Find out what makes each of this year’s 10 SOTY finalists in the Revenue Under $2 Million category stand out from fray.
Bright Ideas, Rochester, MN
1. Great people
Minnesotans are known for their courteous nature and friendly smiles, and the folks at Bright Ideas are no exception. “Once a customer steps foot into our showroom they are treated to the best customer service experience from all of our staff,” says Julie Eggenberger, marketing and office manager. “We are all cross-trained to help them.”
2. Big hearts
Serving their customers is not just about the smiles; it’s about taking care of their communities, as well. Each year, Bright Ideas donates their time as well as product to local charities. The showroom gives thousands of dollars worth of lighting fixtures to the Rochester area Habitat for Humanity.
3. Merchandising that connects
Bright ideas believes that the best merchandising not only makes an emotional connection with customers, but it also allows them to touch and feel the products. “Low-hanging fixtures and meticulously arranged vignettes satisfy customers’ curiosity around the showroom’s every turn,” says Nick Curtis of Décor Lighting Sales Inc.
4. Inspiring social media
Bright Ideas makes it easy for customers to keep up with showroom news and the latest lighting trends thanks to frequent updates on its Facebook page. The retailer also relies on Houzz to show off their capabilities with photo gallery of past projects and rooms that inspire.
Hall Lighting and Design, Victoria, TX
1. Elevated service
It’s hard to debate the convenience of picking up a bath bar while you’re at your local big box buying painters tape and spackle, but such transactions leave out an essential part of the lighting retail experience: customer service. At Hall Lighting and Design, it’s something customers have come to love and expect. “We will always go above and beyond for anyone,” says Hall’s Kristen Turek. “We treat our customers like family.”
2. Dynamic displays
Hall Lighting designed its 12,500-square-foot lighting showroom with merchandising in mind. Designated areas for different fixture categories keep the busy space organized while merchandising experts pull lighting, furniture and accessories together into well-appointed vignettes.
3. Good habits
To raise money for Habitat for Humanity as well as offer affordable lighting products to low-income residents, Hall Lighting donates product to the Golden Crescent Habitat for Humanity ReStore, a resale shop featuring discounted new and used building materials. Hall also partners with the local group to provide low-cost lighting packages the homes its volunteers build in the area.
Weekly staff meetings ensure the entire staff is up to speed on what’s happening in the showroom. They’re an integral part of the work week and a source of motivation. According to Turek, the meetings have even helped increase productivity. “We start off each meeting with a round of recognitions for deserving staff,” Turek says. “It’s a fun way to highlight the positive things going on and for employees to show their support for one another.”
Heritage Lighting, Lambertville, NJ
When Heritage Lighting’s owner, Barbara Stanton, died last November, showroom manager Jose Velez stepped up and has yet to look back. “It was a very sad time, but our customers were counting on us, and Barb would have wanted us to keep going,” Velez says.
2. International appeal
Heritage Lighting is known for is its carefully curated mix of American-made fixtures, locally handmade exterior fixtures and vintage lighting as well as lighting from France and Italy that customers won’t find anywhere in the state.
3. Wow factor
One of the showroom’s highlights is massive fixtures from the French company Ironware International. Pieces like a 60-inch orb and a 75-inch wide island fixture appear throughout the showroom at a height where customers can see their detail and feel their weight.
4. Custom capabilities
Heritage Lighting offers its customers the opportunity to customize the glass or finish on their favorite interior or exterior fixtures. Velez does the custom work onsite to make sure customers are 100 percent satisfied with their new lighting.
Inland Lighting, Yakima, WA
1. Creative use of space
The building that Inland Lighting inhabits has been around since the early 1900s, and with ceiling grid work measuring in at just over 9 feet and long narrow layout with lots of small separate rooms, the space presents some unique challenges. Owners Tina and Jim Engbretson often build their own displays to fit the unusual dimension.
2. A nose for fun
The Engbretsons don’t shy away from having a little fun in their showroom. Take, for example, the chrome plated T-Rex outfitted with a color-changing LED in Inland’s front window. And to their customers’ delight, the couple’s yellow lab, Tooey, is a regular visitor to the showroom floor.
3. Continuing education
Inland employees know their stuff. The retailer employs two certified lighting specialists and one certified lighting consultant and members of the staff frequently attend classes during the Dallas Market twice a year. In between markets, the staff takes in ALA webinars and manufacture representative-led mini lessons that arm them with the information they need to sell the product to the best of their ability.
4. Real relationships
While they are not a large account, the folks at Inland create strong, loyal relationships with the manufacturers they know will reciprocate their commitment. The same goes for electrical contractors, builders and designers. “Gaining their trust has played a huge part in our success,” Tina Engbretson says. “When these specialists recommend us to clients, it builds trust and life-long loyalty.”
Light Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
1. LED education
Seeing is believing at Light Santa Barbara. The showroom’s Light Lab educates customers on the latest innovations in light strips and LED fixtures. It also breaks down and explains customer-befuddling concepts like color temperature and coloring rendering index.
2. Monthly wine tastings
Located about one hour southeast of the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, Light Santa Barbara plays up its local vintner connections to host wine tasting each month. Homeowners, designers and builders can socialize and shop for product during these open house events.
3. Design services
Store owner William George offers free design services to each of his clients, and given the complex nature of some of the products the store sells, he’ll even oversee the installation of fixtures that require extra attention. Recently, George went to a client’s home to advise her on the proper hanging height of her new fixture and an array of light bulbs, so she could choose those she liked best in the context of the space.
4. Internet savvy
In addition to posting news and product information regularly on social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Light Santa Barbara watches its competition on the Web. “We constantly monitor online pricing to make sure we are on par with the best online price,” George says. “This consistency earns the trust of our clients, so they never need to shop for more competitive pricing online.”
Lumen Nation, North Canton, OH
1. Clear vision
Tom Rafferty has been in a lot of showrooms throughout his 25-year career in the lighting industry. So when he had the opportunity to design and build his dream showroom, he had a particular vision in mind: “to create a showroom focused on providing the best service possible and on making customers feel comfortable from the moment they walk in the door. “
2. Keeping it real on social media
To engage followers on its Facebook page, Lumen Nation sticks to stills of actual products and vignettes that are in the showroom. “We feel that this gives the page a feel that is very personal and unique,” says showroom manager Eric Veverka.
Customers can experience that same transparency in person. There’s no ‘behind the scenes,” Veverka says. “The front counter area, which doubles as our main office, is right in the center of our store, so customers are involved in every step of the [buying] process.”
Customer service and “going the extra mile” are top priorities at Lumen Nation, and the staff works hard to make sure clients feel that passion from the minute they step foot in the showroom. “People have many options for places to buy lighting, so you really have to stand out from the crowd, and I believe we do,” Veverka says.
Northtown Lighting Inc., Appleton, WI
1. Community involvement
Northtown Lighting may be one of the Midwest’s premier showrooms, but it can always use a little help from its friends. And the retailer has plenty of them. Northtown is a member of area chambers of commerce as well as local business and homebuilder associations. “Being part of these organizations is a good way to get to know other local business and for them to get to know us,” says owner Deb Krueger. “In fact, we’ve done business with several of the member businesses since joining.”
2. Personal attention
Northtown delivers its whole-home packages to builder clients. While errors are rare thanks to the retailer’s three-point delivery check system, mistakes can happen, and if something isn’t right, Northtown fixes it with no questions asked.
3. Bird’s eye view
Technology is the showroom’s friend. Northtown recently commissioned a Google 360 of its showroom, so customers can take a peak inside before making the trip to experience it in person. Krueger also suspects that it drives more people to Northtown’s website when they do a Google search.
Northtown has been in business since 1987, and its lighting consultants have more than 35 years of combined knowledge in the lighting industry, so they can expertly navigate the “when, why and how as it relates to lighting,” Krueger says.
The Lighting Design Center at Warshauer Electric, Tinton Falls, NJ
1. Commitment to community
“When our communities flourish, we flourish,” says Executive Vice President James Dunn. That’s why, no matter how busy they are, the staff of The Lighting Design Center finds time to support organizations like Family & Children’s Services of Monmouth County and the local chapter of the American Heart Assn. Every summer, the showroom hosts a blood drive to support the Central Jersey Blood Center.
2. 21st Century vignettes
The Lighting Design Center designs its in-store experiences to reflect a “21st Century approach to value-added solutions,” says Dunn. One of the showroom’s standout displays is a fully functional shading vignette featuring Lutron’s shading solutions alongside Lutron fixtures and wireless controls.
3. Social media worth its salt
The Lighting Design Center takes that same care in designing its virtual spaces, as well. The showroom’s online platforms adhere to what marketing experts call the social media “rule of thirds”: One-third of its content promotes the brand and generates sales; one-third shares industry information and trends; and one-third engages and builds transparency.
4. Incentives for designers
The lighting-industry moves fast, so to make sure its designers keep up on the latest trends and technology, The Lighting Design Center asks its designers to participate in weekly product training. To raise the stakes, the showroom rewards designers with an in-house point program. Designers can redeem points for cash prizes like gift cards, concert tickets and hotel packages.
The Saltbox Lighting, De Pere, WI
1. Location, location, location
Housed in the old De Pere Journal in downtown De Pere, Saltbox Lighting makes the most of a space that is rich in history as well as architectural details. Original wood floors and red brick walls offer a striking backdrop to new products from Crystorama, Visual Comfort, Savoy House and others.
2. Free freight days
Saltbox takes advantage of free freight days that some of their vendors offer as perks. Whether it’s a reward for hitting a revenue threshold with the company or a promotional deal for one month out of the year, Showroom Manager Amy MacCarthy says free freight is a huge benefit of which Saltbox is happy to take advantage.
3. Word of mouth
Working with customers from their initial visit to the final walk through, Saltbox staff doesn’t stop until their clients are 100 percent satisfied. As a result, business continues to grow largely through word-of-mouth.
4. Local presence
Saltbox Lighting continues to establish a strong local presence through its charitable endeavors, as well. The showroom donates to many organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the Red Cross and several area schools and churches.
WaterPlace, Crown Point, IN
1. Star power
When WaterPlace opened its newest showroom last year in Crown Point, Indiana, home design and TV personality Ty Pennington was on hand to celebrate.
2. All-in-one appeal
WaterPlace is a one-stop-shop for homeowners, builders and designers looking for a wide selection of plumbing, cabinetry and lighting under one roof.
3. Hands-on experiences
Customers don’t have to worry about how different products will look in their home thanks to WaterPlace’s interactive experience room where they “try before they buy,” says designer Doug Van Der Weide, designer of WaterPlace’s Crown Point location. To educate customers about different light temperatures, the WaterPlace team built its own Kelvin lighting display in an area of the showroom, so customers can compare the different lights side-by-side.
4. Fewer clouds
To avoid a sea-of-lights scenario, WaterPlace only uses 14 clouds to hang fixtures throughout its 9,800-square-foot Crown Point showroom. Most lighting hangs strategically around the showroom to compliment a vignette or to make an educational statement.
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