Lighting showrooms share their secrets for surviving a recession
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

Although the news is filled with stories of layoffs, cutbacks and other financial speedbumps, for the most part, the lighting industry seems to be holding its own. Existing orders with contractors, for instance, are bringing in a reliable stream of revenue, at least for the moment, and individual homeowners continue to walk through the door. Even so, lighting showrooms aren’t idly waiting for the economic bust to really hit. They’re on the offensive, using tactics, such as changing up their product mixes and ramping up marketing, to get shoppers into the showroom and to bolster sales.

“We’ve been trying to run more sales and to bring in more affordable items,” says Tammy Thomas, Manager of The Light House of Lewes in Lewes, DE. “Before, I may have picked two or three chandeliers in the same price point, and now, I bring in one higher-end [model] and more lower-end options to try to have something for everyone.”

Others are being proactive by bringing attention to new lighting technologies. Southern Lighting, which has lighting showrooms in Eatonton, GA, and Altanta, recently opened a 19,000-square-foot lighting showroom that integrates cutting-edge areas like “going green,” “high-end residential” and “high-tech choices.”

“Everyone is going in the green direction,” says Showroom Manager Dawna Tankersley. “We’re concentrating [in the new showroom] on technologies that make life easier, like touch-screen remotes that control lighting, media and sound.”

At Lights Fantastic in Dallas and in Austin, TX, owner Jon Sayah is focusing on energy-efficient options.

“[As President], Barack Obama has said he wants to give more incentives to people to use energy-efficient lighting, so we’re concentrating a lot on the retrofit business,” Sayah says. ‘We’re doing a big business in CFL light bulbs.”

Lights Fantastic also has a new store section that highlights LED technologies. “We’re doing a lot to show people what’s new in lighting,” Sayah says.

Advertising and outreach are big these days, too. Many lighting showrooms are dialing up their marketing campaigns, trying to bring in new customers. Lights Fantastic’s Sayah, for instance, says he’s experimenting with television ads.

At Unique Lighting & Home Decor in Butte, MT, in-showroom events have been quite successful, some drawing an extra $1,500 in sales, according to Marketing Director and partner D.J. Wonnacott.

“About every six weeks, we hold an evening of appreciation for our customers,” he says. “We invite [them to] bring their friends, and we mark down items for the event. A few hundred people usually come.”

In addition to frequent gatherings, each month Unique Lighting draws a name from its mailing list and rewards the winner with a small gift bag worth about $25. The bags typically contain items such as candles, picture frames, light bulbs, lighting design pamphlets and pens printed with the store name.  

“Our customers love it, and it gets them back in the store to pick up their gift bags,” Wonnacott says.

Lighting showrooms are also turning to trade clients to build up their businesses. Timberlake Lighting has a designer’s corner in its new Charlottesville, VA, location.

“We’re going to have different designers rotate [through] to show off their talents using our lighting,” says Bob Schotta, General Manager and company principal.

While the full effects of the recession have yet to reveal themselves, savvy lighting showrooms will be more likely to stay viable by continuing to highlight new technologies and exercise creativity when it comes to marketing and connecting with customers.

“We think there’s plenty of business out there for smart, aggressive people,” Sayah said. “We’d like to be one of those people.”

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