If you haven't already, it's time to enter your lighting showroom or nominate a deserving lighting retailer for the 2022 Showroom of the Year Awards. You can find the submission forms here.
These prestigious awards, sponsored by Lightovation, Dallas Market Center and Furniture, Lighting & Decor celebrate independent businesses focused on lighting and retail in three monetary categories and specialty awards for Outstanding Merchandising, Community Involvement and our Social Media Star.
We share the stories of our finalists as well as our winners, bringing light to the challenges and successes of retail in this category! We honor our winners at this summer's Lightovation in June with a gala event and awards ceremony. This is an opportunity you won't want to miss, so get your entries and nominations in this month! As you're preparing your entries and nominations, take a look back at our 2021 Showroom of the Year winners!
2021 Showroom of the Year Winners
Under $2 Million
At the heart of Lightstyles, a 4,300-square-foot showroom located in Cornelius, NC, is a dedicated group of employees that are integral to the showroom’s success, says Brad Goode, Director of Sales.
To give staff a sense of ownership, leadership divided employees into four teams: sales, operations, builder support and financial. By giving every employee one hat to wear instead of five, leadership thought they would eventually become specialists in their particular area.
“That was really the defining moment for our success,” Goode says of the decision to form the teams. “We just started to take off after that. We made sure we had the right people in the right seats. It really allowed each individual team to really start to develop that family unit. I know this sounds so cliche, but it was almost magical to see how they just started pulling together and everybody started working toward that one goal.” With everyone “rowing in the same direction,” Goode says, each team takes ownership of their particular specialty area and works together to support the company as a whole.
As members of the American Lighting Association (ALA), Lightstyles keeps its employees up to speed on the latest technology developments via ALA-led trainings, educational webinars and in-store manufacturer workshops. Showroom lighting designers are all making their way through ALA certification, while showroom leadership determines the other educational opportunities that would be most valuable for staff.
Goode’s philosophy is that if employees are treated well, then they’ll treat your customers well. By giving your employees responsibilities that demonstrate their value, they’ll feel a sense of pride coming to work every day and that will translate into a positive customer experience, which impacts the bottom line.
“Profits should not be the goal, they should be the outcome,” Goode says. “What is actually the goal is teaching your people that they are of value to the company. We really try to put them in the right seat and show them how much they are valued in that seat. The rest of it really does just take care of itself. The bottom line is, we want to make sure that we are providing the ultimate lighting experience for our customers and the first step to that is making sure that our employees are happy.”
To that end, each quarter employees compete to win the coveted Golden Lightbulb Award, a working light bulb trophy that is presented to the team with the most customer compliments. The team with the award at the end of each month gets lunch on the company — and bragging rights.
The Showroom of the Year Award is a testament to the hard work of Goode and his staff, and the honor has pushed them all to continue to improve.
“We’ve just been overjoyed to win the award, but really to be included in that club of winners and seeing the other showrooms that were finalists this year, we can’t believe that we won,” Goode says. “It’s an honor to be a part of that group and an honor to have the award, and it’s driving us to become even better.”
$2-$5 Million & Outstanding Merchandising
Talk about a good use of downtime. As COVID approached, the founders of 80-year-old Dominion Electric, in Virginia, had already realized that it was time to shed their store’s outdated image. The goal was to create a friendlier, easier-to-shop and more efficient environment for their customers. In 2020, as the lighting showroom shut down, it was the opportunity to go big and finish the changes that have netted this lighting showroom two 2021 Showroom of the Year Awards, one for its monetary category — $2M to $5M — and one for Outstanding Merchandising.
“For our CEO, these awards validate that taking the risk to become more design and designer focused was the right thing to do,” says Matthew Rowan, Vice President of Residential Lighting and the architectural brains behind the redesign of Dominion’s flagship Arlington, VA, showroom. “Recognition in the industry means we are best in class,” he continues, noting this was the CEO’s intent from the beginning. “It is also wonderful reinforcement for our team, which put their hearts and souls into this project.”
Rowan shares that before the renovations, the Arlington showroom — one of three in VA — was somewhat overwhelming for its customers. Now the redesigned showroom showcases a more curated lighting selection, a light lab, a designer workspace and even an event space. The retailer has also installed a smart sound system that pumps out music designed to uplift customers in the space, a signature scent and a neutral dress code that allows the merchandising and product to take center stage.
“We created this transporting experience so once the customer walks in the door, they are immersed in something different: design,” Rowan says. “All five senses have to be involved. We are building an experience to get people engaged in lighting.”
It’s worked for the showroom, Rowan continues, as profits continue to increase month over month. Creating a curated showroom that exudes great taste helps customers to buy in to the experience as well as the product. “They already believe the recommendations you’re giving them, and that helps to increase sales,” he adds.
The experience at Dominion Lighting goes beyond its exceptional merchandising, however. In addition, Rowan has worked hard to earn the trust of its customers in other ways. For example, they changed the design of their price tags, creating a transparent pricing structure that removes the need for guessing or negotiating because all information the customer needs to research the lighting they are considering is there for them, including links to the manufacturer websites if desired. “We empathize with our customers,” he says, noting that they’ve created three personas for three types of customer demographics: designer, contractor and retail customer. “We focus on how they like to be communicated to, what they love, their stressors and their fears. We want to be their trusted advisor.”
Understanding the customer in this way has changed the way Dominion procures its lighting as well. The assortment is more curated, and the company is now careful to purchase pendants in sets of three and sconces in sets of two, for example, as that’s how its customers shop. “We are paying close attention to how our customers need us to work and understanding their needs. We derive good data on what works and doesn’t work, and we make tweaks as we go.”
All of the changes made to Dominion’s Arlington location can be expected to be duplicated in the company’s Chantilly, VA, showroom next. The third showroom in VA is being revised as a warehouse outlet as it is part of the warehouse.
“Our customers come in looking for a lighting fixture and they leave a lighting snob,” Rowan notes. The elevation of its lighting clientele, whether designer or retail customer — through transparency, effective merchandising and exceptional customer service — makes clear why Dominion Lighting earned these two Showroom of the Year Awards for 2021. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for this lighting retailer in 2022.
Over $5 Million
David Nestor, President and Owner of Urban Lights in Denver, entered the lighting fixture business in 1976, at a showroom whose primary emphasis was on electrical contractors, builders and production builders. In 2001, the business, then called Foothill Lights, moved to its current location just outside of Denver’s design district; in 2005, Nestor sold the business. As fate would have it, five years later Nestor repurchased the showroom, renamed it Urban Lights, and focused his efforts on design, retail and custom home customers.
Today, the showroom is Denver’s largest lighting store, with more than 20,000 square feet of showroom space. The success of the showroom can be attributed to the dedicated staff of 50 that keeps the showroom running, from the warehouse to the sales floor. “Each member of our staff plays a vital role in the growing success of Urban Lights every year, and we would not be where we are today without the individual contribution each employee brings each day,” says Hannah White, Showroom Manger for Urban Lights.
The company’s open-minded culture and freedom to explore new areas of the lighting industry keep employees feeling valued, engaged and excited to come to work each day.
“All employees have access to direct and fluid communication with all levels of leadership,” White says. “We empower our employees with opportunities to grow, ensuring they feel valued, and their workplace is a community where individual contribution is important and recognized daily.”
Urban Lights has proven time and again their adaptability and willingness to grow and change along with the retail environment, a skill that will no doubt carry them long into the future.
In August 2021, the Urban Lights team will open a boutique showroom space to provide Colorado Springs homeowners, builders and designers access to lighting, ceiling fans and home decor. The showroom will adjoin ListenUp.com, a local audio/visual service provider.
“This synergy will provide the beauty of light and sound for our shared customers,” White says. “In both locations, we will continue to adapt and redefine our approach to the ways that consumers shop, by enhancing their experiences in the showroom and online.”
The Showroom of the Year Award is a testament to the hard work of the Urban Lights staff despite the challenges of the past year. “It is proof that our efforts to create a stunning and accessible showroom, provide stellar customer service, and contribute to our local community are recognized and appreciated,” White says.
Black Whale Home
For Kirsten Recce, Founder and President of Black Whale Home, in Encinitas, CA, there is more to retail than stocking the shelves and selling to customers who walk through her door.
Recce considers Black Whale Home to be an integral part of her personal community, physical community and industry community, and she gives back in all three.
And Recce thinks outside the box. Much like her store, which she and her team have morphed from a lighting-only retail showroom to a lifestyle retail showroom where customers can source furniture and accents as well as lighting, Recce embraces a wholehearted approach to how she interacts with her community. From a personal perspective, Recce has served on the local school district’s executive parent board for the past eight years and she also serves on several citizen and oversight committees there.
In the community, for the past 20 years, Black Whale Home has made large donations to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore stores, about $30,000 a year. “It doesn’t behoove us to let things linger on our selling floor for a long time,” Recce says, adding that some of her manufacturers also support the program. “They’re shouting out to us all the time,” Recce says of HFH, noting the partnership works for Black Whale’s bottom line as well. “ [ReStore] employees shop here now too.” Recce appreciates that Habitat for Humanity is transparent about how the money they bring in from donated items is spent — on materials to build homes for those most in need.
During COVID this past year, Black Whale Home put even more emphasis on its community when Recce and her team got involved in a program to feed essential healthcare workers while giving local restaurants — many that suffered from early-on shut-downs — an additional revenue stream. Pulling from a program that had been put in place in the community, Recce and team raised more than $16,000 to feed health care workers, buying food from different restaurants that had been hit hard by the pandemic to supply the food. They paid full price — often up to $500 per delivery — to help keep those essential workers in place as well. “It was a great way to get people engaged and give back in a positive manner,” says Recce of the program that evolved organically.
Recce and her staff added such things as Hershey’s Kisses and notes of gratitude to the meals, and they collected coffee pods for the security workers. At the height, health care workers were triaging patients in the parking lot and they’d have to wait for someone to become available to come get the food. This program went on for 147 days. “It was a half a year with people learning about the program through word of mouth and wanting to get involved,” Recce says. “It was something really special
to be a part of. It made everyone feel good and created such a sense
Beyond Encinitas, Recce is involved in her industry community as well. She’s served on the American Lighting Association (ALA) board conference planning committee, and also serves on the Lighting Showroom Association (LSA) board, a group she’s passionate about. “The ALA is a leader in educational programs,” Recce notes, adding that LSA is a place for lighting retailers to have a voice in the industry and have the “hard conversations.” “We challenge our group to look at some of the challenges our industry is facing and share ideas focused on figuring out ways to make it work,” she says. LSA, she adds, is an organization where thinking out of the box is encouraged, creating an environment where everyone in the industry can find real-time support is a focus, and retailers can find mentors. Recce has been involved in creating spreadsheets to share with members that identify discounts and codes that help retailers get better pricing, for example. One of the most recent initiatives through LSA is a job board where retailers and vendors can put out calls for staffing. “LSA is a platform for independent lighting showrooms to amplify voices across all channels,” Recce says, and it’s a community she’s proud to be part of.
As a lighting, and now lifestyle, showroom passionate about its industry, Recce’s and Black Whale Home’s dedication and creativity around lifting up its community and peers illustrate the importance of independent retail. Kudos to Kirsten Recce and her Black Whale Home team on this Community Involvement Award. It is much deserved.
Social Media Star
Guildwood Lighting & Fireside
If this year’s Showroom of the Year finalists all had one thing in common, it was the need for an online presence in a year where in-person interaction with brick-and-mortar retail was difficult, if not impossible. By maintaining an active social media presence, these showrooms were able to connect with their customers, providing a personal link between the showroom and the customer.
Guildwood Lighting & Fireside, this year’s Social Media Star, had been making these connections long before COVID-19 impacted business operations, and this London, Ontario, showroom will continue to evolve their strategy after the pandemic has passed. According to Brendan Dodd, Digital Marketing Manager, the showroom’s social media strategy is about being “relevant and inspirational.”
“We want to deliver the right message, at the right time, to the right person, and in their preferred format,” he says. “Our clients are at the heart of our business and our strategy is constantly adapting to meet
The showroom first began its social media journey on Facebook, but Instagram recently has seen the greatest growth. The visual nature of the platform makes it easy to use imagery to spark creativity among followers. “Inspiring our clients is a key goal of our marketing strategy and we appreciate how Instagram helps facilitate this,” Dodd says. “There are plenty of channels you can pursue, but you want to be targeted in your approach. You have to always be evaluating what matches you with your audience.”
For other lighting showrooms looking to expand their social media presence, Dodd’s first piece of advice is simple: don’t be afraid to start.
“Social media is easier than you might think,” Dodd says. “Don’t get discouraged if you do indeed find the setup a bit difficult; the benefits you’ll realize will definitely outweigh the time it takes to get set up.”
Another key element is thoughtful messaging, Dodd says. The idea that you have to flood your feed with posts in order to gain traction in the social media space is a myth. Rather, prioritizing quality, meaningful content that tells your audience a story will help you better connect with your audience.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that you need a formal social media plan, but rather that you should stick to some key themes as opposed to posting anything and everything,” he says. “Quality of content is better than quantity. You want your message to be memorable and impactful, not just something that piqued their interest in the moment.”
As the pandemic winds down, Guildwood’s social media presence pushes forward. Dodd says that the COVID-19 situation highlighted the need for brick-and-mortar showrooms to have a digital presence, and that presence will be just as important in the years to come. Social media offers a way to engage with your audience and provides helpful data that can impact your overall business.
“By correctly deploying your social media strategy, businesses can utilize the advanced analytic data on your audience and how they interact with you online,” he says. “This gives you power over your competition by allowing you to understand the habits of your clients.”