Lighting Stores Cope With the Economy
July 16, 2009 - 12:42pm

For many showrooms, the first half of 2009 has been equal parts sobering and stimulating. Across the board, lighting retailers report record lows and drastic cutbacks. However, stores also have evolved from short-term reacting to long-term strategizing.

Many are cashing in on surprising product trends or reducing inventory significantly. Others are going against the grain and investing in marketing efforts. As a whole, retailers are responding to one of the most challenging business climates in decades with creativity and resourcefulness. The rest of the year undoubtedly will be a bumpy road, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As Todd Tuchfarber, Director of Retail Operations for South Carolina-based Charleston Lighting and Interiors, says, economic downturns force businesses to reassess and reinvent: “Failure is not business going down in a tough climate. Failure is going back to bad habits.”

Approaches to Product

Tuchfarber’s higher-end showroom is handling the setbacks in stride. Despite slow consumer traffic, there are some bright spots: The bathroom and outdoor categories as well as contemporary lines are selling well. What little commodity low-end product they carry is “not moving at all,” he says. “That product is sitting on the shelf.”

Mostly, consumers are looking to save money. “Everyone, bar none, is looking for a deal. No one wants to buy unless it’s a sale,” he says.

While bestsellers vary by region and community demographics, the showrooms we interviewed pointed to contemporary lines, outdoor lights, lamps and ceiling fans as their biggest sales. Overall, moderately priced, conservatively sized fixtures seemed to be moving, with just a few showrooms reporting sales in high-end product, like crystal chandeliers and large custom pieces, climbing.

“Fresh” and “new” are more than buzzwords at Capital Lighting in Columbus, OH. While the store has cut costs as much as possible, it is committed to stocking updated product. “If you are not doing that, people who do come in regularly wonder if you’ve got trouble,” says President and co-owner Larry King.

The showroom also has held steady by diversifying inventory to incorporate artwork, mirrors and accent furniture.

Self Promotion

As showrooms operate leaner, staff, inventories and advertising budgets are all shrinking. But some businesses are thinking long term and positioning themselves for the upswing by continuing to promote their business as competitors scale back.

Capital Lighting still advertises on radio or TV one week a month. “We’re always out there, letting people know we are still here,” says King. “Our goal is to get to the other side of the recession and be the lighting showroom that survived. As things come back, we’ll be in a good spot.”

Charleston Lighting and Interiors is seeing some success by mixing traditional and nontraditional advertising: ads in local newspapers and billboards as well as store events, designer nights and community outreach programs designed to spark a connection between consumers and the store. “We’re trying to branch out, doing things a little bit differently than in the past,” says Tuchfarber.

At Connecticut Lighting Center in Hartford, CT: “We’re advertising more right now than we have before,” says President David Director. Another way the East Coast store is standing apart from the pack is by refusing to downsize staff. “Our best asset is our people. So we haven’t let anyone go. We haven’t cut any pay.” Instead, the store approaches its investments with a “wants vs. needs” philosophy to keep costs down, he says.

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