enLIGHTenment magazine is proud to present the winners of our annual awards honoring those individuals in our industry who have been nominated by their peers for leading by example, standing out in their field, and inspiring others.
Krista Swiss: Merchandising Manager of Showrooms, PDI | Lawrenceville, Ga.
How did you enter the lighting business?
When I was in college in Alabama, I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do as a career, but I had a friend who worked at [retailer] Progressive Lighting in Georgia. They had an opening for a receptionist and my sister lived in Georgia, so I moved there to try it out. After two months, [CEO] Troy Lee asked me what I wanted to do. He saw a drive in me and encouraged me to try sales. I loved working with people and I stayed at Progressive for the next 20 years doing everything from sales to purchasing to assistant manager at their largest store. Then I joined the team at [sister company lighting manufacturer] Savoy House. That’s when I really fell in love with lighting.
In 2012, I came to PDI [which primarily sold plumbing and was starting to carry lighting] as the lighting buyer on the showroom side. They wanted someone who could help with showroom growth, renovation, and merchandising. Over the past two years, I’ve also been handling the plumbing side and seeing how the two categories really fit together well in kitchens and baths. [Krista is the merchandising manager for all 8 showrooms — 6 PDI and 2 Kohler showcases.]
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Definitely technology and LED, which just continues to evolve. I’ve also observed how interior designers buy and what their process is with their clients. It seems that everyone wants something unique to them and it can be a challenge to keep the design assortment fresh and different. I think interior designers are driving a lot of showroom business today; there are a lot more people hiring designers and being inspired by them [on social media].
Another change has been the number of female leaders holding executive positions and who influence and mentor the next generation. Being a woman in the lighting industry has come a long way from when I first entered the industry as a receptionist in 1993. We are leaders in our industry! We have our own group, Women in the Lighting Industry, who support each other and who are paving the roads for the next generation of women to aspire and succeed in top executive roles such as Kellee Hollenback Hammond, VP/Sales at Littman Brands; Karyn Hayes, Hinkley’s Showroom Sales Manager/North America; Irene Tasi, President of Kichler Lighting; and Cathy Choi, President of Bulbrite, just to name a few. And I can’t leave out the entrepreneurial women who have been successful in owning and building a powerhouse rep agency such as Martha Graham, of Martha Graham & Associates, who has won the prestigious ARTS Award twice!
These ladies – along with all of the other female lighting industry leaders – are an inspiration for the younger generation, who may be just starting out in their first job as a receptionist, not knowing that job could eventually turn into a lifetime career. By being ambitious, having a strong work ethic, and the drive, and a passion for loving what they do, they may have the opportunity to be an executive leader in our industry just like the generation who opened the doors before them.
What do you think has been the key to your success?
I’m a good listener. I listen to what people say, what they’re looking for and what they need. My career is a huge part of who I am and it’s pushing me to be the best I can be for myself and for the company. I don’t want just PDI to be successful, but also every person on the showroom floor. I share that passion with everyone else. My suggestion is to follow your passion and be true to yourself so that your team can be the best vision of themselves.
And I can’t leave out my industry peers…my tribe. I have met so many great people and made lifelong friends from all over the country, from showrooms and reps to ecommerce and manufacturers. We are a small tight-knit industry where even the fiercest competitors can get along to support and celebrate each other’s successes and triumphs. I am so proud to be a part of this incredible industry and look forward to continuing my journey down the lighting path alongside my peers.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
That I would have a career in lighting and how much I love being part of such an amazing industry. I have been fortunate to have numerous opportunities to wear many different hats over the past 26 years in the showroom arena, as well as on the manufacturer side. I embraced each new role, and all it entailed, as an adventure that I couldn’t wait to conquer so I could move forward and onto the next chapter.
What does the future hold for showrooms?
As long as we continue to enhance the customer experience, there’s still going to be a reason to have lighting showrooms. There will be customers who need to see and touch the product. People still need direction and have a million questions about the product. Customers still need to have a lighting consultant. Customers care about what they’re buying and they are looking to you for advice; that’s why they come into a showroom!
In the future, I think there is going to be even more emphasis on the experience. Lighting showrooms are a destination and you are delivering that experience of enriching their lifestyle and home. You’re not going to get that type of personalized, one-on-one attention when buying online.