ARTS Award Winners Talk Shop
March 30, 2010 - 7:40am

Light By Design
San Antonio
Vanessa Turney, partner

What makes your showroom unique?
Our showroom is unique because every aspect of our studio space was designed to enhance and show off the star of our show: lighting. From the glossy floors that reflect light to the tinted Venetian walls, the feel when you walk in the studio is that you are in a gallery for exquisite lighting. We also specialize in lighting control systems and documented lighting design, so the entire studio is wired with a dimming system, which allows every light to be on/off or dimmed, while decreasing our energy footprint.

Describe your merchandising strategy.
Merchandising is the key to success for our showroom. We take extraordinary care in planning not only what we show, but how we place our product. We discovered through past experience, that if your client can “see” the lighting, without obstruction, and defined in its own space, they are much more likely to appreciate and purchase. Every area in the studio is meant to inspire, from the kitchen to the offices and lavatories, we see every space as an opportunity to merchandise.

What steps has your showroom taken to weather this volatile economy?
We opened the studio right before the recession, so we definitely had to have a game plan coming into 2008. Instead of cutting in marketing and advertising areas, we pushed those funds toward a more interactive approach. Designer lunches, educational seminars, and after-hours events have given us exposure while giving us the opportunity to build relationships in the communities that bring us business. Branching out to the hospitality and commercial markets has also been extremely beneficial, as these areas of business are growing and always looking for something unique.

Looking ahead, what do you identify as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the lighting industry?
Until our industry recovers, competition among lighting retailers in a local market is tough. However, opportunity is always present in the challenges, and we believe if you specialize and separate yourself from your competitors, even in these times, there is enough business to keep everyone going.

What is it about the lighting business that fueled your passion?
We are passionate about the field because it is dynamic and constantly evolving. Our mission statement says it all: Light by Design is committed to bringing the very best products and services the market has to offer to our clients, to be professional and diligent in searching out new technologies and innovative products, and to elevate our company and the industry in the process.

Southern Lighting Gallery
Augusta, GA
Brent Smith, owner

What makes your showroom unique?
An important factor that makes Southern Lighting Gallery unique is how we merchandise. We have created dozens of vignettes throughout our 16,000 square foot showroom. Another way we believe we are unique is our employees. All of our sales associates are ALA certified. They not only know the latest in lighting fashion and styles, they know how to offer lighting solutions.

Describe your merchandising strategy.
Using different floor and wall colors and textures as well as casual furniture and accessories, we display complementary fashion-forward lighting that allows the customer to envision how the lighting would look in their home.

Our state-of-the-art lighting lab, with a fully furnished and decorated dining room with the table set for dinner and a completely accessorized living room with sofa, chairs, and built-in bookcases flanking a fireplace, is in an area of the showroom where we previously struggled to route customer traffic. Now customers are truly wowed when they see how light from chandeliers, overhead lighting, wall sconces, and recessed lighting, can be layered and dimmed to dramatic effect in well-appointed living room and dining room settings.

Our kitchen lighting lab, one of our customers’ favorite areas, shows the effects of different cabinet lighting including four types of under cabinet lighting, two types of inside cabinet lighting, and over cabinet lighting in real kitchen cabinets with granite counter tops.

What steps has your showroom taken to weather this volatile economy?
We see consumers being more value conscience; therefore, we have adjusted our product mix to target this value-driven customer. Having said that, customers still expect quality and service. This is one area where we will not sacrifice.

Obviously, we are managing our inventory much more closely. Our customers still want and deserve the latest styles and trends in lighting. We attend the Dallas market twice per year to bring home the most current lighting to keep our product mix updated. Consolidating vendors has been necessary as it is difficult to support as many vendors as we did in the good days. One step we recently have taken that we are really excited about is a partnership we formed with other locally owned businesses that serve the home builder industry. We cross-market each other’s goods and services to the builders. While this partnership is fairly new, we have already gotten results as well as favorable responses from builders.

Looking ahead, what do you identify as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the lighting industry?
Surviving this economic down turn is the most glaring challenge. However, as the economy improves, the opportunity is that we should be well positioned to thrive. This lesson in humility is a good thing. We can take what we have learned to operate leaner and smarter.

Another challenge is adapting to all of the new government regulations and technologies. From fan light kits to light bulbs to LEDs, we are trying to determine where the industry is headed so we can train our staff to be able to convey the advancements in lighting to our customers.

What is it about the lighting business that fueled your passion?
I would have to say it’s satisfying the customers, it’s the challenge of growing and managing a business in good times and bad, it’s giving employees an opportunity to grow with you, it’s the American dream.

Western Montana Lighting
Missoula, MT
Carolyn G. Overman, owner

What makes your showroom unique?
Our showroom is unique in two ways. One is that with our long-term employees, we have established our credibility and relationships with our clients. We are proud of our four consultants with 20-plus years in the business. Secondly, our customers have repeatedly congratulated us on our diversity of product. They are always surprised that a showroom in a town of under 100,000 [residents] has such a selection.

Describe your merchandising strategy.
Our merchandising strategy is quite simple: Provide a multitude of styles in a comfortable setting. Make shopping an experience such that they look forward to returning. Merchandising has been key to the growth of our business. When we moved into our new location in 2003, this building was painstakingly designed to enhance our merchandising efforts.

What steps has your showroom taken to weather this volatile economy?
2008 and 2009 offered us the opportunity to focus on the important aspects of our business. Employees are No. 1, all planning has been to keep all jobs intact. We have also managed with less warehouse stock, utilizing our manufacturer partners, but not depleting our showroom displays. We have even increased purchasing for the floor in some areas.

Looking ahead, what do you identify as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the lighting industry?
We believe one of the greatest challenges is to help boost consumer confidence in our economy and assist in getting our local economy back on track. That requires a constant effort to act and speak with a positive attitude. The opportunities in this climate are endless. This is the time to concentrate our efforts on differentiating ourselves from the competition and truly focus on our strengths. When customers aren’t running in your door, you can work smarter on how to better serve and retain a client.

What is it about the lighting business that fueled your passion?
I personally am most passionate about the people. We have been blessed to work with some of the most motivating members of our industry. The clients who become our friends, our manufacturers and their representatives, our marketing partners and our loyal employees, all make waking up each day a true pleasure. Ben and I are some of the lucky business owners, fate dropped us into the lighting industry 26 years ago and we haven’t regretted it since.

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