The Showroom of the Year Awards, now in its 11th year, honors the best and brightest in lighting retail. These 15 finalists are making waves in merchandising, marketing, community service and beyond. The expertise of their staff and their dedication to providing a stellar customer experience put these brick-and-mortar retailers a cut above the rest. And as the retail industry was turned on its head this year, they adapted and continued to be a resource for their customers.
Meet the Judges
Bobby Berk: Berk is best known as the Design Guru on the Emmy Award-winning “Queer Eye” series on Netflix, but has been immersed in the design business for more than a decade. After years in the creative and design field, he took the leap to start his own brand, Bobby Berk. Epitomizing hip, urban luxury, Berk’s designs reflect a stylish and youthful spirit that perfectly fits any lifestyle.
Melissa Galt: An interior design business coach, marketing consultant, business speaker and author, Galt’s expertise is from the trenches of design as a successful residential designer, educator, blogger and speaker. She’s been coaching, training and consulting with designers and retailers for more than 15 years.
Caroline Hipple: Now President of Norwalk Furniture, Hipple previously worked closely with Norwalk as a partner in HB2 Resources, a home furnishings consultancy based in Atlanta. Her work with Norwalk includes providing strategic counsel, creative direction, product development and fabric curation.
Read on to learn more about this year’s finalists in the Under $2 Million category
Light Innovations - Little Rock, AR
Based in Little Rock, AR, Light Innovations was born after owner Charlene Prousnitzer noticed the selection of lighting in the city was lacking.
“I realized the need and seized the moment,” she says. “Thirty-one years later, here we are.”
Starting out in a modest interior lighting showroom, the business has grown into a 5,000-square-foot showroom that now also features lamps, accessories, landscape lighting, and most recently cabinet, bath and door hardware.
With more than 125 years of combined lighting experience, its staff of eight full-time employees meticulously sources items that cater to its customers. As a quintessential small town store, many of Light Innovations’ clients have been with the company for decades.
“Throughout the years we learned how our customers shop, what they are shopping for, and what makes them excited enough to come back,” Prousnitzer says.
While builders have traditionally been the largest client base for the business, Light Innovations also works often with designers on both custom and quick fit projects and sees a steady stream of loyal consumers. What sets Light Innovations apart from the rest in the eyes of their customers? Prousnitzer says she often hears customers say that the showroom is well laid out and easy to make a selection in and, “You’ve got so many new things,” since they’re always moving merchandise around in fresh displays.
“Our clients also thank us for our knowledge, as well as diverse selection,” she adds. “We are a company that survives by our knowledge, selection and service.”
Amid the coronavirus crisis, Prousnitzer says Light Innovations has been the only lighting showroom in the area that took any precautions, and their customers have been understanding and thankful for the focus on health and safety. Through emails, social media and staying in regular contact with builders and designers, the showroom continues to keep everyone in the loop about changes to store hours and working conditions. Ultimately, recent months have demonstrated the importance of adaptability and highlighted the strength of Light Innovations’ staff.
“They are the faces and voices that have made our company what it is today,” she says.
Village Home Stores - Geneseo, IL
Not every lighting showroom can say it has a TV show. For Village Home Stores in the Quad Cities region in Illinois, airing a 30-minute program every Sunday morning is just another part of usual business.
Airing each week on the local ABC affiliate channel after George Stephanopoulos, the show has, for the past five years, given the second-generation business a platform to showcase the expertise of its staff, highlight its remodeling projects and share new products. Marketing Manager Elizabeth Round says they film enough new episodes each year to rotate in and keep things fresh, and they upload clips to their YouTube channel so customers can access them anytime.
Village Home Stores was scheduled to film some new episodes this spring, but the ongoing coronavirus crisis meant the local station couldn’t get into homes to film. A sign of the business’s adaptability, Village Home Stores took matters into their own hands and put out a call on social media to gather clips from customers for a heartwarming “home videos episode,” featuring everything from cooking tutorials to tips for taking care of home appliances.
As an appliance, kitchen and home design store, Village Home Stores acts as a one-stop shop with departments including lighting, appliances, kitchen and bath, and flooring. The main showroom spans more than 9,000 square feet, with an additional 1,200-plus-square-foot space dedicated to lighting. Because they work with both new home and remodel clients, they’re able to accommodate customers seeking just one light or an entire home of lighting.
Despite the range of products and services, the showroom is designed so that lighting is incorporated into realistic displays throughout.
“There is a lighting department, but there’s lighting in the whole top and bottom of the showroom too because we have kitchen vignettes installed,” Round says. “It’s very nice to show appliances and cabinets and lighting in an actual setting instead of in a lighting cloud.”
Along with adapting its TV show, Village Home Stores has also adjusted to the times by holding virtual appointments and ramping up its web chat feature on its site to help clients stay in touch easily. Post COVID-19, Round says they plan to continue offering virtual appointments for those who need or prefer it.
Western Montana Lighting - Missoula, MT
With a 10,000-square-foot showroom offering the most extensive selection of lighting in the state, Western Montana Lighting in Missoula, MT traces its history back all the way to its founding in 1917. The venture started by a group of electrical engineers has grown from an electrical services focused business into a thriving whole home design center.
While its main focus still remains in lighting, Western Montana Lighting has shifted in recent years to selling an expanding variety of furniture and home decor items.
“We do vignettes throughout the showroom, and what that allows people to see is what it’s all going to look like together,” says Owner Drew Mihelish.
The business has recently made a focused effort to showcase local artists by displaying exclusive artwork and custom furniture from local makers in the showroom. Mihelish says these kinds of partnerships allow Western Montana Lighting to give back some of the support it’s received from its community all these years.
“It would just be hypocritical of me if I’m saying, ‘support local’ and then I’m not turning around and doing the same thing, so I try to do that as much as I can,” Mihelish says. “I think it’s neat when you can find relationships where everyone wins.”
That connection to the local community also shows in the volunteer work of showroom staff, which supports more than 15 different non-profits through volunteering and funding. In celebration of its recent 100-year anniversary, Western Montana Lighting decided to give back by partnering with local non-profit The Silver Foundation to provide scholarships to two Missoula College students pursuing a degree in the Sustainable Construction Technology program.
Sustainability is a priority of the business, both in terms of supporting the local sustainable building industry as well as by incorporating sustainable business practices. Over the past few years, the business has reduced its use of paper products by 75 percent by switching to computer-based invoicing.
The business continued to think outside the box at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, deciding to shut its doors to retail traffic while remaining open for online ordering and curbside pickup and delivery.
“We’re still seeing a huge amount of support from our community,” Mihelish says. “People are still making phone calls for everything that they would have been ordering anyways, and we’re not seeing that support trickle at all.”
Denney Electric Supply - Kennett Square, PA
In the age of Amazon and Wayfair, Denney Electric Supply is adapting to compete. New this year, the 1,800-square-foot Kennett Square, PA, showroom — along with the other eight Denney locations — is running a daily transfer truck to offer one-day delivery services to customers.
“That way there is a nine times higher chance of our customer receiving that fixture in a fast and friendly manner,” says Emma Dinnocenti, Director of Marketing and Showroom Manager. “If they order it by 11 one day, they can have it by 11 the next day.”
This spirit of innovation is apparent in the company’s focus on digital strategy. Along with an online showroom with live inventory and display status, Denney regularly posts blogs to educate consumers on new products and market trends, fosters conversations on its Facebook page and runs online contests.
“To summarize the importance of digital to our business: it is the top conduit for communication between our brand and our existing and potential customers,” Dinnocenti says. “Our digital strategy has been essential to growing our business and competing with internet retailers.”
Utilizing these digital channels in creative ways during the coronavirus pandemic has allowed Denney to continue to take online orders, share home tips with customers and stay connected.
Along with being a lighting destination, the fourth-generation family-owned business also displays custom shading from Lutron, electric fireplaces, smart thermostats, home security systems, home accessories, accent furniture and artwork.
“By positioning ourselves as a resource — not just a store — we can confidently introduce our customers to new products, help them find the right fixtures and controls for their spaces, and ultimately improve their quality of life at home with technology integration,” Dinnocenti says.
2020 is Denney Electric’s 82nd year in business, and Dinnocenti says the business is proud to thrive as the market changes. Common client feedback is that the customer experience is highly tailored — something the business constantly strives to provide.
“Brick-and-mortars are struggling in some places, so we try our very best to make sure that we thrive,” Dinnocenti says. “We try to avoid big-box store habits. We don’t just let the customer walk in and look at stuff — you always greet them, always introduce yourself, just to put a personal touch on things. People want to come in for that experience.”
North Coast Lighting - Bellevue, WA
At North Coast Lighting in Bellevue, WA, a commitment to education, innovation and customer service continues to set the business apart. Beyond offering a variety of lighting and electrical equipment out of its 5,000-square-foot space, the store also regularly uses its showroom as a space for educational events and CEU classes for designers, industry professionals and customers.
“North Coast Lighting is so much more than just a lighting showroom,” says Marketing Manager Nicole Anderson. “We are a resource to homeowners and professionals alike. Our expert staff has varying degrees and certifications with the American Lighting Assn. (ALA) in addition to their many years of experience to draw on. “
The monthly educational Light Labs are accredited by the IDCEC, and range from entertaining and educational talks from ALA-Certified Lighting Consultant Al Thomas to seminars from manufacturer partners like Hubbardton Forge.
In recent years, Territory Manager Mistie Iseman says North Coast Lighting has revamped its merchandising strategy, focusing on lifestyle merchandising to help customers envision the way fixtures will look in their spaces.
While customers weren’t able to come into the showroom for events or shopping this spring, North Coast Lighting has been connecting with clients virtually with showroom walkthroughs and is working on new ways to use technology to allow customers to envision fixtures in their homes. They’ve also been using the time to return to a backlog of blog and video ideas.
Having seen the business through the challenging economic crisis of 2008, Iseman says she’s drawing from past lessons learned during today’s crisis. For her, much of North Coast Lighting’s resilience, now and then, boils down to its staff.
“The only way you survive is you have to adapt, you have to change and you better have a strong team,” Iseman says. “And everyone that works for me — every single person — is strong. They are strong, they are loyal, they’ll do anything to help, and they’re also valued. We’re fortunate that way.”