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It’s been a year for the record books. With COVID-19 shutdowns, restrictions, supply chain issues and more, retailers have been tasked with finding new ways to deliver for their customers and ensure they were primed to return to business as soon as they were able. While their showrooms may still not be back to completely normal — masks, social distancing and limited capacity are still in place — this year’s Showroom of the Year finalists chose to see the opportunity through the adversity, and have found ways to set themselves up to not just survive, but thrive going forward.
Meet the five finalists in the Under $2 Million category making an impact in the industry.
Crest Lighting - Chicago, IL
In Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood sits Crest Lighting, a 3,300-square-foot family-owned and -operated lighting showroom that staff says is designed to be a respite from the busy city street outside. Crest Lighting’s New Lenox, IL, showroom is a past Showroom of the Year finalist, but this year the team wanted to showcase the Chicago location because of the unique challenges COVID-19 posed in an urban setting.
“While the pandemic affected all of our customers, COVID-related restrictions in Chicago (where population is denser and hence spread and risk was greater), were much stricter, resulting in many businesses shutting down completely,” says Showroom Manager Amy Fimbianti. “Our commitment to finding creative solutions to continue serving those clients who were bravely forging ahead with their projects, as well as those homeowners who were desperately seeking ways to brighten up their homes during their extended quarantines, was especially essential for our Chicago clientele.”
During the pandemic, digital marketing and virtual tools became key to keeping Crest Lighting available to serve customers. Zoom consultations, a Google 360 showroom tour on their website, and doubling their social media following all helped the team engage with their clientele who were unable to visit the showroom in person.
The showroom’s layout has been optimized for social distancing, and merchandising the shop in vignettes often leads to customers purchasing an entire display of furniture, lighting and accessories. In recent years the style of the showroom has evolved past focusing on what’s trendy and instead showcases a range of design styles.
“For many years the Chicago store and neighborhood maintained a primarily contemporary aesthetic, but has more recently morphed into a very eclectic and electric mix of styles following trends and demand for a more diverse range of looks from retro to transitional, industrial to botanical, and traditional to completely custom design,” Fimbianti says.
Moving forward the Crest team will continue with their digital initiatives long after the pandemic is over, noting that some customers prefer interacting virtually. This digital footprint also helps Crest Lighting spread its influence beyond Chicago’s borders, reaching customers globally.
Guildwood Lighting & Fireside - London, ON, Canada
Joel Dodd, Owner and President of Guildwood Lighting & Fireside, has been working for the family business since childhood, eventually taking it over when his father retired. His children have worked for the business, and he even met his wife working there. The showroom has dabbled in other markets — flooring, paint, wallpaper — but lighting has always been the main focus. When Dodd was in high school, he took an interest in wood burning fireplaces and in 1976 Guildwood added fireplaces to their service offerings.
“Both sides of the business complement each other in a way that helps designers, decorators, builders and clients shop for two of the most sought-after design elements of their home, all in one place,” Dodd says.
London is a diverse community with a large immigrant population and it’s important to Dodd that his staff reflects the diversity of the community, ensuring that Guildwood is a safe and comfortable place to shop.
“It’s nice for people to come in and if they pick up that one of our staff members is fluent in their language, they’ll have a conversation and be comfortable and not feel that they’re treated any differently,” Dodd says. “They have a lot of outreach in their own segments and word gets around that we’re a pleasant place to shop and I think that’s a big plus.”
During COVID-19, the business was able to stay open and work with their fireside and builder clientele, but the lighting showroom went curbside. The showroom already had an online ordering system in place, which helped eliminate last-minute scrambling.
A priority was also placed on digital marketing, gathering leads from digital ad campaigns and analyzing analytics. Social media was another way to stay engaged with customers, which the team did by holding contests and giveaways.
“Being a long-standing family business, it was non-traditional for us to change and adapt to the growing online world in the way we have, but we realized it to be necessary to connect with our younger clients,” Dodd says. “By leveraging the data and analytics produced by digital media, we have been able to positively modify online and in-person purchasing processes.”
Lightstyles - Cornelius, NC
When Lightstyles first opened in the mid-1980s, Cornelius, NC, was a “sleepy little lake town,” north of Charlotte, according to Brad Goode, Director of Sales. Today, he says, the town remains small but is not as sleepy as it once was.
“It’s been growing and we’ve grown with it,” he says. Since becoming Director of Sales, Goode has worked to give back to the community that has supported the store over the last three and a half decades. Lightstyles is the presenting sponsor of the annual Light Up Cornelius Christmas tree lighting, served as a drop-off point in 2020 for a local food bank, and was a Platinum Sponsor for the IDS Charlotte charity showhouses.
In this same fashion, Goode says the health and safety of Lightstyles’ customers and staff was the showroom’s main concern during the height of COVID-19. The team was able to continue work with homebuilders while the store was closed, and when the showroom reopened all necessary safety measures were put in place. Additionally, the team optimized the Lightstyles website to add virtual shopping capabilities to minimize in-person interactions with customers.
“In our efforts to adjust to life during the COVID pandemic we have added a chat feature to our website and began offering video appointments as a way to help our customers who are more comfortable shopping from home,” Goode says. “In addition, we have launched a new online catalog on our website that has made it easier to shop online while supporting an independent, brick-and-mortar showroom. The new catalog will allow us to capture sales through our Facebook and Google ads as well, allowing us to compete with online-only retailers.”
These virtual features will outlive the pandemic as they’ve proven to be beneficial tools for staff and customers alike.
Lightstyles’ ultimate goal is to set itself apart from big-box stores and position itself and its staff as lighting specialists in the community. Showroom and sales staff participate in educational seminars to stay up to date on the latest lighting technologies so they can continue to match their reputation as local lighting experts.
“All of these things help show not only how important it is to support local businesses, but also how much those businesses have to offer,” says Goode.
Village Home Stores - Geneseo, IL
Originally opened in 1984, Village Home Stores has grown from a small hardware store to a destination for all things remodeling. The “Stores” in the showroom’s name references the “store within a store,” feel, says Marketing Manager Elizabeth Round.
In addition to lighting, the shop also has storefronts for its appliances, cabinetry, blinds and shades, and floorcoverings. The showroom occupies the top and bottom floor of a series of old buildings in the small town of Geneseo, IL. The variety of product offerings makes Village Home Stores a valuable local resource for customers embarking on a remodeling project.
“We are a one-stop shop so if we have a client working with one of our kitchen designers, our lighting experts can enter the conversation and help select the perfect lighting to suit the project,” Round says. “We work hard to keep our display lighting fresh and exciting. We also can showcase lighting installed into complete kitchen vignettes in our store. This allows customers to get a better idea of the size and scale of a fixture.”
Because of the breadth of services offered, Village Home Stores was able to remain open behind the scenes throughout the pandemic, though the lighting showroom did close for some time. During this downtime, staff was able to reorganize the showroom and do some work on the web.
“We used this time to work on our online lighting shopping experience,” Round says. “Adding a payment gateway, optimizing our lighting catalogs for better mobile use, and even adding a web chat service to the main Village website and blog.”
The online features have streamlined the lighting business and Round says they will stick around for customers who would prefer to avoid face-to-face interactions in the future. The store also continues to grow
its social media presence, harnessing Instagram, Pinterest and even
TikTok for promotion.
“Our entire store is just so thankful to have had continued business from both our remodel and new home customers during this pandemic,” Round says. “To be able to have not only kept our staff employed, but added to the staff in a year like 2020 is nothing we take for granted. We are beyond blessed with the team we have.”
Wiseway Supply - Florence, KY
What started as a one-building plumbing supply store and small showroom in 1973 is now a 12-location operation that includes two showrooms serving customers and builders. Wiseway Supply recently acquired its second showroom in Lexington, KY, which Showroom Manager Caitlin Skaggs says helps the original Florence, KY showroom location shine brighter.
“We are a one-stop showroom that sells plumbing, lighting, furniture and accessories,” says Caitlin Skaggs, Showroom Manager. “What’s even more unique is our staff is trained to sell both. The changes to our displays that have been made in the past year have turned more lighting sales than any other year in business.”
The pandemic shut down the showroom for a month, but afterward the business operated with enhanced safety measures, requiring appointments and social distancing when interacting in person. Customer communication was key during this time, as the team wanted to be sure the community knew Wiseway was there as a resource.
For years the showroom was primarily a production builder showroom, with a “sea of lights” merchandising strategy, Skaggs says. In recent years, however, the team has transformed the showroom into a style-forward space, merchandising their lighting in vignettes with coordinating furniture and decor to offer design inspiration. Showroom customers feel like family, she says, making deep connections with staff.
Despite this customer service connection, Wiseway didn’t do much in the way of marketing prior to the Lexington showroom acquisition.
“We had dabbled in our marketing a little bit,” Skaggs says. “We had social media but it wasn’t updated as much as it should be. It existed but it wasn’t really entertaining or fun to look at.” The team went to work updating their social media pages, with the goal of directing people to their website, which houses the company’s online catalog, added to the site just before COVID hit.
“Like many smaller, family-owned businesses, it’s been a difficult but necessary hurdle to jump to put our digital presence at the forefront of our business strategy,” Skaggs said. “We sure are glad we made it a priority before COVID. It allowed us to remain in contact with our customers during a pandemic.”