From former models to home furnishings divas, big-time businessmen to small-screen stars, the licensing phenomenon is alive and well. Licensees like Elk Lighting (Trump Home, Biltmore Estate), Murray Feiss (Martha Stewart, Bob Mackie) and Pacific Coast Lighting (Cabana Joe, Kathy Ireland, Dick Idol) appreciate the neat package presented by branded collections.
Marketers bank on consumers’ desire to attain the heights their idols have reached; it certainly has been the case in the fashion industry, from which lighting increasingly draws its cues. The manufacturers’ party line is that “lifestyle” lines sell themselves. It’s a message that—at the retail level—is falling on deaf ears.
“I have no idea why manufacturers are still producing licensed lines,” says Giorgina Schnurr, buyer for Arlington, VA’s Dominion Electric. “There’s a celebrity on the tag? So what? People really could care less.”
Of course, if an icon like Martha Stewart or Donald Trump—or even a well-respected designer like Jonathan Adler—is willing to put his or her name name on a product, chances are it meets their (presumably high) standards. But Whitney Moore, owner of Candelabra Distinctive Lighting & Home Decor in Mt. Pleasant, SC, believes such celebrity agreements are inked not to reassure or connect with consumers, but to assuage the concerns of more timid retailers.
“There are a lot of lighting stores out there whose buyers are more uncomfortable with going out on a limb.” Moore says. “Having a name to go with a line helps them be confident that it will be trendy.”
For her part, Moore doesn’t buy it. She removes manufacturers’ tags from any fixture or lamp that comes into her showroom, so her customers never even know that a product belongs to a licensed collection. At Candelabra, the sales team sells quality and design on their own.
Schnurr agrees. “If I put a catalog on the table and [a customer] says, ‘Oh, that’s Martha Stewart,’ maybe that will make a difference. But if I turn the page, and they see something they like better, they’ll forget about her in a moment.”
As manufacturers and their reps continue to extol the benefits of licensed lines, it’s especially difficult to dispute the heightened quality control. Elk Lighting and Murray Feiss even make in-showroom visits with a brand’s own experts in tow. Such efforts make a strong case, says Doug Aaseby, owner of Lights of Rafael in San Rafael, CA.
“But I’m not that impressed with a name," he says. "I’m not going to sell it that way. I’m going to pick the thing that fits my customer’s needs as I feel out what they’re doing in their homes.”
As for buying or displaying an entire branded collection? Schnurr, Moore and Aaseby all shrug off the idea. “An apparel buyer may go to Milan and buy all Valentino or Armani, but you don’t do that with lighting,” Schnurr says. “You do that, you’ll get stuck with the whole thing."