We kicked off our Retail Road Trip series in March with Lighting & Decor’s hometown of Chicago. Our second stop is Boston, where among rich history, delicious seafood and sports fanatics, two showrooms have made their mark. Read on to find out how Mohr & McPherson and Wolfers Lighting have remained community staples for decades.
Mohr & McPherson
Tucked into the SoWa district in Boston’s South End, Mohr & McPherson has been a neighborhood landmark for more than 25 years.
Founder and owner Kevin McPherson trained originally as a general contractor and made a business out of creating and selling custom furniture, like bookcases, to the academic crowd in the city. His connections grew, and in the 1990s, he started traveling the world in search of rare furnishings to bring back to the United States to sell.
“At that time, and what this business has always been about, is finding the next big trend in a hip country and bringing it here before anyone else,” explains son and one of the three Showroom Managers Cal McPherson.
Cal McPherson, who went to business school and officially joined the company in 2013, grew up around all of the beautiful things the showroom has to offer — rugs from India, lighting from Thailand, casegoods from China — and credits this as the reason he’s been able to jump in so quickly.
Besides the international craftsmen Mohr & McPherson source from — Kevin McPherson is now enjoying a semi-retirement in Thailand, where he can walk down the street and find the best of the best — the showroom also carries Cisco Bros. for upholstery, which actually blends in pretty seamlessly with the rest of the product mix and is popular with designer clients, Cal says.
In addition to its two-floor brick-and-mortar location, which also houses a separate, extensive rug gallery showcasing hundreds of handmade rugs, Mohr & McPherson also has a notable online presence through its website and online store plus social media channels. That equation — a flagship store in a busy design district, plus targeted ecommerce — is working well for the company.
“It’s so important for us to do things nationally,” Cal says. “Online, I have the ability to focus on a collection that no one has ever seen before and that we have the only supply of.” Would a one-of-a-kind, handmade Indian wedding chest look great in your living room? Look no further than Mohr & McPherson in Boston.
Not every piece in the showroom is available online — they encourage local customers to come in and see for themselves — but it’s enough to pique the interest of out-of-town buyers. Photos on Facebook and Instagram of unique items, restocks and new arrivals keep customers in the know and wanting to take a gander.
Beyond the web, another way Mohr & McPherson bolsters business is through its in-house café. In the back of the main showroom with a separate entrance, it serves coffee and nibbles.
“A ton of people come to the café from the offices in the area and would never know the showroom existed otherwise,” Cal says. With no other coffee shops in the area, caffeine lovers are happy.
Mohr & McPherson is also bustling on summer weekends during SoWa Open Market, where every Saturday and Sunday, 150 vendors and thousands of visitors converge in the design district to shop local, eat local and drink local. Mohr & McPherson has capitalized on its prime location during this recurring event, making sure to stock small, easily portable and well-priced items for shoppers who come through so no one leaves empty-handed.
The customers who have been shopping with the showroom since its beginnings are still a strong force, though, and Cal says he and his team have a pretty good pulse on what they want — items full of color, culture and history are characteristically Mohr & McPherson.
“For you to pick it, it’s got to be uniquely you. Finding the thing people want, then seeing them take it and add character to their homes with it, is the part I enjoy the most.”
Wolfers Lighting in the Greater Boston area was established in 1931 and has been supplying its customers with lighting solutions to fit their needs for decades. Its two locations in Waltham and Allston stay busy working with high-end consumers, builders, designers and architects, and this year, they’ve taken on another huge project: a merger.
In an effort to continue to evolve with the industry and its customers, Wolfers joined forces with two local home automation companies — System 7 and Boston Shade Co. — in January. Now, Wolfers’ owners Jeff Seigal and Steve Brand are working hand-in-hand with the owner of System 7 and Boston Shade Co. Gerry Lynch to create a “solutions company” that provides an experiential encounter for its customers; gone are the days of traditional showroom retailing.
The reason for the merger was simple: technology and lighting are very closely related nowadays and will only become more so as time goes on. Before the merger, Seigal and Brand used to see Lynch on jobs quite frequently as home automation systems now include lighting more often than not, so the trio started to explore what a partnership could look like. The success stories that they can share thus far are proof that this move was the right one.
“I think the barrier to market for technology systems is not so much the difficulty of use, but you have so many different cooks in the kitchen who each do a piece of it, it’s hard to manage,” Lynch says. “With this one-stop shopping concept, we’re internalizing the headaches and taking them off the plate of the builder, designer and homeowner.”
You can’t overlook the major issue of controls systems today: compatibility. This challenge, facing the whole industry, is costly for everyone involved, and now, Wolfers has the solution.
“We have what we consider the expert staff now on all ends to deal with these compatibility issues, so that’s a real plus for us,” says Brand.
And, adds Seigal, Wolfers’ vendors have been really positive about the merger.
“They recognize that the challenge of controlling LED is costing them time and money, and I think they were really happy to hear that someone was taking the bull by the horns in terms of how to control it, saving them, and the customers, hassle.”
Although bringing three brands under one roof could obviously pose challenges — handling it on top of day-to-day operations, assimilating company cultures, finding qualified employees — lots has already been done, and much more is in store through the remainder of 2017.
Wolfers’ showrooms are getting somewhat of a makeover — in the Waltham location, for instance, the entire south-facing wall full of windows will be outfitted with 25 motorized shades, allowing customers to see fabrics and understand how the system might work in their home.
Throughout the rest of showroom, the plan is to integrate technology from System 7 into vignettes. The idea is that a customer can sit down on a piece of furniture like they would in a living room and see above them the LED downlight options they can choose from, then control those downlights from an iPad, replicating a finished environment.
“I want our store to be a must-visit place for anyone building or remodeling their home,” Lynch explains. “It’s going to be an educational experience and a service-oriented experience, stepping away from the look and feel of traditional retail to being an immersive experience center.”
And it won’t stop there. Wolfers, System 7 and Boston Shade Co. will be blending an online component into this new concept as well. It won’t be duplicative to visiting the store, and certainly won’t replace it either. Think of visiting the brick-and-mortar locations to complete parts 1 through 5 of the experience, then going online to do parts 6 through 10.
“There are a lot of people that will be looking for solutions that you can’t find on the Internet. They need help and they understand the value of this,” explains Brand. “The showrooms will be interactive, up-to-date, provide options and make decision-making easy, dealing with a company that can perform from start to finish.”
Safe to say, this merger is the future of lighting personified.
Los Angeles. Our November issue will feature two retail showrooms with West Coast cool.