2018 Showroom of the Year: Origins of Success

Every showroom has its own unique origin story to tell. Here, the 2018 Showroom of the Year winners share their journeys in their own words.

Alison Martin
08/24/2018
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2018 Showroom of the Year Winners
2018 Showroom of the Year winners pose with their awards.

For the last nine years, Lighting & Decor and Dallas Market Center have honored the best and brightest lighting showrooms at the Showroom of the Year awards during June Lightovation. Each year, we hear how these showrooms conduct business, connect with their customers and make an impact in their communities. But what we don’t often hear about is how the success began.

So we asked our winners: What’s your origin story? How do you define it? For some, their origins begin and end with the families that started their businesses. For others, it’s a staff member’s story or the staff’s determination to help their customers that captures the showroom’s raison d’être. Our showrooms come from different areas and serve diverse communities, but at their core they reflect the same drive to bring lighting to all.

In their own words, our Showroom of the Year winners shared their origin stories. Here’s how they define them.

Revenue Under $2 Million: Village Home Stores, Geneseo, IL 

Village Home Stores Keri Swanberg
Lighting Manager Keri Swanberg accepted the award for Village Home Stores. 

Written by Elizabeth Round, Marketing Manager

Big-city style with small-town values, Village Home Stores has worked hard to stand out among large-market lighting showrooms while planting roots in a small Midwestern town. We offer an award-winning customer experience paired with quality products at a fair price, offering not just lighting but also appliance sales and service, cabinetry, countertops, floor covering, wall tile, blinds and shades and complete project management remodels.

At Village, our team culture is all about being humble, hungry and smart. We put these core values into action as we work together as a team and as we work for our customers. Village Home Stores began as a hardware store in 1984 and has since evolved to be the multi-department store it is today, now in its next generation of family ownership. We aim to make smart choices for our store and our customers to get the very best customer experience possible at a fair price. Our recent investment in a full lighting showroom expansion and a brand new website are examples of us working toward the best customer experience possible.

A recent challenge for our store has been working to become a lighting showroom “destination” at our Geneseo location. With the launch of our weekly 30-minute TV show a few years ago, our store has been exposed to a large viewing area of our local ABC affiliate channel. Most of the viewing households are located in the populations of the Quad Cities, placing them at about a 20- to 30-minute drive from our showroom. Our goal is to help convince new customers who continue to find us online and see us on our TV show that we are worth the short drive to shop our store. We aim to be a lighting destination, a title we try and earn with every carefully curated brand selection and display.

The Quad Cities continues to grow and new construction homes in our service area represent a large part of our lighting customers. We partner closely with our builders and new home customers to provide a detailed light list and discuss budget and personal styles before estimating. Because Village Home Stores is a one-stop shop, we are able to partner with other departments and all work within one single vision and timeline for the project. The full-color renderings we provide our customers of their new kitchens, bathrooms, etc. all include our selected lighting in the renderings so a clear idea of a finished look can be presented.

Being a lighting expert doesn’t mean upselling or taking advantage of that title. One of our favorite recent projects included lighting NOT from our showroom, and we couldn’t be happier about it. We recently provided product and design for a new home that included lighting that held a special personal history to the family. A past family business had about a dozen large red farmhouse-style barn pendants that the family dispersed between the households. Some went to other parts of the country, and one pair even went to a family member in France. Our customers wanted to somehow include theirs in the new home, but they were not sure how. Our lighting team said “bring one in,” and was wowed by the great pop of color and natural distressing with the history behind it. We were in love and designed the whole kitchen around these pendants with an Americana vibe including other surrounding lights from our own catalogs. Helping our customers connect with their finished spaces is a privilege, and this lighting story connects a whole family across the globe. How fun is that?

We are humbled every day that our customers have chosen to support our small business with their home project purchases. The internet is a huge place, so we work hard to build our reputation online backed by customer reviews and solid, sincere content. With every piece of content we post online, we hope that it is another way to endorse our brand, the work we do, the products we sell and the service you can expect if you do make the trip to work with us. After all, that person-to-person connection is what small business is all about.

Revenue Under $5 Million: Pace Lighting, Savannah, GA 

Pace Lighting Lisa Dixon
CEO Lisa Dixon accepted the award for Pace Lighting. 

Written by Lisa Dixon, CEO

Pace Lighting was started in 2001 originally by an electrical contractor by the same name with the same two owners. For about six years, Pace Lighting did just what every other lighting showroom did in terms of displays, stock and selling to builder accounts. In late 2007, we began planning for a new showroom space, which we opened in December 2008. 

As signs and impacts of the recession were all around us, the owners of Pace Lighting at the time decided to go all in on their new showroom. Everything would be state-of-the-art, installed in drywall and with plenty of vignette and “design” space. The end result was a 12,500-square-foot showroom that looks like an art gallery for lights and fans. While the payoff for this large showroom investment didn’t come until a few years later, our showroom has a timeless appeal, and even though we swap out displays and move things around frequently, our canvas is still second to none. 

In 2014, we became a majority female-owned company with two employees buying into ownership as one of the founding owners retired. Pace Lighting is now the single most-awarded lighting showroom in the country, with four Showroom of the Year wins and one ARTS Award. This is a testament to our leadership and the vision of our original ownership team to create a space where light fixtures could truly shine and customers would love to come shop and be inspired.

Today, Pace Lighting is under the day-to-day management of owners Tabitha Thomas and myself, and while both of us sort of happened into lighting, it truly has become a passion. The sales team refers to me as the “encyclopedia” of lighting, and after 10 years in the industry, I cannot imagine anything I’d rather do. 

Over the years, we have tried to diversify our customer base to include electricians, builders, designers and retail customers of all types. We also quote a lot of commercial and multifamily residential lighting jobs, which helps broaden our portfolio and sales audience. The biggest lesson we learned from the recession and dealing with online sales is that you cannot have one single revenue stream. Builders are great until recession hits. Retail sales are awesome until the internet started picking customers off who might otherwise have shopped with us. No one customer base is going to support a showroom, and showrooms must be adaptive and change with the times to fill the spaces in the market. The spaces do exist, they are just not as easy to see as they once were. Key manufacturer partnerships are also crucial. Finding a few suppliers and vendors who will really work with your particular showroom needs and goals can make all the difference between making it and just making do. 

In late 2017, I took to the internet to attempt to open more dialogue with showrooms and their partners, currently a Facebook group called the Lighting Showroom Coalition and soon to be a website by the same name. It is clear to many of us that the lighting industry is in a time of transition, with manufacturer acquisitions and pressures on distribution channels from all sides, to name just a few factors. 

Pace Lighting believes the path towards success and growth in our industry lies with having an excellent, well-trained team with a great network of resources that work with our everyday goals and challenges in the showroom. What works in one store or location might not work somewhere else, but the key seems to be in finding your niche and doing everything you can to gain market share based on those strengths. It hasn’t been easy for Pace Lighting; we have had setbacks and expect we will again in the future. Our brick-and-mortar showroom and the staff and fixtures therein are still amazing, and we know that with these core components in place we will find a way to weather whatever the future holds.

Revenue $5 Million and Over: Design Lighting, Surrey, BC 

Design Lighting
Though she was unable to accept the award in person, Teresa Geusebroek and her team made a significant impression on the judges. They noted that Design Lighting’s showroom is well-designed, immersive and easy to navigate, allowing them put lighting solutions in context. 

Written by Teresa Geusbroek, Showroom Manager, & Chelsea Greenhalgh, Showroom Sales and Marketing

After spending several years as an electrician and salesperson, Bill Dehaas decided to venture out on his own. Design Lighting opened its doors to the commercial lighting industry in 2000. Starting with three employees, Design Lighting quickly defined itself as a leader in the lighting industry. Within three years, Design Lighting moved to a new location with a vision to expand from the commercial sector to opening a public showroom. 

Throughout its six years at this location, Design Lighting expanded several times to accommodate the ever-growing business. As a result of new growth, several new staff members were hired: showroom retail, outside sales, project coordinators and warehouse staff. With the growing number of associates, Design Lighting acquired more space by expanding into the neighboring unit. This allowed for increased warehouse space, more office space and a larger showroom. In 2007, the showroom started operating its own delivery service by purchasing a truck and hiring a delivery driver.

All these expansions ultimately led to the building of a state-of-the-art facility in Surrey in 2009. The new facility boasts a beautifully laid out showroom complete with design center, landscape room, a multilevel light switching system as well as plenty of warehouse space to accommodate larger quantities of inventory to better service clients. In 2015, Design Lighting expanded the showroom further, creating more vignettes for customers to visualize their own spaces better. 

Today, Design Lighting staffs more than 20 employees and is a force in the lighting industry. 

One of our significant changes this past year includes a more substantial online presence through social media accounts such as Instagram and Facebook. We try and keep our social media accounts fresh and inspiring by showing customers new products as well as featuring past projects. We also communicate with consumers through email blasts that include the occasional blog post, which we feature on our website.

We have worked with various TV shows including W Network’s “First to Worst” and HGTV’s “Love It or List It” Vancouver. Design Lighting is continually looking for ways to improve our service to compete with e-commerce, by offering a lifetime warranty on all LED bulbs purchased at our store, decreasing our restocking fees, promoting shopping locally, price matching online retailers and providing the best possible service.

Design Lighting would not be where we are without great staff that dedicate their time to this company. Whether it be our sales staff who come in early for product knowledge sessions and stay late to reorganize and create new displays, as well as our project coordinators, purchasers and warehouse staff. We also would like to recognize the suppliers we deal with and the repeat customers who continually support us. In this ever-changing industry, we will continue to strive to be the best we can be and evolve our business as time goes on.

 

Outstanding Merchandising Display: NorthWest Lighting and Accents, Mt. Prospect, IL

NorthWest Lighting Thomas Reindl
President Thomas Reindl accepted the award for NorthWest Lighting and Accents. 

Written by Amanda L. Wolfe, Marketing Manager

It was 1954 and suburbia-mania was in full swing in the Chicagoland area. The new American dream included a “house in the suburbs,” and our founders, Roger and Lucille Reindl, began a business journey to help the new bustling northwest communities flourish. NorthWest Electrical Supply began in a one-car garage of their home in Mt. Prospect, IL. It was a busy time for them with a rapidly growing business and four young children, including a newborn.

By 1955, it was apparent that they had outgrown the garage shop, and they built a 5,000-square-foot commercial facility at 930 E. Northwest Hwy. in Mt. Prospect, becoming the first lighting showroom in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The following year, the business became incorporated. 

Towns were developing even faster than their kids, and electrical and lighting needs kept rising throughout the next decade. Roger decided to expand once again into a larger 15,000-square-foot space at 30 S. Main St. in Mt. Prospect in 1969. This expansion also earmarked another factor: Roger’s children would begin their adult careers in his business.

Fast forward through 25 years of successful business in the Mt. Prospect area, it became apparent the suburban sprawl was moving even further away from the city. Now owned and managed by the second generation of Reindls, in 1995, NorthWest opened its first branch location in McHenry, IL, about 25 miles north of their Mt. Prospect location. 

Five years later, their flagship location would see another major upgrade. NorthWest moved its Main Street location across town to 600 E. Rand Rd. This 50,000-square-foot flagship facility was built from the ground up, custom designed for contractors and retail showroom customers. Concurrent with this construction project was the rebranding of the residential lighting division of the company to be known as NorthWest Lighting and Accents, which made it more consumer-friendly. This new decade also marked the beginning of a third generation starting their careers at NorthWest. 

In 2013, another rebranding expansion seemed eminent. It became apparent that our contractor and retail customers needed more help with the increasingly complex offerings in lighting, controls and switchgear, thus NorthWest Design and Specification was born. This division offers a comprehensive menu of design services including lighting and design consultations, in-home consultations, lighting and control schedules, photometric point plotting and detail drawing. It is currently our fastest-growing division.

Throughout the last decade, NorthWest has been the recipient of numerous local and international awards, including Daily Herald’s Best of the Best, Lighting & Decor’s Showroom of the Year Awards in Outstanding Merchandising Display as well as Outstanding Community Involvement and the ARTS Award for the best showroom in the Midwest/Southwest region. It’s truly grown into a store that Roger and Lucille would be so proud of today. 

For 64 years, one dedicated family has set out to enlighten and help their customers with the latest technologies and trends in the lighting industry. It has been an amazing journey. And they are not ready to get off the rollercoaster just yet. With the third generation ready to take the helm in the next couple of years, another new transition is on the horizon with expanded emphasis on the wide array of online and social media needs that the next generation of consumers will soon require. We can’t wait to see where the journey will take them next.

 

Exceptional Community Involvement: Dominion Electric Supply Company, Laurel, MD

Dominion Electric Supply Marcia Hussey
Showroom Manager Marcia Hussey accepted the award for Dominion Electric. Why did they win? The company is involved with the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE), Children’s National Health System and Habitat for Humanity and Habitat’s Restore. They also stood out to the judges for their countless support of educating their customers by offering free CEU Seminars.

Written by Marcia Hussey, Showroom Manager

I became fascinated with lighting as a little girl when I first saw a rose coming alive with a million bits of light transmitted through fiber rods. It left a lasting impression indelibly etched into my mind. Later in a middle school stage production, I played the part of the sun. I lit the world with the command, “Let there be light.” It’s amazing how as you look back over your life, you can see shaping moments.

Later as I grew, I became very comfortable in the world of construction as I would accompany my father on many of his construction projects. It was so natural that when it came time for college, I attended The University of Technology where I started in architecture (where I met my husband) but decided to switch programs after two years to pursue cost engineering and construction economics.                                                                                              

After college, I worked in the construction industry where I specialized in electrical estimating and worked for several large electrical contractors in the Washington, D.C. metro area developing bid prices. This was very demanding, and accuracy was a necessary prerequisite to success. After a few years doing estimating and winning many large projects, I entered management at Westinghouse Electric Supply Company where I became Manager of Commercial Lighting and Distribution Equipment. This allowed me to work closely with institutional and commercial clients directly and with electrical contractors developing specifications and bid packages for lighting solutions.

Then a day that I will never forget; a truly “let there be light” moment came when Richard Sharlin, President of Dominion Electric Supply Company, gave me an opportunity that I simply could not refuse. An opportunity to bring lighting to all. I started in commercial lighting in Arlington, VA, where I had to hold my own as a woman in what was then a male-dominated enterprise.                                                           

Later, Dominion opened its Laurel branch where I was installed as Showroom Manager and Buyer. Here, my passion for art and lighting could take center stage. It is a decision that I celebrate constantly as Dominion is a fantastic company to work for, invests in its people and strives to be on the cutting-edge of an industry that is constantly changing. With the coming of the internet and large web-based lighting distribution channels, many businesses have had to rethink their business model.        

I have always thought, however, that all lighting is local, that you have a responsibility to deliver lighting solutions to your specific geographic area. When distilled, it means that you seek to know all players in your region. You analyze development patterns, you know what is to be built and what is existing to be serviced. You strive to know your customers, you go to their events and celebrate their accomplishments. You champion their causes. You seek to belong to all the various organizations and building associations. You seek to be on the mayor’s list of movers and shakers that shape your region and be at the forefront of things to come.

We have also had to remodel our showroom and install a new lighting lab that allows our customers to interactively evaluate lighting solutions and test web-based lighting integration. Also important to success is knowing who your customers will be tomorrow and to begin a program of courtship where you speak their language and offer solutions that they want championed.

I remember reading about the beginning of Samuel Adams Brewing where a measure of success was being able to see a Samuel Adams beer stopper at every stop. Likewise, success in the showroom/lighting business is knowing that when people in your region think of lighting, they see you at every stop. Running a successful showroom is also about how you receive people — how to “set the table” for your customers. You treat them well and with respect.                                         

I thank the President of Dominion, Stephen Kooth, who introduced me to the book “Setting the Table” by Danny Glover, who pioneered Shake Shack. Success in the showroom business also has a lot to do with team effort, the reputation of your company, the way you solve problems for your customers and how you motivate your staff, to which I always say “Attitude creates altitude.” 

Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to recognize the staff at all Dominion showrooms in Laurel, Arlington and Chantilly, VA, that work relentlessly each day to bring the very best in service to our customers and the management of Dominion that invests so much in their people. To Jim Pishner, for being a great mentor to so many at Dominion, and to Patricia Jordan, our Marketing Manager for her tireless support to all showrooms. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share our story. 

Social Media Star: Idlewood Electric, Highland Park, IL

Idlewood Electric Barbara Lansing
CEO Barbara Lansing accepted the award for Idlewood Electric. Why did they win? Judges loved that Idlewood’s social platforms exhibited an editorial look and feel — like their Instagram account below — showcasing a variety of lighting solutions in a beautiful collection 
of spaces.

As told to Alison Martin by Barbara Lansing, CEO and President

Isidore “Iz” Scheinman’s mother knew she had to find a way to keep her son out of trouble. While growing up in Brooklyn, NY, in the 1930s, Iz got his first job changing light bulbs in the New York City subway — a job his mother had gotten him to keep him on his toes. The job sparked his interest in electrical engineering and an entrepreneurial spirit.

When World War II broke out, Iz enlisted in the air force, and he was part of the first wave of pilots to bomb Japan. As he faced a particularly dangerous mission, Iz thought to himself, “If I ever get out of here alive, all I want to do is meet a nice girl, have a family, maybe open up a little electrical supply company out in the country.” Iz did survive the mission and the war. In 1958, he started Idlewood Electric with just six employees. This year marks the business’s 60th anniversary, and it currently employs over 100 people.

Since its founding, Idlewood’s core has always been its familial roots. When she was just 11 years old, Barbara Lansing, Iz’s daughter and the current CEO and President, started working in the showroom, and even then, she found it to be fun. She liked learning about different lighting styles and meeting new people. She never felt like it was a traditional retail operation; it was always about the customer. Twenty-five years ago, Lansing took over as CEO and President of the company.

When she had her own children, Barbara let her three decide their own paths. As they grew up, none of them had much interest in the business, but after graduating from college, two of them decided to come back. One currently works in marketing and with the design community, and another handles purchasing. They share their grandfather’s old office, and they sit on opposite sides of his enormous desk. They’ve learned the trade watching their mother, but at the same time, they’re teaching her just as much as she’s teaching them.

Today, Idlewood Electric boasts three locations in the Chicagoland area, selling all types of lighting from decorative to LED to outdoor. Like many other showrooms across the country, Idlewood faces increasing competition from the internet, but to Lansing, facing the internet isn’t much different than facing the rise of home stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s. It’s just a matter of learning how to compete. Beyond having a strong digital presence and a good online selection of products, Lansing feels better cooperation between brick-and-mortar stores and the manufacturers on shipping times and freight charges will help stores stay relevant. After all, brick-and-mortar stores brought “manufacturers to the party,” she says, and now is not the time for them to bury their heads in the sand.

No matter what challenges Idlewood faces, Lansing believes in having the best product at a fair price, and it’s a philosophy that will continue to carry the store. As the third generation makes its mark on the business, Barbara eagerly looks forward to the incoming fourth generation, set to be born this October.

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