Retailer Best Practices
A panel of retailers at the 2013 American Lighting Assn. Annual Conference shared strategies making an impact on their own businesses.
 

Embrace Technology
To gain the upper hand, arm your staff with iPads, says Bill Branham II of Brecher’s Lighting in Louisville, KY. Employees there use tablets to easily and quickly communicate with the warehouse and to transfer merchandise between its Louisville store and another retail location in Lexington, KY. But iPads have packed the most punch in the hands of Brecher’s sales force.

“Leading a customer all over the showroom or, even worse, leaving their side to run to the back can cause them to lose interest, and it can result in the loss of a sale,” Branham says. “When our salespeople can bring up product photos and specs on the iPad, they stay with customers the whole time. That’s making a huge impact on our showroom’s bottom line.”

At Brecher’s, iPads also communicate with large touchscreen TVs spaced throughout the showroom. That way, customers can interact with the technology, too, Branham says.

At least initially, readying a showroom for iPad use isn’t cheap. Like many showrooms, Brecher’s uses a proprietary tagging system, so the iPads needed the appropriate software to be able to read the quick response codes and connect those with the appropriate products. That was an investment but one that was worth it, Branham says.

“It’s all about the experience you give your customers,” Branham says. “The selling process needs to be seamless, and iPads loaded with powerful apps like Notability [a note-taking app] and ROAMpay [a mobile payment app] are helping us get there.”

Accessories Expertise
Like many lighting retailers, Lighting Inc. dabbled in home accessories at its showrooms in San Antonio, Houston, Austin, TX, and Shenandoah, TX.

“We’d buy some mirrors and prints, and when we’d sell them, we’d buy some more,” says General Manager Gabriel Trinidad. “But we never thought of it as a legitimate product channel.”

That all changed when Lighting Inc. enlisted local interior designer Margaret Anne King to oversee the purchasing and display of accessories for its Austin showroom on a commission basis. With King’s help and expertise, after six months, the store had sold more than $100,000 in accessories at a gross profit of 59 percent.

“We thought about ways to make money without a lot of upfront costs or extra staff, and accessories seemed to be the obvious choice,” Trinidad says. “But it was clear that we needed someone to be focused on just that.”

The owner of a 7,500-square-foot home furnishings and accessories store for 10 years, King knows her stuff, and even though she’s not a Lighting Inc. employee, she has a clear vision for what the retailer’s accessories business should look like.

“We’re a lighting showroom, not an accessories store,” Trinidad says. “Sometimes we have to remind Margie about that, but that’s OK. She takes ownership and does a top-notch job of bringing in the latest trends and seasonal products that really move. Finding her to take over accessories for us has made all the difference.”

Community Involvement
At Connecticut Lighting Centers, community involvement is not just a family tradition; it’s a business model.

“We believe that you have to support the community that supports you,” says David Director of Connecticut Lighting Centers and Restoration Lighting Gallery in Hartford, CT. “That goes back to 1972 when my father started the business. It’s just how we do things, but giving back is great for business, as well.”

Throughout the year, Connecticut Lighting gives product to more than 200 charities that ask for donations. “It’s our way of keeping things broad,” Director says. “People say they see our products everywhere, and that’s exactly what we want.”

The retailer also partners with several charities on a larger scale. Director himself serves on five nonprofit boards and runs two charity golf outings. To select worthy causes, Connecticut Lighting looks for the local connection.

“We look for organizations that truly make an impact on our community and those that are meaningful to us,” Director says. “For example, we work with our local United Way, and 99 cents of every dollar they get stays local. We also partner with the Rushford Center, a substance abuse and mental health treatment facility in Hartford. Many of us have kids, and we know it can be rough out there, so supporting the great work that the center does is important to us.”

Connecticut Lighting’s community involvement doesn’t go unnoticed. “People come up to me all the time and tell me that they think what Connecticut Lighting is doing is great,” Director says. “As a businessman and a community member, that’s music to my ears.”

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