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Making an Impact: Showroom of the Year Winners

This year’s Showroom of the Year winners embody the best of lighting retail.

By Diane Falvey & Gianna Annunzio
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Showroom of the Year Award winners were announced during summer Lightovation at Dallas Market Center.

The winners of the 14th annual Showroom of the Year Awards have been crowned, and their stories and showrooms are nothing short of inspiring. From creative merchandising to customer service to education, these lighting retailers have been on the cutting edge of their industry and are eager to continue to evolve to better serve the customers who walk through their doors.

Honored at Lightovation, at Dallas Market Center, lighting retailers cheered each other on and picked up their awards with excitement. They shared a focus toward the future, having been validated that what they have accomplished is being recognized. The ceremony was hosted by celebrity designers Tamara Day (“Bargain Mansions”) and Breegan Jane, as the crowd looked on.

We’ve connected with this year’s Showroom of the Year winners to expand on what this award means for them, what has worked for them and what the future holds for their businesses. 

Thank you to Dallas Market Center, Lightovation, our judges (below), our hosts and especially all of the retailers who shared their stories.


Under $2 Million

Tidewater Lighting, Madison, CT

It’s been a remarkable two years of success for Tidewater Lighting & Design, the ocean community showroom based in Madison, CT. After winning the Home Building Industry (HOBI) award for Best Small Retailer in 2022, the group has now earned the title of Showroom of the Year in the Under $2 Million category for this year, all under the leadership of owner Carla Snowdon.

“We’re constantly trying to get our name out there and take advantage of these types of awards,” says Snowdon. “So we’re proud to have won Showroom of the Year, and so excited. It’s a great way to help promote
us, and it’s a great feeling to have that recognition. It makes you feel
extra special.”

During the awards ceremony in Dallas, Snowdon’s daughter, Sheriden Beard, accepted the award on Tidewater’s behalf. Although Beard has attended Lightovation in previous years, the thrill of Tidewater’s victory electrified the ceremony for her.

“I find it inspiring when a smaller business is nationally recognized,” she says. “Winning Showroom of the Year was super helpful for that reason. Tidewater works with clients both locally and nationally already, but it would be great to see it expand into even more of a national business.”

Snowdon is confident that the industry’s constant reinvention ensures things never grow stale, providing hope for Tidewater’s sustained success for years to come.

“There’s always somebody reinventing the wheel,” she says. “New finishes, styles and trends keep emerging. This year alone, the two-tone the black or white paired with brass has been so popular, and it’s so much fun. It’s never the same old thing.”

The store’s unique coastal aesthetic, evident in every detail of the showroom, attracts customers from near and far. Features like a front counter with a resin ocean painting on top and antique doors from old sea captains’ homes in a deep nautical blue fill Tidewater with charm, something both Snowdon and Beard take pride in.

“I love visiting the showroom every time I’m home,” Beard says. “It always makes me feel the urge to redo my apartment! My mom does an incredible job incorporating little pockets of design style throughout the showroom. I’m always so impressed with the result.”

Snowdon also remains committed to educating and mentoring her customers and up-and-coming designers in the industry. Tidewater’s approach involves guiding customers through each option without pressure, ensuring they find the perfect fixture that suits their needs.

“There’s so much that I would love to share with them,” she says. “A lot of new industry professionals want to understand and saturate their minds with so much of this business. I’d hate to see the box stores and the Home Depots taking over all the little lighting showrooms. I love to share my knowledge and get the word out about it.”


$2 Million to $5 Million

Tallahassee Lighting, Tallahassee, FL

Following her Showroom of the Year win in the $2 to $5 million category, Janna Gray, the CEO and Co-Owner of Tallahassee Lighting, sees the award as a springboard for the future. Accompanied by her parents Larry and Janice Houff, who are also Co-Owners of Tallahassee Lighting, she attended the winner’s ceremony during Lightovation in June and believes that the award speaks volumes about the showroom, further establishing their position within Tallahassee, FL and the surrounding areas.

“We have so many smaller outlying areas before we get to the next large city,” she says. “So trying to take advantage of this opportunity has been a big part of our plans.”

Being the CEO of Tallahassee Lighting has continued to bring about constant change, something Gray loves. Each day is different, vendors are constantly innovating and there’s always something new to learn. As the group has begun shifting from strictly lighting into whole home decor, Gray also recognizes that visuals tell a story better — and help customers understand how curated combinations of lighting and decor can enhance their homes.

“In the past month or so, we’ve been working on turning some of our previous ideas into reality and expanding our furniture offerings,” Gray says. “We believe this will not only help broaden our product line but also allow us to showcase the furniture and lighting more effectively. What better way to do that than by setting up scenes or vignettes for people to come in and fall in love with?”

Though lighting will still remain the showroom’s primary focus, Gray’s father, Larry Houff, is also excited about expanding the showroom’s product line. Recognizing that customers typically only purchase lighting every few years, Houff hopes customers establish a more frequent relationship with Tallahassee for their other decor needs.

“I really believe we need to feature more than just lighting,” he says. “We continue to focus on expanding the decor section because that encourages repeat visits. You know, ladies love to shop, and that’s one of our target markets. They enjoy browsing in stores and discovering what’s new. Hopefully we’ll be able to speak to that target market, and get them in here.”

Gray also hopes winning Showroom of the Year will help Tallahassee Lighting attract more custom home builders.

“With a lot of the design business we have, several people still say ‘I have to go to Atlanta for that,’ or ‘we have to go to a big city,’” she says. “Tallahassee is a smaller city comparatively speaking, but at the same time, we’re advanced enough with universities and hospitals that we want it to be a stopping point for surrounding areas. Winning this award, I think, speaks volumes about our role in the industry. And as a retailer, it gives us the validation to go to those customers and say ‘look, we’ve captured this award, and we’re going to expand our lines and do even more things.’”

Houff expressed similar excitement around winning Showroom of the Year, and the energy that surrounded the event. He also looks forward to capitalizing on the success.

“The awards event in Dallas was very exciting,” he says. “Lightovation itself was just an awesome event. There’s a lot to take in, but my wife and I had not attended before, and we just had a blast. We were ecstatic to be chosen as winners, and have received so much positive feedback. We’re looking forward to continuing to play on that throughout the year.”

Tallahassee Lighting is more than just a showroom; it’s an experience. Customers enter and learn “the story of light,” helping them explore color temperature preferences and understand how lighting affects ambiance. The store’s manager, Kevin Ryan, who has been with Tallahassee for over 20 years, helps customers turn their living spaces into the homes they’ve always dreamed of. This sense of community and support has only amplified following the award.

“I’ve received thank-you messages, phone calls and emails from people who are not on our direct distribution list,” Gray shares. “Even random congratulations emails. We’re eager to leverage that and build on it. Internally, it shows us that we’ve done a great job. It validates our efforts and motivates us to keep pushing forward. But we’re not resting on our laurels; we’re expanding our product lines and pursuing new ventures!”


$5 Million and Over/Social Media Star

Inline Lighting, Montgomery, AL

What’s the secret sauce to Inline Lighting’s success? ESOP status for one. And second, it’s having a staff that is more family than work colleagues.

The employee-owners at the Montgomery, AL, lighting retail showroom work hard. That hard work has paid off with two Showroom of the Year Awards this past June at Lightovation — in the $5 million and over category and Social Media Star.

While awards validate the effort and creativity behind a flourishing retail showroom, the satisfaction comes more from happy customers, and an engaged and motivated team. “You win an award, but you have to keep moving forward,” says Sherri Jeffcoat, Showroom Manager (and employee owner). That mindset of moving forward has paid off for Jeffcoat and the three other employee owners who manage the sales and customer service aspects of the store. “I always wanted to be a store owner,” Jeffcoat continues, “Three of the four of us have had the dream to own a store, and this is the way it’s been woven into our lives. It’s a beautiful thing.”

This multi-generational group of women take a customer-centric approach to business and create a collaborative environment between them and with other staff at Inline to ensure that each customer touchpoint is about making buying lighting (and other home furnishings) a positive experience for all. “We are women who choose to support one another and that’s not something you find every day,” says Jeffcoat. “We’re a work family in the sense of mentorship. I’m the oldest and I can still learn from the youngest, Allison, who has been in this business almost longer than anyone in our group.”

The multi-faceted team — in addition to having ALA lighting certifications, several of the staff are also trained in interior design — provides a broad view of how lighting works in a home functionally and from a design perspective. Those design backgrounds also impact Inline Lighting’s merchandising, something that is continually tweaked, Jeffcoat notes. “I get to decorate in this showroom every day. We just love fixing it up.” She adds, “This store reflects the gifts and the talents of the four women who are here. We look different from our other stores because it’s our personalities that come across here.”

Those interior design backgrounds are essential to communicating with customers in ways that elevate the lighting buying experience as well. “Interior design takes years to master, and the knowledge we have is extremely helpful to the end user. We understand how it all fits together. Lighting is the first piece of art that goes into the home, and today’s lighting is such an expression of personality,” Jeffcoat says.

Beyond understanding how lighting will enhance a home’s aesthetic, the Inline Lighting team also understands the technology and functionality that its customers might not even know they need to understand. Being able to impart that knowledge gives Inline customers the confidence in making the best choices for their spaces. “It’s extremely important to have an understanding of color temperature, for example, and how it works with paint colors and finishes. Being owners, we want to stay current. There’s something to learn every day,” Jeffcoat notes. More than just explaining how a lighting fixture might impact an environment, at Inline, customers can experience demonstrations of the differences, making what they need crystal clear. “Being able to show people in the store sets us apart,” notes Lauren Collins, Marketing Manager. “It feels good that our customers can go out and buy light bulbs, and do it the right way,” because someone at Inline has educated them on what will work best.

As a team that’s invested in every aspect of its business, the staff at Inline works together closely when facing challenges. They also understand that the business model needs continual refreshing so they can continue to evolve. While the primary staff is the four ESOP owners, Jeffcoat continues, there are other teams — warehouse crews, commercial lighting experts, electrical sales. “We are supported by others. There’s a sense of teamship at our branch.” Collins adds, that teamwork mentality sets the Montgomery showroom apart. “They want each other to be successful so they are all successful.”


Social Media Star

As much as what goes into serving the customer at the physical Montgomery location, is also the approach Inline Lighting takes to connecting with its customer where they might start the discovery journey — online. “We use social media to keep our customers excited. Interaction there is very important,” Collins notes. Inline Lighting also pays close attention to SEO and being at the forefront in organic Google searches. The company has added a blog recently to help with those SEO results and also inspire trust as it offers educational content that can help potential customers be more informed about their lighting choices. “It’s content driven, not Inline driven,” Collins says. “We want people to buy from us because they’ve learned something and better understand the lighting they need. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing we helped them feel at ease about their choices.” The efforts have paid off in engaged customers both on social media and the website.

Inline Lighting showcases a beautiful presentation both online and in person, strong factors in the Montgomery lighting retailer’s award-winning success. More important however, is a work environment, where everyone helps each other and works through challenges together. That united front and family feel extends to Inline customers, something that keeps them coming back. “The culture Sherri has created is what really sets the showroom apart,” says Collins. It has created a customer-centric environment that is more than award-worthy.


Community Involvement

LED Capstone, Vero Beach, FL

As an independent retailer, regardless of what you sell, it’s integral to the success of your business to be involved in your community as much as possible. It creates exposure for your brand and good will in the neighborhood. While all of our Showroom of the Year entrants and finalists showcased wonderful Community Involvement stories, LED Capstone, of Vero Beach, FL, stands out for going above and beyond in their community and engaging with the next generation of lighting customers, designers and potential lighting professionals by engaging with that younger set through mentoring and youth guidance programs.

Of course, LED Capstone participates in all of the regular philanthropic community initiatives as well, donating to Habitat for Humanity and the local Humane Society Thrift Store,  as well as working with the Coastal Connections Sea Turtle Preservation society. The lighting retailer also offers educational opportunities to help local designers and architects and more earn the CEUs they need for their continuing education.

LED Capstone considers itself more than a lighting retailer. It’s a community-driven design center that is passionate about turning its clients’ visions into reality. To that end, the small staff is knowledgeable in all facets of lighting, and President & CEO Mitchel Zavala is an ALA-certified Lighting Specialist.


Becoming the Teacher

Like many lighting retailers, LED Capstone makes sure its staff is up to date on the latest lighting technology to ensure they can help their customers make the best choices. This retailer, however, has taken its knowledge a step further and uses it to educate those coming into businesses around home design, and to offer younger people in the community an education they might not otherwise have access to.

On the collegiate front, LED Capstone, which is involved with the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), works with the Design class instructors at the local college (Indian River State College) to set up expert speakers to do educational presentations for the design students in “Lunch and Learns.” LED Capstone also has the Design Class Students visit the showroom to teach “LED Lighting 101.” The students learn about LED Diodes, Kelvins, Lumens and the many different types of lighting and so much more. “We give a test at the end of class, and I am amazed at how much the students absorb. They all know the answers,” says Flo Howe, Marketing & Sales at LED Capstone.

Through its customer and community relationships, the lighting retailer also helps place students into internships to help them with school and eventually jobs. LED Capstone also donates to the design class auctions. It feels good to help these students get a start, says Howe, and it also benefits LED Capstone by connecting the lighting showroom with more established designers. “They’re looking at us as experts in certain fields because here we are teaching it,” she notes. “I love the world of designer lighting.”

Teaching seems to be in LED Capstone’s DNA. In addition to working with design students — and industry professionals — the lighting retailer also takes part in a youth guidance program, hosting children who might not have opportunities to learn about lighting professions. In these classrooms, they  teach the kids about lighting by letting them get hands-on with such projects as building LED lighting strips. LED Capstone also makes sure there are lots of food options and snacks to go with the learning. “A lot of the people who come in from the youth guidance program are young kids who won’t get the chance to go to college,” Howe says. This gives them an introduction to a field of work that might be of interest to them. In addition, it allows LED Capstone to help families in need. In addition to bringing children in from the Youth Guidance program to learn, the lighting retailer adds these families to their donation programs. A list of items are sent to youth guidance, and the children’s parents can pick out lighting fixtures that they’d like in their homes. “It’s a good thing to do at the end of the year,” Howe says.


Turtle Love

Being in a coastal community, another community initiative is educating the consumer about and providing the right lighting to protect turtles. Again, LED puts its teaching cap on when it comes to helping homeowners and those in building industries about the proper lighting that won’t interfere with turtle habitats and migration. This is particularly important for commercial and hospitality projects, providing these businesses with lights equipped with turtle adapters so light can’t be seen from the beach. LED Capstone is also working on bringing more decorative turtle-safe fixtures in as well as donating up to 5 percent of its turtle lighting sales back to the Coastal Connections organization they work with on turtle protection.

For those who are employed at LED Capstone, while community involvement does help the showroom gain new clientele, giving back to the community is more about just that, giving back. “It makes everyone feel good and it’s a lot of fun sharing knowledge with the students and young kids,” says Howe. “We enjoy that the kids are honed in and paying attention. They actually put their cell phones down.”

For Howe, in particular, her favorite part of working within the community is helping designer interns. “We love being a resource for them,” she says.


Outstanding Merchandising

Alcott & Bentley, Louisville, KY

Nestled in a unique shopping district in Louisville, it’s Alcott & Bentley owner Allyson Mokhtarei’s intention to add a little bit of uniqueness in every vignette in her lighting/home furnishings store.

Alcott & Bentley is not a large showroom — with about 2,000 square feet of showroom space — but every inch is utilized (walls and floor along with the ceiling) in a way that allows for customer discovery and delight when they visit. “We’re very proud of our ‘Louisville Weird’ slogan. Our merchandising has always been done to draw people’s attention with an element of surprise,” Mokhtarei says.

That approach has paid off, not only in the growth of her lighting showroom, but also with the judges of the Showroom of the Year Awards, as Alcott & Bentley took home the Outstanding Merchandising award in June.

Before Mokhtarei and her husband bought and revamped the business in 2000, she says, “It was pretty dusty. Literally, in an old, dusty building. We changed a lot, including moving the location.” Just a couple of years after they purchased Alcott & Bentley, however, a fire burned the showroom to the ground, and the Mokhtareis had to start over. “We took a crazy leap and moved into a new space. We went there with an orange couch that I bought at a retail store. When we’d sell one ceiling fan, we’d buy two. Little by little we turned it over. And now there’s good energy in here,” she says.

Mokhtarei credits her team for much of the showroom’s success, including the merchandising, which has become a destination as well as a local “mom and pop” establishment. While the showroom mirrors Mokhtarei’s style and encompasses an eclectic mix of lighting and home furnishings, she also engages her staff to offer input on the next merchandising opportunity. “I encourage my employees’ input, and it has allowed the store to bloom, as they represent a certain subset of people and their style resonates with different groups,” Mokhtarei says. “It gives everyone a sense of ownership in the showroom and a sense of pride. We feed off that positive energy.”

Walking through Alcott & Bentley, you might be surprised by birds on lamps or a turtle figurine under a small table. While originally, Alcott & Bentley was focused on Tiffany lamps and that vibe can still be felt, there is so much more to experience on this showroom’s floor.

Mokhtarei is not afraid to take calculated risks with her merchandise mix. “We’re buying test samples of random products that no else [in the area] has in their store. We’ll buy one or two to test them out and if they do well, we’ll buy more,” she says. “It’s a benefit of being a small showroom. We are the buying team, which gives us more flexibility and sets us apart from larger showrooms.”

To enhance the lighting, Alcott & Bentley also showcases such home furnishings as sofas, tables, bar stools, rugs, art and “kitsch” unique things for decorating. “Our vignettes play a big part in placement, where we put these things to make our lighting look better and to inspire our customers,” Mokhtarei says.

Most recently, the team has brought in some smaller gift items, tabletop and jewelry to give customers even more reason to come in and check out Alcott & Bentley.

When developing vignettes, too, Mokhtarei brainstorms with her team, using exercises such as finding adjectives to describe home decor. Spaced out in vignettes throughout the showroom, they focus on such styles as boho eclectic, whimsical or fancy masculine. “It helps us categorize what style is selling vs. what’s not,” she says.

She also pays close attention to shopping behavior in the store. “I monitor the customers like crazy,” Mokhtarei says. “Once through the decompression zone in the entry, we watch to see if they go to the left, the right, or sit down or touch something. If I see customers looking at a particular product more than others, I’ll expand that inventory,” she says. Alcott & Bentley staff are also trained to connect with customers on a more personal level, knowing the names of repeat customers, giving compliments and keeping the energy positive.

As Alcott & Bentley has evolved, so have the services and categories
the retailer offers. “We’re focused on educating the customers on such things as recessed lighting, and setting up a light lab to display what’s on the horizon,” Mokhtarei notes. She’s also dipping her toes in interior
design services.

“What we’re doing is working, but you always need to challenge yourself,” she says. Alcott & Bentley is a testament to a little can go a long way. The showroom footprint may be on the small side, but the creative energy that drives the merchandising and customer interaction is mighty, and it is a key to the retail showroom’s success.

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