Rep Firm Rebrands, Expands Scope, Hires Bellacor Exec as Business Development Manager

head shots of Carsten Doeren and Tara Simons

To say that Carsten Doeren is not your typical manufacturer’s representative is an understatement.

Nearly 20 years ago, after working as an engineer at German lighting manufacturer Holtkötter International’s North American headquarters in Minnesota, he established Doeren Sales as an independent sales rep covering Minnesota and neighboring states. His hands-on knowledge of lighting manufacturing and engineering provided him with a unique skill set and perspective.

Several months ago, Doeren made the next evolution in his business by rebranding his agency from Doeren Sales and Associates to Doeren Lighting & Home.

The name change is more than semantics, however. He began attending High Point Market when some of the lighting lines he represents recently opened showrooms there. Exposure to that furniture market made him more keenly aware of an opportunity he knew would resonate with his customers: offering a complete package that would help them grow their own client base.       

Doeren started expanding his portfolio to include rugs, botanicals, and wall art for his lighting customers, and also successfully demonstrated to furniture and home décor stores that they could increase their sales by broadening the categories that they offered.

“A consumer who comes into a lighting showroom for a chandelier may say, ‘Oh I didn’t know you had rugs’ or ‘I didn’t know I could buy accessories here.’ Or I’ll go into a furniture store and they might have bought portables, but never put chandeliers above the dining tables,” Doeren explained.

“I’ve also learned that many customers are Millennials, and they tend to buy things as a setting,” Doeren observed. “For example, there might be a vignette with a rug, wall art, and a picture light, and they’ll say, ‘I like it! I want it all!’ Offering additional categories opens up a new revenue stream for brick-and-mortar showrooms. “We are lighting-centric as an agency, but we can fill it all if you’d like,” he stated.

As the rebranding idea took hold this spring, Doeren had a casual lunch meeting with long-time customer Tara Simons, an interior designer by training with nearly 16 years of experience at Minnesota-based retailer Creative Lighting by Bellacor, where she held various positions in marketing, merchandising, buying, and operations. The two shared a similar perspective on where the industry was headed, and Doeren asked Simons to help him achieve that vision as Doeren Lighting & Home’s newly minted Business Development Manager.

Together they went to last month’s Lightovation in Dallas as Doeren Lighting & Home and with a different game plan.  

“From my first week on the job, there was a lot of brainstorming and ideation as to how I can provide value while also striving to grow the business,” Simons remarked. “Using the showroom experience that I have, there are certain things I can provide to the agency to support their customers. I know showrooms’ pain points, what they’re really looking for, and the things that I would be wanting to discuss [if I were in their shoes] this market.”

Their approach at Lightovation was to sit down with each customer to do a deeper dive into their businesses and goals. “Showing beautiful product is the easy part, but we were providing [business] insight. Maybe they have too much inventory, or holes in their assortment, or letting them know that here are some promotions that can help increase your sales. It was more about providing highly targeted solutions,” Doeren stated. “At market, we sat down with each customer and said, ‘Where can we help you?’”

Added Simons, “We were coming to this market a little differently, and with me joining the agency, it was a way for me to get in front of customers and connect with them. I’ve been in their position as a buyer, so I understand the pain points. The people piece of this business is what I enjoy the most, which is why I’m so excited about being on this side of the business.  Instead of management duties, I get to focus on my two loves: products and people.”  

Having employees in the agency with both a showroom and manufacturing background is a differentiator. “It’s a value proposition for us, where we feel we can be really beneficial to our customers. We understand multiple sides of the industry,” Simons said.

“People were very receptive and appreciative of our approach at market of having these SWOT report meetings. Time is of the essence right now. Everyone is busy and has a different struggle going on with the economic factors around us,” she stated. “So coming to market as an ally was a refreshing approach of ‘We’re not just here to show you product, we’re here to help you.’” 

Simons’ experience has been an ideal fit. “It would be foolish not to utilize her vision. It’s great as an agency to have fresh eyes going to market. Our trip to Dallas was very successful. Everybody’s a little gun shy, but we closed a lot of orders and sometimes it’s about figuring out what customers need and how we help,” Doeren said. 

And speaking of adding freshness to the rebranded agency, another exciting opportunity happened while Doeren and Simons were at Lightovation. Showroom veteran Todd Havlicek of (recently shuttered) Design Lighting in Woodbury, Minnesota joined their team. “Todd is a great merchandiser. He has a really good eye in terms of displaying fixtures and creating vignettes. He’ll be able to utilize our wall décor and rugs to enhance showroom displays,” Doeren noted. “That’s something we want to have for our customers, as well as his experience as a showroom manager.”

The value proposition offered by Doeren Lighting & Home is providing retailers with expert guidance culled from multiple facets of the industry. “We want to focus on each customer and offer them a solution, even if that means encouraging them to try something they never did before. We can definitely promote all channels with different solutions.”

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