To see the rest of the finalists:
Accent Lighting Galleries, Lake Oswego, OR
For many here, lighting is a passion. That has been the case for Bob Warmbold and his family, Proprietors of Accent Lighting Galleries. He started in the industry at a young age and in a warehouse. Through the twists and turns of life, he ended up in Lake Oswego, where he allowed his passion to become his livelihood once again. Warmbold is so passionate about this category, he is a certified lighting consultant, the highest designation from the American Lighting Association. And he’s not the only one on his staff. Three members of the sales team hold this designation, and there are only approximately 100 active ALA-certified consultants in the entire country. This status has been good for business. It offers a level of professionalism and confidence for customers who need lighting consultants who understand their needs and lighting plans.
For Warmbold, the educational aspect of his lighting business trickles down to his customers. With a heavy base of designers and builders, Accent Lighting Galleries holds CEU classes to educate them as well.
To keep those now knowledgeable customers returning to either one of the two Accent Lighting Galleries Warmbold and his family owns, heavy attention is paid to merchandising and creating a masterful mix of home decor, accent furniture, art and lighting. “We want people to have a reason to come into the store,” Warmbold says. “I’m going in there because it’s Christmas and you have other things, like clocks. We try to find local artists where we can help promote their products as well.” While that wasn’t the original floor plan for Accent Lighting Galleries, when things shut down during Covid, Warmbold and his staff took the opportunity to reinvent the showroom in a way that would lure customers in for repeat business. He is seeing a return on investment with the new merchandising strategy.
Promoting local artists also creates a tie to the community, too, something Warmbold and his family are passionate about. They have done charitable work through the community, including raising money for the Portland Ronald McDonald House and horse rescue Equine Outreach. From his work with the latter, Warmbold and his wife now own two horses. “It’s been a whole new experience and it’s been a lot of fun doing it,” he notes.
While the Warmbolds are happy with their business success, they know that the staff and community they work with are integral to that success. “We are so very thankful for our employees and customers who ultimately have become friends. They’ve made this journey so fulfilling.” he says.
Design House, Houston, TX
Design House didn’t start out as a lighting retailer. Owner and lead designer Connie LeFevre started her journey as an interior designer, which is still a large part of her business. Needing a place to hold furnishings for projects, Le Fevre opened her retail space in the Houston Design Center and quickly found herself a hub for designers and consumers looking for furnishings... and lighting. Having a design showroom added a new dimension to LeFevre’s business, one that she hadn’t expected, but also one she loves. “We’re constantly curating and looking for new and exciting things,” she says. “If you’re passionate about it, it’s fun to make those new discoveries. We love artisanal things and mixing those into the showroom.”
While Design House may not be your traditional lighting Showroom of the Year finalist, a thread in this year’s entries has been around diversifying product categories and experiences for customers. What may have started as a way to share her design aesthetic has morphed into a full-time retail business, and lighting has been an increasingly integral component.
In addition to artisan resources, LeFevre and her team shop markets such as Lightovation to source the unique collections that work with her clientele. “We do more curating and more mixing. People can appreciate it more when you go and select certain things that will represent this or that customer,” she says.
While Design House — and Fabric House, the other side of LeFevre’s business — caters more to the design community, she is seeing more consumer business as Covid restrictions have relaxed. With her design customers, she works hard to offer the education needed, particularly for understanding lighting. She offers a number of CEUs and is also involved with ASID.
LeFevre works equally as hard on ensuring that she takes care of her staff and her community. For example, she compensated employees when the showroom had to close during the Texas freeze in 2021 when so many were without power. Design House also participates in local charities and events, such as the Houston Furniture Bank, which helps families get started after suffering hardships.
“Design House attributes its success to building personal relationships, maintaining effective communication with partners, finding solutions, staying at the forefront of our industry and adapting in the face of challenges like evolving digital and vendor landscapes,” says Marketing Director Angela Jones. “As a woman-owned company in a city that faces its share of adversity, Design House not only knows our industry but also how to stay relevant and thrive within it.”
Lights Fantastic Pro, Dallas, TX
Lights Fantastic Pro has revamped its approach to lighting retail. With four showrooms across Texas, the Dallas showroom, which opened in 1969, is the second to undergo major renovation. The new design creates a focus “less on the specific lighting product and more on the environment it creates,” says Owner Jon Sayah. The focus is no longer on just selling fixtures; it’s instead about helping customers understand how light affects a space and best practices to create the optimal environment. “We’ve moved into a service of selling lighting [rather than lighting pieces],” Sayah says. “Light provides different moods, atmosphere. The architecture of the home is the bones, fashion is the core and lighting are the personality. We’re demonstrating what you can do with lighting, something our customers may have not seen before.” To bring this vision to life, the Dallas showroom has morphed into a showroom that is carved into application vignettes — bathroom, kitchen, living spaces and more — to showcase the effects of lighting. “Every corner of the showroom is equipped with the latest technology in lighting, creating a wow factor wherever you look,” says Marketing Director, Aripta Vats. “Our showroom goes beyond showcasing statement lighting. It consists of interactive displays of everything from closet lighting to staircase lighting to kitchen and more.”
Along with the redesigned space, Lights Fantastic Pro has also upgraded its sales associates to “luminaries,” knowledgeable consultants who partner with customers to ensure they are educated before purchasing lighting.
Lights Fantastic Pro has also revised its customer base with more of a focus on trade professionals — builders, designers and architects.
“Lighting has become so sophisticated; there’s so much you can do with LED, such as changing and tuning colors,” Sayah says. “It’s a different business than selling a chandelier. Our luminaries are trying to be more consultative, so when working with an architect, for example, they can learn how a client will want to live in the house.” From there, Lights Fantastic Pro staff can explain the lighting function.
From Sayah’s perspective on how lighting affects the mood of a space, “if you can’t see it, you won’t understand it. For example, if you see a beautiful horizon, it can change your mood for that moment. That’s what we can do with light in someone’s home. There’s a dimension that lighting hasn’t had before.”
The direction of the redesign is to show these effects, and Lights Fantastic Pro luminaries spend time touring through the showroom with customers as the lighting mix has become much more experiential. Staff will also meet clients on job sites to better understand lighting needs. "We can provide our customers with a different experience,” Sayah notes. Luminaries spend a lot of time learning through weekly meetings with in-house experts and reps. “Our sales system is designed to learn because we want to come up with solutions,” he continues.
As Lights Fantastic Pro looks forward, it shares the following sentiment: “A new era of lighting requires a different kind of showroom, part product showcase, part design studio, part idea incubator.” This philosophy is paying off, and the Austin store is next to undergo this transformation.
Light Source Lighting, Plainfield, IL
As with any retail business, Light Source Lighting has dealt with ups and downs throughout the years. However, the Plainfield lighting showroom has weathered the storms and is fast approaching its 25th anniversary. Husband and wife team Brian and Kristine McKenna have been at the helm throughout, armed with their collective lighting expertise from previous industry roles, and feeling their way from a 1,500-sq.-ft. showroom to one that’s now 9,000 square feet.
Having built a long-standing successful lighting retail showroom doesn’t mean it’s time to coast, however. Instead, Light Source Lighting has expanded on its robust lighting selection to include home decor and accent furniture. “We strive to stay on trend with how we display our lighting and home decor,” says Kristine McKenna. “Customers can easily get overwhelmed when they walk into a sea of lights, so we section out little galleries to inspire ideas versus confusion. Not every hot trend will appeal to customers in our area, but we will give them a taste of some up and coming finishes/designs.” Paired with its knowledgeable staff, visiting this showroom delivers an exceptional experience for its customers.
Light Source Lighting of Plainfield doesn’t limit its customers to the selection in the showroom, however, as the company has built a robust online platform. “They know that we are dedicated to providing them with the best in customer service. Our knowledgeable staff has 20 plus years in lighting, so they know their stuff.”
While the showroom is large and well-staffed, it’s online where Light Source Lighting of Plainfield has found a broader national and international audience, something that helped carry the retailer through Covid when doors were shuttered. McKenna notes. “When we couldn’t get people in the showroom, our online store exploded,” she adds.
The company now operates several websites as well as seller platforms on Houzz and Amazon. And social media has helped them stay connected with followers.
The McKennas make sure that the education they offer in the showroom extends to their online customers. Through social media, the company schedules posts where they share information on the correct lighting for a room, upcoming trends or how a specific fan operates, for example. On their websites, they offer even more engagement. “We have a chat option that pops up when customers come to the website,” McKenna continues. “They can ask us anything. We have an opportunity to engage them when they’re online because we can see that they’re there. We poke them to let them know we’re there to help.”
That willingness to connect has wowed their customers and keeps them coming back for more. With this level of customer attention, it’s no wonder Light Source Lighting of Plainfield is approaching its 25th anniversary.
Pace Lighting, Savannah, GA
Pace Lighting knows what it means to be an effective lighting retail showroom. The company has garnered four Showroom of the Year Awards and an ARTS Award and has become widely recognized as an industry leader in modern showroom design and function.
This could be in part because, while lighting is a core focus, Pace Lighting has created a showroom that helps its customers envision lighting in a space through well-thought-out vignettes that incorporate home furnishings and accent pieces. According to Lisa Bartlett, Pace’s CEO and Owner, carrying home furnishings so customers can visualize lighting in their spaces has always been part of the showroom presentation. “We believe to get customers to return to our showroom on a more regular basis, our store has to look new and fresh every time they enter,” she says. Bartlett continues that they’ve even pulled in some products from the gift category for returning customers.
In the past year, she adds, she and her staff have given more thought to how the showroom is laid out to create an even better experience. While the walls are fixed, her staff still gets creative with its floor plan. It helps she said to have a sales associate who is really good at the design aspect.
“Adding occasional furniture at the right price in our market — which has a coastal vibe — we can move pieces more quickly and keep the showroom looking fresh. Our fixtures are all hardwired the way you would do it in your home. The presentation is beautiful,” Bartlett notes.
Educating her customers is integral to her business as well. “People don’t really understand how the electricity works,” she says. “The team at Pace Lighting are ‘lighting nerds’ in the best possible way. We have an amazing staff of sales consultants, warehouse and administrative employees who are ‘all in’ on lighting and providing the best possible outcomes for our customers. We provide an extra layer of information.”
The education doesn’t stop at the showroom doors either. Pace Lighting has a robust digital presence, Bartlett continues, with a transactional website (and another on the way) and an engaged social media presence where her associates can provide further information on best lighting practices. Bartlett even has a weekly podcast called Light Files, where she shares her journey and events that affect lighting retailers with her peers. “Reaching customers through digital media is critical and works very well for us.”
Like the vignettes throughout the showroom, Bartlett continually evaluates her business and how the company is connecting with its customers. This attention to the changing retail and lighting landscape has much to do with this retail showroom’s consistent accolades.