When was the last time a customer (who wasn’t a contractor or designer) asked for a product by name and item number?
“When customers are shopping, they’re typically more interested in design and value,” says Brian Wilson, owner of both Naples, FL-based Wilson Lighting  and wholesale vendor Mariana Lighting . “Brand has been almost ignored.”
Realizing this, many showrooms put their own name in the spotlight. At Elements Lighting  in Carle Place, NY, even the vendor catalogs have an Elements title page laminated to their covers.
“There is no ‘Is this brand better than this brand,’” owner Brian Kleinberg says. “[Vendors’] egos may be hurt, but showrooms in the future are going to have to do what I’m doing to survive.”
That’s because distribution is notoriously loose in the lighting industry, making pricing extremely competitive. Consumers can often find the same brands at nearby stores or online and often use showrooms like Kleinberg’s and Wilson’s to “pre-shop.”
But these guys aren’t taking this lying down. “We build our own item numbers so that when the customers walk out, they don’t even know which brand they looked at,” Wilson says. “It’s a business decision.”
And it’s a decision many manufacturers are coming to expect. Merchandising & Training Specialist for Sea Gull Lighting, Joann Wills was once a retail showroom manager and merchandiser. Now, she uses her dual perspective to produce signage Sea Gull customers can really use.
“Most people are opposed to huge Sea Gull Lighting [logos] branded all over [in-showroom displays],” she says. “They carry so many products from so many people, it becomes a distraction.”
Instead, Wills and her team work with showroom owners, helping them find display materials and product for customized merchandising solutions that create a holistic show-room aesthetic.
“We want the product merchandised the way they can sell it,” she says.
After all, vendors and showrooms are ultimately interested in the bottom line. For Wilson, there’s no point in confusing the message, especially when most showrooms constantly refresh their offerings.
“In apparel or cars, when you think of a certain brand, it conjures up an image," Wilson says. "But many lighting manufacturers carry such diverse products and price points. When you have such a broad offering that turns so frequently, what [image] does the brand represent?”
Wills agrees. “If [a customer] only sees a manufacturer name, she won’t relate. But if a sign tells a story and helps that person put that fixture in her home, those are the kinds of things people love. It [may have] our name on it, but the photo says everything.”
Whether you create your own in-store signage or rely on materials supplied by manufacturers, keep these things in mind:
- Maintain a simple message, so the customers' focus stays on the lighting.
- Depict the product in application and, if possible, with complementary pieces.
- Make sure all signs are up-to-date with your showroom's most recent offerings.