Find out what makes each of this year’s 10 SOTY finalists in the Revenue $5 Million and Over category stand out from fray.
Avenues Lighting, Jacksonville, FL
1. Roadside location
Avenues owner John Blanchard has been owning and operating lighting stores since 1977, so when it came time to find a location for “Florida’s newest and brightest lighting and fan superstore in 2008, he knew right where to put it. The showroom’s location at a busy intersection directly across from high-traffic mall can’t help but grab the attention of passers by.
2. An electrician in house
Experience also led Blanchard to hire an in-house electrician to visit job sites and troubleshoot if customers are experiencing problems with their lights.
3. Dedicated display person
At Avenues Lighting, it’s out with the old and in with the new, and there’s a full-time employee on staff that makes sure the store’s displays are clean, working and up to date.
4. Strong vendor partnerships
The showroom relies on strong partnerships with its vendors to get the best possible pricing and other perks. “We use the amount of business we do with them to our advantage,” says Marketing Manager Zachary Blanchard. “Free ship dates, displays for our showroom and even co-op dollars to spend on advertising – these are little things we do to make sure we keep costs down and maximize our store’s potential.”
Dominion Electric Supply, Chantilly, VA
1. Lighting labs
Dominion Electric’s light labs – room set-ups that focus on recessed, landscape and under cabinet lighting – give customers the opportunity to experience the showroom’s more technical offerings firsthand. The staff constantly updates the displays to reflect the latest lighting trends and technology.
2. Community leadership
A fixture in the Washington D.C./Baltimore community for more than 75 years, Dominion Electric makes giving back a priority. Among donations to various local organizations, in 2016, showroom president Stephen Krooth was a committee member for the annual golf fundraiser for the Center for Adoption Support and Education where Krooth is a member of the board of directors. Dominion also supported C.A.S.E.’s Branching Out Gala fundraiser this year with a sponsorship and silent auction donation.
3. Social media savvy
To foster strong relationships and stay in front of consumers who increasing turn to social media for inspiration and influence, Dominion Electric is active on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Houzz. The showroom also publishes a blog for both its residential and commercial sides of the business. “We know people are turning to the Internet to make purchase decisions and that much of their time is spent on social networks,” says Marketing Director Patricia Jordan. “We want to be where our customers (and potential customers) are spending time, researching product, looking for ideas and getting advice.”
4. Deep roots
With nine locations, including three showrooms, the Dominion Electric of today looks quite different from when it first opened its doors in 1940. But beneath the surface, the business has stayed true to its founding principles. “We’re still family-owned, independent and locally operated, and we intend to keep it that way,” says Richard S. Sharlin, chairman and owner of Dominion. “We’re good at nurturing our relationships, and while our product lines and service offerings have evolved over the decades, our values haven’t budged: Quality products are important, but it is the people that really count.”
Hermitage Lighting Gallery, Nashville, TN
A family-owned business for more than 70 years, Hermitage Lighting Gallery is a pillar of the Nashville community and of the lighting industry at large.
2. Customer service in its DNA
Hermitage Lighting’s mantra is “outrageous service” and the company hires folks who can get that done. “We can train people in the ways of lighting, but a positive, caring attitude is just something you’re born with,” says Brad Dobson, showroom manager.
3. Team effort merchandising
The showroom recently underwent a transformation – fresh paint and new displays – at the hands of an experienced artist and decorator. But the entire team has a hand in constantly updating the store’s merchandising displays and vignettes, so that customers are treated to a new and exciting experience around every corner.
4. Fondness for philanthropy
Hermitage Lighting staff donates its time and money to several causes and charities, but Habitat for Humanity and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital make up the lion share. The showroom donates new lighting product to Habitat for Humanity’s building projects. In 2017, Hermitage donated lighting product to a newly built Nashville-area home that was raffled off for the annual St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway fundraiser in Tennessee.
Idlewood Electric, Highland Park, IL
1. Dynamic past, present and future
Idlewood Electric has been serving Chicago area customers for nearly 60 years. “It’s very common that our customers today used to come into Idlewood many years ago with their parents,” says Rachel Lansing Sotoloff, granddaughter of showroom founder Iz Scheinman. But Idlewood doesn’t dwell on the past. Rather, the showroom stays at the forefront of showcasing LED technology and breakthroughs in home automation.
2. Interactive display
Idlewood is currently building out a “smart room” that will feature the latest tools and techniques for controlling home systems with a smartphone or voice-activated technology like Amazon’s Alexa.
3. “Real-life” vignettes
For now, fully operational vignettes continue to be the workhorse of the showroom’s merchandising strategy. In every “room,” sales staff can show customers their options for product, finish and placement. For instance, in the bathroom set-up, a recessed fixture positioned above a mirror at the sink demonstrates a common placement mistake. Sales staff can then switch off the single recessed light to reveal what changes when fixtures are placed on either side and above the vanity.
4. Customer events
In 2016, Idlewood hosted two education events – one on ins and outs of renovations and new construction and one on today’s smart home and the technological advancements that customers can use to control their homes. More than 60 customers attended each event. Idlewood’s events don’t just cater to homeowners. The showroom’s Counter Days gives contractors a chance to meet with from manufacturers and learn about the latest products.
Lightology, Chicago, IL
1. Razor-sharp focus
Lightology knows exactly what it is and works tirelessly to do it better than any showroom around. From its 20,000-square-foot glass enclosed building in Chicago’s River North Arts District, the brand specializes in luxury contemporary lighting from around the world.
2. A name that says it all
The fact that the name “Lightology” brings to mind thoughts of education and study is not an accident. Vice President of Sales and Marketing Steven Schranz sees the showroom as part store and part museum. “We have a ground-breaking collection of educational and interactive exhibits on the science of light and color, the history of electric lighting, the stories of luminaries like Edison and Tesla, and the development of LEDs.” Lightology’s new Morpheus Room educates customers about new products like tunable white LED fixtures, the CoeLux series of artificial skylights and how these new technologies can improve the living environment.
3. City views
With its sweeping views of the Chicago skyline, Lightology’s rooftop deck is a popular venue for weddings, parties and industry events. The space also serves as a showroom for its outdoor lighting products.
4. Built-in mentors
Lightology founder Greg Kay draws on his 30-plus years of experience to mentor the lighting consultants on his team and makes himself available whenever they have questions. Veteran staffers also lead weekly classes on various aspects of lighting design to help prepare new employees for certification through the American Lighting Assn.
PDI, Lawrenceville, GA
1. Whole-home solutions
If a customer is looking for plumbing, cabinet hardware, home decor or lighting, chances are they’ll find it at PDI. The company’s approximately 10,000-square-foot showroom caters to the whole-home design approach with lighting as the crowning jewel. Vignettes throughout the showroom and a dedicated lighting gallery showcase the latest designs from top manufacturers.
To make clients feel at home from the moment they walk in the door, PDI offers a concierge service. Showroom staff greets customers, gives them something to drink and offers them a tour.
3. Clean floor design
One of the most striking things about PDI is its open layout and pristine floor space. The ceiling is equipped with an electrified track system, which eliminates the need for clouds. Showroom consultants can easily pull fixtures down to take them to other parts of the showroom, while they’re working with a client.
4. Staff who volunteers together
PDI gives to several charitable causes, but a staff favorite is Septembeard, an organization that raises awareness and support for prostate cancer research. To date, employees have raised nearly $50, 000 by growing out their beards during the month of September.
Village Home Stores, Geneseo, IL
1. A special space for lighting
Village Home Stores prides itself on carrying what customers need to design a well-appointed home. The store offers everything from cabinetry to flooring, but it has a special reference for lighting. “It is such an important element of the overall design of a finished space,” says Elizabeth Round, marketing manager. “We wanted to create a new lighting showroom that really showcases those important selections.” Village Home Stores bought an adjacent storefront and knocked out the walls to make way for the new 1,200-square-foot lighting showroom.
2. Web series
Village Home Stores has its own 30-minute program that airs once a week on local television as well as on the showroom’s YouTube channel. The series takes its audience to recently completed kitchen and bath remodels and features staff sharing their expertise on various topics like project planning and current trends. The program also features guest appearances by lighting experts to talk about such topics as low-voltage undercabinet lighting and how to choose the right kitchen island fixture based on scale.
3. No-job-is-too-small attitude
While the showroom bends over backwards for its big ticket projects, the staff of Village Home Stores understands the importance of smaller jobs, too, and treats those customers to the same level of service and attention as high-volume clients.
4. Vendor discretion
“We don't just open an account with any lighting vendor,” Round says. Rather, Village Home Stores signs on to carry quality products that represent its brand.
Wabash Lighting, Fort Wayne, IN
1. Experience center
In 2013, Wabash Lighting invested in and built out an experience center inside the showroom to highlight real living spaces and allow customer to feel the experience of proper lighting in their homes. “It continues to be a popular source of inspiration and education for customers,” says Lisa Needler, lighting showroom division manager.
2. Hors d’ouevres for designers
Once a year, Wabash Lighting hosts a designer night that typically draws around 40 designers from the surrounding communities. Designers can participate in the Wabash-sponsored course to receive continuing education credits and to enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres with like-minded professionals.
3. Smart relationships with vendors
Wabash’s size is an advantage when it comes to working with vendors. “The fact that we can buy new products in multiple quantities allows us to capitalize on market specials,” Needler says. Wabash also takes advantage of stock adjustment plans with its vendors to avoid customers being charged restock fees when they return a fixture.
4. Focus on new technology
Wabash Lighting is constantly looking for ways to update its knowledge and business practices. That includes educating builders and contractors about LED compatibility, new fixture technology and home automation components. “We are committed to not let the new technology pass us by without us being a large player,” Needler says.
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