Center of Attention
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

For Laurie Gross, President of Gross Electric in Toledo, OH, and Ann Arbor, MI, it’s simple math. “We’ll make more money selling good product than old product,” she says.

And so, earlier this year she cleared out the “junk”—all the product she couldn’t sell—on display in her 5,000-square-foot West Toledo showroom’s close-out section, donated it to Habitat for Humanity and constructed in its place a “lifestyle center.”

“It’s not a vignette,” Gross says. “You walk in, and it looks like a mini house.” The 600-square-foot area contains a foyer, living room, kitchen, master bedroom, media room and a bathroom with two vanities. “Only the toilet doesn’t work,” she laughs.

Gross got the idea for her new lifestyle center, which cost about $30,000 and took seven months to build, after visiting the Lutron Experience Center in Plantation, FL. “When I walked out, I thought, ‘This is fantastic. I need to have some-thing like this to show my customers,’” Gross says.          

Lutron, which also has Experience Centers in Irvine,  CA, and Coopersburg, PA, invests a bit more on its centers (approximately $150 per square foot compared to Gross’ $50), but Director of Customer Education Kathie Leslie agrees that the concept is a positive selling tool. Whether or not a showroom can afford to build a dedicated center, Leslie says, “I think a lot of [the people who tour the centers] come away with good ideas of how they would like to enable customers to experience lighting controls instead of just look at  a static display.”           

“An electrician puts out a recessed can like he’s lighting a picture,” says Laurie Gross, President of Gross Electric. Her new lifestyle center instead shows customers how to achieve artistic lighting effects that highlight special features, like this stone fireplace Gross had installed in the center’s living room area.

Though Gross did install Lutron’s shading, Radial Rod and Graphic Eye systems, as well as PNF’s intercom and NuTone’s central vacuum, her lifestyle center goes far beyond controls. Its ceiling starts at 9 feet and elevates to 12, so she can display sloped recessed cans. In the living room, the recessed lighting elegantly grazes a stone chimney, while in the kitchen, visitors find myriad other solutions: standard 5-inch cans, low voltage cans, pendants and both over- and undercabinet lighting. Using a technique she learned at CLC® training, Gross velcroed a valance to the bottom of the cabinets to show how properly installed undercabinet products don’t cast reflections onto the granite countertops she installed.           

That’s right: granite. Yet, such luxuries weren’t as expensive as one might think. Gross employed the talent of an in-house employee for most of the construction (eliminating labor costs), and she worked out deals to outfit the center: Local plumbing and high-end media retailers donated their products for the promise of in-display signage, and Gross traded her own products and services in exchange for carpets and furnishings from other local dealers. All the work and the sales training involved has paid off: Gross says sales have gone up significantly since the center’s debut.           

“We want to be the first place people remodeling or building a new home go for lighting design and products,” Gross says. Thanks to a special before-and-after feature, “We can show customers how a normal home is lit: It looks like a cave. The flip of a button shows how a great home is lit. We present them with regular and premiere lighting, and they decide if they want to make the investment.”

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