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Meet the 2021 Showroom of the Year Finalists: Over $5 Million

Meet the five lighting showroom finalists in the Over $5 Million category.

Diane Falvey and Amy McIntosh
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CR Lighting (Colonial Lighting) - Decatur, GA
CR Lighting (Colonial Lighting) - Decatur, GA

To see the rest of the finalists:

Finalists in the Under $2 Million category

Finalists in the $2-$5 Million category

CR Lighting (Colonial Lighting) - Decatur, GA

CR Lighting is no stranger to transition in the last several years. In 2015, the 50-year-established Atlanta-area lighting retailer — then known as Colonial Lighting — was acquired by CR Home/Builder Specialties, which has since been backed by a private equity group. 

This acquisition precipitated a number of changes that COVID then accelerated further. In the throes of the pandemic, CR Lighting picked up and moved its Buford operations to the CR Home campus in Decatur, which also houses UMI, where they fabricate marble, granite and stone; and the CR Home Design Center, which offers flooring, counter tops, closet systems, specialty plumbing and more. In addition to lighting, CR Lighting also sells fireplaces and garage doors. The campus, says Cindy Herrin, General Manager of the lighting showroom, creates “a one-stop shop for homeowners looking to update or build new homes.” Because of the campus’ broad assortment, too, the CR Home group attracts interior design and builder clientele. 

Herrin continues that even through the move, customers have remained loyal, in large part due to the company’s stellar customer service. “If you ask anyone in the Atlanta area, our customer service is our number one thing,” she adds, noting that while the company does have e-commerce, personal customer contact is the preferred method of connection. 

In the last year, this has included deliveries and/or meeting customers on build sites to avoid close contact, phone orders, virtual appointments and curbside pick-ups. “We’d rather have the interaction with our customers,” Herrin added. However, for customers who prefer to shop via website, that option is available as well. Layering in these options for customers adds convenience, and Herrin sees some of the connections COVID has inspired continuing long past the pandemic. 

At the crux of CR Lighting’s continued success — because of its essential status, the retail showroom never closed fully — is its employees. “We have a team that is truly dedicated to helping customers make the right choice,” Herrin notes. “Lighting is the heart of the home and getting it right in the beginning of the journey makes for a happier home.”

Hermitage Electric - Nashville, TN

Hermitage Electric
Hermitage Electric

Hermitage takes full service to the next level in its Nashville location. “We’re a comprehensive design, coordination and installation organization,” says Graphics Director Daniella Fleischer. (Daniella is also the wife of the company’s President, Jack Fleischer). “We offer a full array of lighting, appliances, hardware, plumbing, kitchen and bath cabinetry from a discriminating customer to a budget-conscious individual,” she says, adding that Hermitage’s vast selection is sourced from all over the world.

It’s not just that comprehensive selection and customer base that makes Hermitage stand out, however. This 77-year-young, fourth-generation retail showroom has a motto: “Outrageous Customer Service - Acting with Integrity.” That customer service, which includes full installation services on lighting and appliances, as well as white-glove delivery service, ensures the retailer’s customers, from builders and designers to homeowners, “don’t have to go anywhere else,” to find what they need.

It was this ability to service a wide spectrum of customers that helped Hermitage weather the initial shutdown in March of 2020, says Jack Fleischer. “The builder business has kept us in tow,” he says, noting that residential home improvement has remained strong. The Hermitage team, including the Fleischers and showroom General Manager Steve Falk, also took the shutdown time to revamp merchandising and put more of an emphasis on the ecommerce and digital side of the business. 

“We’ve been very attuned to improving our digital reach,” Jack Fleischer says, noting the team has grown its email reach and social media presence along with its ecommerce capabilities. “Our digital marketing has been integral in helping us stay in business,” Daniella adds. We created a cohesive digital strategy to ensure our customers knew they would be safe while shopping with us.” 

While COVID has impacted sales for the retailer which has a large hospitality and commercial business along with residential and retail, the most important thing during this time was keeping everyone safe, particularly the staff. Hermitage shifted employees to remote status where possible, and Jack Fleischer anticipates that will remain in place where possible. “Our employees really helped us get through this thing,” he says. “We’ve made sacrifices, and I think our employees found they could lift each other up and do more with less. That’s a big lesson that will stay.”

To boost morale, there have been quarterly social events, such as virtual holiday cooking decorating and creating light bulb terrariums for Earth Day. “We’ve been together but distanced,” says Falk.

To stay connected to customers, the retailer has held virtual CEU courses for their builder and designer communities as well.

Idlewood Electric - Highland Park, IL

Idlewood Electric
Idlewood Electric

Idlewood Electric, in Highland Park, has put its customers first for its six-plus decades as a family- and woman-owned lighting showroom. It’s dedication to its customers and community has netted Idlewood multiple awards, including 2019 and 2020 Showroom of the Year Awards for Community Involvement and an ARTS Award in January 2020. 

As this last year has thrown multiple challenges at retailers, Idlewood’s dedication to its customers has remained steadfast. “Brick and mortar showrooms must capitalize on the customer service experience to survive,” says Rachel Sotolof, Director of Marketing. “Idlewood’s team makes it their priority to build relationships with our customers.”

Idlewood rose to the COVID challenge with virtual appointments that allowed customers and staff to stay safe and still get the right lighting for a project. Once the doors reopened in May, Sotolof says, while some customers came in for masked, socially distanced and sanitized store visits, virtual visits remained and will continue into the foreseeable future. “We will continue to offer virtual appointments, and with our showroom doors now open, we can ‘tour’ customers through without them having to leave their homes,” says Sotolof. “However, we have found that there is still a strong need to provide a showroom experience. Many customers want to see their lights first-hand.”

Another change that Idlewood has made that will continue is that of curbside pickup for shoppers who prefer the comfort of their cars. “It’s a simple convenience for customers and a time saver. One of the biggest lessons our team has learned through this pandemic is that working together ensures everyone’s safety and health,” she adds. 

Idlewood offers thousands of products in its 10,000-square-foot space, merchandised in ways that allow customers to see how something will fit within a room. To ensure the correct choices and because lighting technology is ever changing, Idlewood educates its staff and those who visit the store. The retailer offers CEU-accredited courses on topics that are relevant to its interior design, contractor and homeowner customers. Since COVID has nixed in-person events for now, the company has pivoted to virtual with Zoom webinars that also showcase the Idlewood showroom. 

Idlewood credits its outstanding team with its success. With more than 100 employees, “who are like family,” Idlewood takes care of its people the way they expect their customers to be taken care of. The retailer is also connected to its community through charitable endeavors and events designed to raise everyone up. 

Muska Lighting - Roseville, MN

Muska Lighting
Muska Lighting

At Muska Lighting, family is the name of the game. The original store, Light’N Up, started in 2004 with a staff of six. Seven years ago, the owners purchased Muska Lighting, which opened in 1956, and with that purchase came 19 staff members. Whether they’re a blood relative or just feel like one, the showroom team is packed with history, with many careers spanning decades. This time spent working at the showroom translates to lighting expertise that customers can trust.

Keeping staff safe and employed was a priority for Owner Celeste Schumacher. When a staff member got sick early on, the showroom closed immediately, sending most staff home to work remotely with one person in each showroom to answer phones and meet clients for appointments. Employees were paid for the duration of the shutdown.

“We felt it was motivational for them in that they were secure and safe as far as their job,” Schumacher says. “Worrying about your health is one thing and then worrying about your job on top of that is really hard, and we didn’t want people to worry about that. We made a conscious choice that we were going to make sure we employ all of our people.”

Muska also sends employees to markets to help further their education. When attending markets wasn’t possible in 2020, the team took matters into their own hands and brought markets to them. Schumacher invited vendors into their showroom to present their new products while staff picked out new product.

The team also developed inexpensive product packages catered to customers seeking a change in their decor. The bundles included a dining room light, two island pendants and a foyer light, all priced at less than $800 for the total package. 

“People got their relief checks. They want to change something in their house,” Schumacher says. “How do we make it affordable so they’re not breaking the bank, but they know they can get something really fun?”

Muska Lighting had already positioned itself as an expert in the community, but they’re now also known as a resource that offers options, whether reasonably priced fixture options to make a quick change, as well as high-quality pieces that make a statement.

Urban Lights - Denver, CO

Urban Lights
Urban Lights

As the largest lighting showroom in Denver, Urban Lights has a substantial footprint in the area, with more than 20,000 square feet of showroom space showcasing the latest in LED and designer lighting styles, ceiling fans and home accents.

“We have evolved from a traditional formatted showroom into a website-driven showplace featuring lighting styles presented in spacious life-style settings,” says Katy Jo Caringer, Marketing Manager for Urban Lights. From Mountain Modern to French Chateau, the stylized galleries and vignettes immerse customers in different design styles to suit their needs. 

When COVID-19 hit, Urban Lights enhanced its website, adding virtual showroom tours to allow customers to visit these vignettes from the comfort of their homes. The website’s e-commerce features include tools that allow customers to easily browse the latest products, customize their finish options, and checkout. An online trade portal allows trade industry partners to access special benefits and discounts, along with a dedicated salesperson who can assist from the initial planning stage through to completion of their client’s projects. Caringer says the store’s e-commerce sales have doubled in the last year.

“Consumer buying trends indicate online sales will remain strong after COVID,” Caringer says. “We will continue to enhance our website and our brand on social media to inspire our customers to add light and beauty to their living spaces year-round.”

Urban Lights also remains ingrained in the community, donating lighting materials to local nonprofit Archway Housing and Services, as well as the local Habitat for Humanity. Showroom and sales staff participate in Habitat for Humanity’s annual Women’s Build Event to take an active role in being part of the change they’d like to see in their community. 

The Urban Lights team has weathered the COVID-19 storm and is grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve the Denver area, playing a role in making homes a little more beautiful.

“The past year has been enormously challenging and required us all to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, but we remain profoundly grateful to work in an industry where we’ve been able to enhance the quality of life at home for so many people,” Caringer says. “After all, home is everything.” 

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