for your guests that they will never forget.
Van Der Weide on the most exciting technology:
Bluetooth integration, touch technology and LED lighting. These three forms of technology are forever-changing new products making them better, sexier, easier and safer. And are these four adjectives not the reasons why we purchase most products in the first place?
Van Der Weide on the future:
In our industry, I believe we will find more decorative plumbing showrooms following WaterPlace’s example of adding larger product offerings like lighting lines to sustain their showrooms and to be competitive, and we will once again be trying to think outside the box and be ahead of the curve, creating something new again.
Exceptional Community Involvement: Crest Lighting, New Lenox, IL
From supplying over $20,000 worth of new fixtures to Habitat for Humanity, to toy and coat collections, Crest Lighting embodies community service. The company’s philanthropic endeavors have touched people throughout the Chicagoland area. “Our community relationships have given us strength and have allowed us to grow through the years, and that’s why giving back to them is so important to us,” says Erica Gallagher, Chief Technology Officer.
Gallagher on the biggest risk ever taken:
One of our biggest risks was giving up a sizeable portion of our showroom space to partner with a local cabinet company, Seigle’s Cabinet Center. Fortunately, it has worked out really well, generating a significant amount of business crossover/referral business.
Gallagher on the biggest challenges facing the home design/retail industry:
What continues to be a challenge for the brick-and-mortar stores is the perceived value of the big-box stores. Clients assume big-box stores have good product at good pricing, when in reality, they have average product at average pricing. Our staff’s experience and our strong relationships with our manufacturers allows us to offer an extensive selection, great quality, style and design, at competitive prices, resulting in a better value for our customers.
Gallagher on the most exciting technology:
Home automation is certainly one of the most buzz-generating technologies we touch. Advanced lighting controls, embedded sensors, WiFi-enabled and remote-programmable systems — paired with energy-efficient lighting, thermostats, room monitors and more — are making our environments healthier and smarter. The ability to control thermostats, ceiling fans, lighting, window shades, cameras, appliances and so much more, from virtually anywhere via smartphones, tablets, Alexa, Nest and other devices, is changing the way people interact with their environment, and we are excited to be at the forefront of these new enhancements.
Gallagher on the future:
We are just shy of our 50th anniversary in the lighting industry, and we have seen a lot of things change over that time. We have remained strong because of our ability to adapt to these changes. We will continue to be technology-driven and see growth in our online business as consumers’ shopping habits continue to move more in that direction. At the same time, we anticipate greater focus on our services as our true differentiator, as no online shopping experience can replace an in-home visit and time spent getting to know our customers and understanding the look, budget and timeline that will ensure their project’s success.
Social Media Star: Montreal Lighting & Hardware, Montreal, QC
When the Social Media Star campaign finished on Lighting & Decor’s Facebook page, Montreal Lighting & Hardware had garnered over 200 likes and a ton of positive comments. Clearly, their social media strategy seems to be working. “We were very proud to have been selected amongst such fabulous showrooms,” Fred Naimer, President, says.
Naimer on their social media strategy:
This is largely the work and creativity of our Ecommerce Coordinator, Teneisha Collins. We want synergy between our showroom and our online presence. Because of this, our social media channels are designed to convey the same “wow” feeling of walking into our showroom. From photos from our designers and manufacturer application photos to our weekly contests, we strongly believe that content and engagement are key. Teneisha is the person that makes it happen. Almost all of our marketing and advertising dollars are spent on our website and social media. Today, our social media consists of regular newsletters to our registered followers on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Houzz.
Naimer on the biggest challenges facing the home design/retail industry:
Our biggest challenge is getting people to appreciate and value our service and to buy locally. The large online dealers are very influential in the market today. We match or beat any price, but first, we have to be given that opportunity. This only happens by being tenacious with our follow-up and service. It starts the moment a client calls or enters our showroom, and it never really ends. We are there for the client, even well after the sale is completed and delivered. We even contact each on-line client to make sure they have ordered what they really want and need.
Naimer on the most exciting technology:
I guess the technology that I love is Amazon’s Alexa combined with Lutron’s Casetta or Radio Ra2. Don’t ask me how it works (my son and others at the showroom are responsible for this), but how great is it, when you can walk into a room and say ‘watch TV’ and the lights dim, the blinds go down and the television turns on. No touching your phone and waiting for an app to load. We love demonstrating this to clients in our Experience Room. Alexa will even give you the weather and tell you a joke!
Naimer on the future:
In five years, my sister and I will be fading out, and a new generation will take over. Our kids will hopefully take what they have learned from us and combine this with their own ideas and way of doing things. The lighting industry has become and will be even more technical as time passes. Our children are better equipped than us to address the technology. This, with the experience they are gaining now, should allow them to thrive in the years ahead. We are fortunate that they share our culture of hard work and passion for lighting!