Behind the Scenes of Tent Sales
Intrepid lighting retailers turn to tent sales to move merchandise. Here’s a peek between the folds.
 

Of course, every lamp and fixture a store purchases is intended to sell at full price, but some product simply won’t budge. To give these items a final chance at finding a home, many retailers rely on tent sales to usher out their slow-to-go merchandise in style. 

“We’ve been doing our tent sale for about 30 years,” says Leslie Killingsworth, Director of Purchasing at Progressive Lighting in Braselton, GA. “In the past we’ve held it at the local equestrian park and at the fairgrounds. We’re known for it. Even though the sale itself has evolved over the years, people in our community look forward to it because they know they’re going to get exceptional values.”

These days, Progressive Lighting holds its biannual (Memorial Day and Labor Day) tent sale at its Lighting Clearance Center in Atlanta. And even as the lighting market continues to struggle, there’s still a big white tent, approximately 1,000 SKUs and a lot of excitement surrounding the event. 

Tent sales can be good for business, but they’re not a small undertaking. They take time to organize; they can be taxing on showroom staff, and with so much happening all at once on the day of the event, they have the potential to get out of hand quickly. Fortunately, a little bit of planning goes a long way. 

Design Lighting in Surrey, BC, holds tent sales twice a year around its anniversary in March or April and then another in September, but its staff plans all year long, constantly pulling items off the salesfloor and putting them aside for the next event.

“We make sure we have ample staff in place, and we meticulously plan out who’s in charge of each area,” says Showroom Manager Yvonne Onderwater. “Before the sale, we have a big meeting to make sure we’re all on the same page, and on the day of we wear Design Lighting T-shirts so customers know who to go to if they have a question.”

At Progressive Lighting, temporary employees help customers park, load purchases into cars and restock the shelves. The retailer also enlists the help of its warehouse staff to do a lot of the heavy lifting. 

“Good planning and organization is key to pulling off an event on this scale,” Killingsworth says. “You really have to pay attention to every detail, like are the aisles wide enough or do you have enough cashiers. We even have staff on hand from the purchasing department, so if a tag falls off or if an item is damaged, there are people on site to help with pricing.”

To help manage crowds at Burnsville, MN’s Southern Lights’ biannual tent sale, owner Craig Motz spaces out his event-related advertising. 

“Our sale is a week long, Saturday to Saturday, so before it starts, we send an e-mail to our customers letting them know about the sale,” Motz says. “Then, about mid-week, we run an ad to let the general public know.”

And although lighting is the undisputed star under these retailers’ big tops, a little something extra serves to sweeten the deal. In years past, Design Lighting has partnered with neighboring businesses to offer customers the chance to win a room makeover if they visit sales at each of the participating businesses. The retailer offers customers snacks and refreshments as well. 

“We don’t have to offer those things,” Onderwater says. “But, we feel like they’re a nice touch. We want to do what we can to make our tent sale a fun event where people come with their families to enjoy a fun day out. Of course, we want them to walk away with some deals, too.” 

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