Despite the economic crunch felt by showrooms of all sizes, Austin Bluffs Lighting in Colorado Springs, CO, has continued its 15-year tradition of attending both Dallas Markets each year, says President Kevin Herdt.
“We want to see new product,” Herdt says. “We want to be up-to-date on new products and new technology entering the marketplace so we’re on the front line of action, instead of waiting to react to our competitors.” Gone are the days when the showroom would spend $30,000 to $50,000 at market stocking up on inventory.
But a successful show — regardless of how much is actually spent — demands developing a solid game plan and making sure everyone who attends is on board, Herdt adds. His approach to the market includes prioritizing face-to-face time with vendors his showroom regularly does business with, as well as carving out time to explore new possibilities. “This business is all about relationships,” he says. “Everyone should also get out of their comfort zone and go see showrooms with product categories they don’t currently carry and look to see what’s happening. Go out on a limb a little.”
Herdt also makes it a priority to set aside some time to network with peers. “I learn a lot from the seminars, but the most valuable information I’ve received has been by sitting down over a beer or coffee with a fellow showroom owner and talking about business and how they solve problems,” he says.
Mark Green, General Manager of Hill Country Lighting Center in Kerrville, TX, says his showroom prepares for market by evaluating needs by category, finish and size. His staff also puts together a list of new merchandise they’re interested in ordering and old merchandise that might be discontinued. Then, they schedule appointments with sales reps ahead of time. These exchanges are two-way conversations: Besides learning about new products, plans, and promotions manufacturers have to offer, this is a time for showrooms to share their input on their business needs, he adds.
Attending the market also provides a crystal ball on exciting emerging trends. “It keeps you in tune with what’s changing in the marketplace, and the trends that are coming,” Green adds. At the end of each day at the show, his three-person team evaluates what they’ve done and seen that day and plans their following day.
Herdt adds that the showroom’s sales meeting following the market is used as a “recap session” for the rest of the staff that was not able to attend. “We get everyone up to speed on what’s happening in the industry.”
In terms of specific categories retailers will be looking for at this month’s market, energy-efficient lighting solutions top the list. Besides “green” lighting products, Wendy Lofing-Rossotti, co-owner of Lofings Lighting in Sacramento, CA, says she also pays attention to the changing technology behind them. The trip, which she describes as more of an educational venture than a buying one, also will help her hone in on key trends, colors and styles to watch.
LED technology also will be a focus area for Herdt, since that technology is advancing so rapidly. “This market, we’ll be focusing on who’s come out with LED technology and what makes sense to incorporate into our product mix,” he says. “We’re also looking for Energy Star® product.” While it’s not a huge category in the region right now, Herdt wants to be prepared for when consumers begin asking for it.
Green says he will keep an eye out for what’s new in chandeliers, bath, LED products and outdoor fans. And if the opportunity is too good to pass up — what he calls “home runs” — he’s ready to dig into his pockets. “We want to take advantage of the specials and the discounts.” Roughly 50 to 60 percent of his inventory is purchased from the two Dallas Markets, he adds.
He suggests retailers take the time to think over major purchases and not get carried away with impulse buys. Set a budget at the beginning and stick to it. “We don’t place the order the same day we walk the showroom. We evaluate and digest it,” Green says.
And then, there are the practical tips: “Wear comfortable shoes,” says Green. “And it’s good to step out and take a breather once in a while, too. There’s so much to take in — it can be overwhelming.”