With global mass merchants like IKEA having such a firm hold on younger consumers’ home purchases, how can independent retailers compete? And why would they even want to?
Cultivating a younger client base is simply smart business, says Ken Plumlee, President and owner of Lumens Light + Living, a Sacramento, CA-based showroom that’s pictured here. “If you’re not connecting with who your customers are going to be tomorrow, tomorrow will come and you won’t have any customers,” he says.
When the company was launched six years ago, the goal was to “really rethink how lighting was retailed,” Plumlee says. “It seemed like [lighting showrooms] tended to be all things to all people, and didn’t really have a demographic focus, and didn’t come at it from a lifestyle angle.”
Reaching this goal meant locating the business in Midtown Sacramento, an urban, hip district known for its art galleries and boutiques; focusing on design-savvy consumers; and offering a contemporary product mix across multiple price points. “What we try to do is provide a next step for when people are ready to get rid of IKEA apartment furniture and get into something more substantial,” says Plumlee.
The retailer advertises in “hipper city magazines” and participates in a monthly gallery walk in that part of town, opening its doors to local artists to display their art in the showroom. This type of event helps draw in people who don’t typically frequent lighting showrooms, while also reinforcing the store’s relevance to a younger audience. “It means shifting advertising away from the traditional Yellow Pages directory approach to making sure you’re very visible on the Internet, which is how this generation finds products and services,” Plumlee says.
Lumens boasts a robust social media presence, including a Facebook page, Twitter account and a blog. “It’s important to build relationships and give people lots of ways to interact with you,” says Plumlee.
Passing of the Torch
Younger generations of family lighting businesses are taking a more active role in operations, helping stores connect with younger customers.
“They are more in touch with the changing needs of this consumer base,” says Eric Jacobson, Vice President of Membership for the American Lighting Assn. (ALA) and the staff liaison for the association’s Young Executives group. “They bring to the table innovation, creativity and energy, and an understanding of this rapidly changing technological environment.”
Leigh Robinson and her brother Brett at Robinson Lighting, a fourth-generation family business with showrooms across Canada, stay actively involved in their community, through golf leagues and the like, to meet younger would-be shoppers.
They also make sure to advertise their varied product selection — both in terms of styles and price points — in different venues, and employ a diverse group of employees, ranging in age from 20 to 70.
At Angerstein’s Design Center, Wilmington, DE — family-owned and operated since 1924 — social media and targeted ads have helped bring in fresh faces. “Everyone is so busy these days, it’s so difficult to actually get to a store sometimes and see what’s new and fun and exciting for the home,” says Marketing Director Kristen Ursomarso. “We try to stay in touch by sending out e-mail blasts and showing what’s new in store and coming soon on our Facebook page.”
Dynamic in-store displays and fun seminars, especially around holidays, also help get people excited and draw younger consumers, she adds.