The sale marks the Pennsylvania-based Colonial Electric Supply's entrance into the Maryland market and was part of the company’s strategic plan to grow their showroom business, says Dave Bellwoar, Vice President of Colonial's Showroom Division and one of the four Bellwoar brothers that currently run the company.
Annapolis Lighting owner Preston Clark was looking to retire and sell the business. “Annapolis was having such a challenging time with this economy, and had we not gone in there, the likelihood that they would have had to close [the] business and liquidate is pretty high,” says Bellwoar.
As a family-owned operation with a great reputation in the lighting market, investing in Annapolis Lighting seemed like a worthwhile opportunity despite the uncertain economy, Bellwoar says. “It’s always a scary thing. It’s a risk-reward; and while our company has always been very conservative about our growth initiatives, it just made sense. [Annapolis Lighting] fits with our company.”
All three locations — in Annapolis, Columbia and Rockville — have already received major makeovers, with fresh new inventory and a dynamic merchandising approach spearheaded by buyer Doug Miller. “It’s really been a metamorphosis of what the three stores used to look like," says Bellwoar. "The look and feel has changed over the last six months very dramatically. It’s all about drawing people in.”
Other changes include adding more high-end product to attract “a basket of different buyers” from home builders to high-end designers and the walk-in customer, he adds. The new owners also see potential in growing Annapolis’ pre-existing lamp repair and shade division. A revamped marketing campaign to promote the store’s new image and ownership is in the works.
“Anytime you have a strong, consistent marketing program you do add some intrinsic value to the brand,” says Dave Clark, President and founder of Clark Communications Group, an advertising firm that specializes in advertising for lighting showrooms. The firm already represented both Bright Light Design Center and Annapolis Lighting, in fact, the latter was one of Clark’s first accounts back in 1991.
Dave Clark introduced the two companies — both his clients — when he heard that Annapolis Lighting’s Preston Clark was looking to retire. “On the one hand, you had ownership that was nearing retirement age, on the other hand, we had a young company with very deep pockets looking to expand their market area. Both were family owned and had a similar outlook in business practice,” says Dave Clark. Clark Communications will continue to handle the marketing and advertising for Annapolis Lighting and Bright Light Design Center.
Dave Clark says the acquisition recalls Annapolis Lighting's glory days. “I think we’ll see a return to a very rich buying experience for the consumer in the Annapolis Lighting store, where lighting is the backbone of the offer, but all around it, there’s these vignettes for accent furniture, artwork, mirrors, etc.”
So far, the numbers look good, says Bellwoar. Sales have been steadily climbing in the past six months and response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’re very optimistic about the economy turning around," Bellwoar says. "The great thing about showroom lighting and accent, if you are going to stay in home a bit longer, you’ll spend more money to renovate house. Whereas new construction has slowed, the renovation market is still going strong. We’re hoping that during the last quarter of the year, we will finish strong.”
Annapolis Lighting will keep its name, as well as most of the sales staff. While Preston Clark is officially retired, and his two daughters are pursuing other career options, he remains involved in a consultant capacity.