2019 marks 10 years of the Showroom of the Year Awards, and 10 years of honoring the best and brightest in lighting retail. From knock-your-socks off displays to cutting-edge digital strategies to salespeople that more than know their stuff, these finalists make our industry proud. And, since it’s our 10th anniversary, we had fun asking them to reflect, looking back 10 years to where they were and comparing it to today. For those who haven’t been in business that long, we asked them where the boldness to open a new brick-and-mortar sprouted from.
Read on to learn more about the five Under $2 Million finalists.
Alcott & Bentley, Louisville, KY
Alcott & Bentley’s legacy runs more than 40 years in its hometown of Louisville, KY. The store was originally known for Casablanca ceiling fans and Tiffany lamps, but current owners John and Allyson Mokhtarei and their small team of three have morphed the showroom into a design-focused business, completing projects at local bars and restaurants, art galleries, retail stores, a gun range, new construction residential and more.
Although today Alcott & Bentley also sells ceiling fans, furniture and home decor, its niche is lighting. They offer in-home consultations for the customer, which allows lighting specialists to see the space that needs to be updated and make recommendations based on their current decor, style and budget. The specialist then takes pictures of the room and virtually places the fixture in the space, allowing the customer to visualize before purchasing. When the customer realizes the specialists are experts in their field, they’re more likely to buy.
Alcott & Bentley also builds relationships and trust with interior designers, builders and architects by gaining their trust and encouraging them to incorporate lighting by design into their projects. “We instill the idea that lighting is no longer only functional; it creates a mood and evokes feelings,” says Showroom Manager Tiffany Zipperle.
The future of Alcott & Bentley looks bright. The city of Louisville reached out to the store for a large, permanent art installation titled “The Louisville Knot” in a new development taking place in an impoverished part of town. “We were a perfect fit for this job,” explains Zipperle, “as we are woven within the greater good of growth and community within our city.”
Q: Look back 10 years at your showroom and reflect on where you were then versus where you are now.
A: “The past 10 years for Alcott & Bentley have been a continuous transformation from a lighting showroom to a full-service lighting design company,” says Zipperle. “We receded during the recession, maintained our dignity, overcame the showrooming boom and accepted that the internet was here to stay and not our competition. These experiences became our lessons and further defined our niche by shaping Alcott & Bentley into a business that not only sells product, but provides service above all else.”
Coventry Lighting and Design Center, Canfield, OH
After nearly 30 years in business, there’s one thing Coventry Lighting and Design Center knows from experience — evolution is key to success. The showroom, which started with strictly lighting, has transformed into a full-service design center featuring lighting, home accents and furniture. Today, four interior designers on staff offer design services ranging from your typical lighting package to entire remodels and new builds.
“Now, instead of just adding a dimmer or a ceiling medallion to a lighting order, we add a sofa, a chair, or perhaps a whole house full of furniture and accessories,” says owner Rita Santon. “This has drastically increased our margins and set us apart from the competition.”
Coventry has made huge strides in the last year. In April 2018, the showroom underwent a complete remodel and hired its first-ever Showroom Manager, Michelle Cruz. Cruz brought in Lights America and Windward Software to serve their customers more efficiently, upgraded the internet and phone systems and has worked to increase the showroom’s social media presence.
Another area of expansion Coventry is proud of is its growing commercial lighting and design department. Moving a large part of its business into the commercial sector has given the showroom the opportunity to have its designs viewed by the public eye.
“Being based in a small town has inspired us to go above and beyond,” says Santon, “striving to bring style and creativity to everyday spaces in the Youngstown, OH, area.”
Q: Look back 10 years and reflect on where you were then versus where you are now.
A: “Ten years ago was an extremely volatile time in the lighting and home furnishings market,” says Santon. “As the housing bubble burst, construction nearly came to a halt. Sales dropped more than 50 percent, and we had to reinvent ourselves in order to survive. We watched as many local construction companies and construction-related businesses shut down. Fortunately, we were able to cut our costs drastically and stay afloat. Following this housing crash, I decided to become a design-oriented showroom and sell more furniture.”
Denney Electric Supply, Schuylkill Haven, PA
In Schuylkill Haven, PA, Denney Electric Supply is redefining what it means to be a family-owned business in the era of e-commerce and big-box stores. With local competitors closing at a clip, Denney is reinvesting in its showrooms. Since hiring a regional showroom manager and marketing director in 2016, the brand has renovated all nine of its stores, updated and broadened its merchandise selection, and continued to focus on using its storefronts to engage with the community and stand out from the rest.
And although the company has been in business for 81 years, their digital tactics are cutting edge. Denney focuses on an array of organic and paid online initiatives to drive interest and establish itself as an expert resource in lighting. From the conversation-inducing Facebook page, to their very visual Instagram account, to digital advertising via behavioral targeting, retargeting, and geofencing tactics, as well as eblasts, digital is the top conduit for communication between the Denney brand and existing and potential customers.
“Our digital strategy has been absolutely essential to growing our business and competing with internet retailers,” says Emma Dinnocenti, Marketing Director. “And the proof is in our sales dollars. 2018 has been our biggest sales year yet, and we’re looking to surpass that in 2019.”
Q: Look back 10 years and reflect on where you were then versus where you are now.
A: “Ten years ago, we were a traditional showroom with select styles and builder products,” says Dinnocenti. “Now, we have a wide variety of unique, decorative, landscape and accent lighting brands as well as a selection of home accessories and furniture, so that when you enter our showroom you can completely design your space.”
Village Home Stores, Geneseo, IL
In today’s retail landscape, one-stop shopping can be the key to staying in business. Village Home Stores has this concept mastered, offering everything from lighting to appliances to cabinetry to floorcoverings, and acting as a destination for anyone working on a home improvement project.
Village Home Stores’ lighting showroom, which encompasses 1,200 square feet of dedicated space, features on-trend fixtures with an airy merchandising approach, highlighting just a few hundred fixtures rather than the thousands that are cataloged online. Lighting is also displayed throughout the rest of the showroom as well, which allows the staff to gain lighting business from clients meeting with experts from other departments.
Another initiative that drives business? The store airs a weekly 30-minute TV show Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. on the local ABC affiliate channel. Lighting segments on the show are common, which encourage viewers time and time again to budget for lighting investments in their own projects.
“Lighting is a very exciting category of product and thanks to enthusiasm from magazines, TV shows, social media influencers and online sites, we’re finally seeing the focus it deserves for a finished space,” says Elizabeth Round, Marketing Manager.
Looking ahead, the Village Home Stores lighting staff will be installing and showcasing smart home tech, like voice-activated switches and speakers, into their showroom experience. With these new product launches alongside smart appliances, which are now also available, the staff sees an opportunity to become the connected home experts in their area.
WaterPlace, Crown Point, IN
Although its parent company, Leeps Supply, has been around since 1954, WaterPlace is new on the scene, just opening in 2016.
The thing you’ll notice as soon as you step foot inside? The showroom places an emphasis on design and merchandising. Working displays — including a kelvin light box; working showerheads; and even a full working bathroom with lighted mirror, body spray shower with steam and an air bathtub that you can try out in your bathing suit — are strategically placed to educate customers on the function and design.
To stand out, the showroom focuses not only on merchandising, but also on customer experience, education and handling quality luxury products.
“We’ve found that the public is returning to brick-and-mortar stores as they want to be better educated on large-investment products, but the ones who will survive are the ones who stand out from the crowd,” says Doug Van Der Weide, Showroom Manager. “As the industry changes, we’re striving to be a leader and be ahead of the curve.”
One way they’re doing that is by exercising their digital chops, planning on going beyond just a website and social media accounts in 2019. The showroom is currently focusing on learning about its ever-changing audience and their interests, engaging customers through personalized marketing messages and campaigns, and will be entering the virtual reality realm in the near future.
“To be honest, outside of our customer service, digital is the second most important part of our business growth,” says Van Der Weide. “It’s through the digital market that we at WaterPlace are able to tell our story and help our clients.”
Q: Opening a new showroom in today’s landscape, when many are closing their doors, would be considered a bold move by many. What gave you the confidence to move forward with a new brick-and-mortar?
A: “With the ever-changing marketplace, we felt a more expanded product offering approach was needed,” says Van Der Weide. “Even though there’s a strong push toward the internet and the big-box store, at WaterPlace, we set ourselves apart by focusing more on decorative luxury, design and quality fixtures. We’re not looking for a one-hit wonder — we want our customers to have a great experience because we believe that will drive more of their friends our way.”