Selling lighting through the traditional showroom model can be cumbersome and costly. If a desired fixture isn’t on the salesfloor, store representatives flip through thick vendor catalogs, make photocopies, check price sheets -- which may or may not be up-to-date -- and place calls to check for availability. Meanwhile, the customer may have moved on to other ideas or another store completely.
The solution, as devised by veteran retailer Alan Galper, is Lights America, a Web site designed for lighting showrooms that enables sales staff to search a database of manufacturers by category, style and finish.
Under the conventional sales approach, “it took too long to find a product to suit the customer,” says Galper, founder of Lights America. “We had to figure out how to optimize the process and bring it into the 21st Century.”
Lights America doesn’t sell lights directly to consumers, although Galper separately operates the 20-year-old retail store Light Options in Geneva, IL. It’s a sales tool for lighting showrooms and a way for them to expand their customer base. Galper says, as a retailer, he was perennially frustrated with the inefficiency of the selling process and began toying with the idea of an electronic solution. He teamed up with programmer Felix Gorfin to develop the technology. The team started selling the concept five years ago, and it gradually caught on.
Based in Arlington Heights, IL, Lights America serves about 180 lighting showrooms. The online database includes 110,000 items from 131 vendors. With an estimated 2,500 showrooms in North America, the online service has plenty of room to expand.
Participating lighting showrooms pay a monthly fee to Lights America, which develops a proprietary site for the lighting showroom with its own set of SKU numbers, and monitors and updates prices for the stores. Galper says Lights America doesn’t grant exclusivity, but it tries to control its distribution.
To keep up with growing interest, Lights America recently expanded its features, adding, among other services, an e-commerce option that enables consumers to complete their purchases at lighting showrooms online.
John Queen, owner of Quality Lighting Center in Chattanooga, TN, was an early subscriber. He says the software can compensate for a salesforce’s lack of experience or knowledge.
“It works for a veteran or a first-year salesperson,” Queen says. “And the unique SKU numbers protect us from being shopped.”
One of Queen’s managers works with Lights America to set markups for each product group -- only retail prices show up in the system. Stores, of course, often offer discounts off the published retail price.
Queen says the system has cut in half the time needed to shop for a given fixture.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s the most beneficial tool I’ve ever employed,” Queen says.
Marilyn Schulman, owner of Bay Shore Lighting & Home in Bay Shore, NY, says Lights America has raised the profile of traditional lighting showrooms, like her own, as Internet shopping has taken hold.
“We’re on a more competitive footing,” she says. “[With an extensive Web site], it’s another opportunity to talk to someone who might not [otherwise] come in.”