Lighting showrooms that have expanded into product categories and services beyond lighting share their success stories.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen homeowners want to change up their look, it often means selecting a new color of paint, or maybe adding some seasonal or on-trend throw pillows and accents. Since most consumers aren’t in the habit of frequently changing out their chandeliers or fixtures, how can traditional lighting showrooms continually draw more customers – and especially repeat clients –
through their doors and increase their sales?
At Rick’s Lighting in Charleston, S.C., they’ve updated their name to Rick’s Lighting + Home to more accurately reflect the changes they’ve made to their product mix. Opened in 1984 as a traditional lighting showroom, Rick’s staff has a combined 80+ years of experience and developed an extraordinary word-of-mouth referral network.
In recent years, they’ve added furniture and smaller accent pieces to encourage return customers and greater foot traffic. They began slowly by introducing bar stools and rugs to gauge customers’ interest. While the bar stools took off, rug sales stalled, leading them to focus on adding more furniture pieces. Today, Rick’s is one of South Carolina Low Country’s premier destinations for lighting, furniture, design, and selection.
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“You’ve got to have the tenacity and ability to continually assess, re-assess, and change with the times to continue growing your business.”
Rick’s Lighting + Home
“Just to put it in perspective, the year we opened is the year the original Apple Macintosh computer went on sale,” says owner Rick Mappus. “So just like Apple, we’ve had to evolve our offerings. My advice to other showroom owners is not to be afraid of trying new things, even if they don’t work out. You’ve got to have the tenacity and ability to continually assess, re-assess, and change with the times to continue growing your business.
“One thing this experience taught us is to take it slow and try just one new category at a time,” Mappus explains. “We also were very conscious about continuing to serve our customer base and keeping our customers and target audience in mind. I encourage others to look at what you can do better than your competition — and then focus on that. In our case, we knew that to grow in our region we had to provide more than lighting.”
Following his passion
Growing up in Montreal, Quebec, Fred Naimer always had a passion for design.
“As far as I can remember, I enjoyed reading about architecture and design,” he recounts. “My mother was an artist and taught me about colors and proportions. My family was in the electrical wholesale business and had both commercial and decorative lighting. I came into the business when I was 18 years old and learned about every product from cable to motor control, but I gravitated toward lighting. It was the only product we had that added to the design of a project and where we had the opportunity to up-sell.”
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donate our showroom as a venue to several charities for their fund-raising events. This introduces many affluent potential clients to our showroom.”
When Naimer opened Montreal Lighting & Hardware approximately five years ago, he chose to include other categories beyond lighting. The showroom also offers decorative hardware for doors, cabinets and bath, as well as occasional furniture, mirrors, wall art, and decorative accessories. The showroom also sells motorized blinds and home automation systems.
“When you get into new product categories, it’s important that you have a good understanding of them,” Naimer comments, “and that you are comfortable selling them. Our team has the desire to be the best in our market. That doesn’t happen by just saying it — you have to actually be it. We work hard to provide the very best service and knowledge to our customers on all of the products we sell.
“Today, both designers and consumers have access to any product at any price through various brick-and-mortar and online vendors. The only thing that can differentiate us from the others is our service, so that is our first priority. And when clients compliment us either personally or through online reviews, it motivates us even more.”
New and changing tactics
Large-scale retailing has dramatically changed the landscape of how people shop. Remaining competitive means that showrooms need to strategically work with their suppliers to ensure the best products and pricing for their customers. And they must educate themselves on what their customers want and what their competitors offer.
“We had to accept that these changes were going to affect our market and commit to learning and using the new technologies, as well as working very hard at giving white-glove service,” Naimer notes. “Beyond that, we like to make our showroom a very comfortable place for clients to spend their time. A coffee bar that offers lattes, biscotti, and other snacks is prominently located in the showroom. We also offer free wifi and encourage clients to check the internet for products they are interested in while shopping in our space. Our store will match or beat any price they find online. We even offer a 110-percent price match up to 30 days after their purchase; this takes price out of their purchasing equation. Details of this policy are displayed prominently on our website. Our motto is ‘Showroom shopping, online pricing.’”
At Rick’s in Charleston, Mappus says that being successful today requires a balance. “I’m a numbers guy,” he shares. “Before we embark on something new, our decisions have to make sense financially. At the same time, we’ve built a loyal customer base who keep returning because they appreciate our offerings, attention to detail, and personable customer service. Our valued and experienced sales staff greets customers with Southern hospitality and provide down-to-earth, approachable solutions for their shopping needs.”
One aspect that Rick’s does well is marketing, thanks to his wife Cynthia’s strong public relations background — and it shows. The showroom is always abuzz with customers and their design projects. Rick’s has also hosted a few local radio shows and tries to be an asset to the community by supporting youth sports teams and charities.
“Charleston is growing so fast,” adds Cynthia Mappus. “We’ve had to expand and get more aggressive with our marketing. We advertise to maintain current customers and homebuilders, as well as introduce our showroom to people who are new to our area. We strive to keep our marketing concepts original. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Creativity Counts!’”
Naimer says Montreal Lighting uses a slightly different approach to marketing throughout the year to bring in customers. “With the exception of a few magazine ads, our marketing is done strictly online through social media and e-mail blasts,” he explains.
“We market our business as a ‘showroom’ and not a ‘store.’ We have plenty of up-to-date samples in the showroom, but do not keep back-up inventory. The only items we carry in stock are recessed lights, bulbs, lighting controls, and a few commodity fixtures. Anything else, we order when sold. Yes, we do incur additional shipping costs on some lines [this way], but it is far better than the cost of carrying slow-moving inventory both dollar- and space-wise. This also allows us to keep manufacturers’ samples in the showroom longer and not lose sales on a popular item. For the most part, customers don’t mind waiting for their order. The internet has trained them to ‘pay now, get later.’”
About 85 percent of Montreal Lighting’s sales are to designers or are designer-referrals. To deepen those relationships, the showroom hosts three designer-oriented evenings in both the spring and the fall.
“Each of these evenings features either a manufacturer or a speaker of interest to designers,” Naimer states. “We also donate our showroom as a venue to several charities for their fund-raising events. This introduces many affluent potential clients to our showroom.”
Refreshing their look
If your goal is for consistent repeat client business, it’s critical that showrooms update their displays and design as often as time allows.
“At Rick’s, we strive to continually change our look because we don’t want customers to see the same thing each time,” Cynthia comments. “We want to keep them coming back because they are anxious to see something new.” To that end, new product is displayed in key areas of the showroom.
“Our lighting, furniture, and accents from a variety of vendors really work well with each other from a design standpoint,” Cynthia remarks. “We enjoy putting scenes together in the showroom to spark our customers’ creativity. It also helps our sales team in encouraging customers to see us as more than just a great source for lighting.”
Strategically holding sales is another way Montreal Lighting has successfully turned over displays while maintaining its very clean design and layout.
“Just after the two Dallas markets, we promote ‘sample sales’ at our showroom,” Naimer explains. “We deeply discount items that we want to clear off the floor so we can make room for new arrivals. Our showroom only uses junction boxes to mount fixtures, so without tracks and grids, we have limited space for display. This works well in both limiting what we can purchase and in giving space to each individual lighting fixture or sconce. We get countless compliments on how it is so much easier to shop in our showroom compared to other lighting stores.”
There are many options today for lighting showrooms to consider when it comes to adding new categories — from hardware, furniture, and accent pieces to artwork, seasonal items, and more.
According to these retailers, the key is to know your customers and your competition. Start slowly and educate your team on the new category, making service a priority. Don’t forget to market yourself, create a welcoming environment, and be adventurous! While stepping out of your comfort zone is never easy, it can be very worth the risk.