How does one store stand out from 26 others in the same franchise? Jodie Orange’s unique perspective, quirky creativity, and savvy buying decisions make her showroom truly one of a kind.
Many of the world’s most influential people march to the beat of their own drum. Toronto-based lighting showroom owner Jodie Orange, however, would be more apt to eschew the drum and instead invent a musical instrument that only she and her pug Fritz could hear. That’s how different her approach to lighting retail has been.
A classically trained ballet dancer, who once toured throughout Canada with a dance company, Orange originally stifled her creative side and worked in an accounting office. Although proficient in numbers, she wasn’t feeling fulfilled. “I was a creative and energetic personality living in a left brain world,” she explains. She quit her job, enrolled in an interior design program, and began working part-time for a lighting showroom. It was there that she became enamored with lighting in all of its roles — from the technological developments to the beautiful effects it can create.
Upon graduation, she ran her own interior design firm, however, the allure of lighting still pulled her attention. In 2005, she was hired to design a 5,000-sq.-ft. lighting store opening at King St. West and Bathurst. “It’s in an area that was considered to be the ‘old’ fashion district of Toronto,” she reveals. “At that time, there wasn’t much going on around here – and especially not retail.”
Her goal in opening the King Street store was to provide “a shopping experience unlike any other in the city.” She played up the space’s exposed brick and cedar beams to create a “downtown loft” vibe. “We adopted this fashionista approach where we make it clear that we are the hip Lighting Ninjas,” she jokes. True to form, Orange posts her “fashion status” (i.e. what’s she wearing) daily on her Facebook page. “Everything that we do — from buying, advertising, and merchandising to our in-store personality is done with respect to our roots in the King West neighborhood,” she affirms.
The approach worked, and by 2008 Orange was given the opportunity to own the store she helped create. The surrounding neighborhood had changed as well and it turns out Living Lighting on King was ahead of the curve. “In the last five to six years, this area has been booming with cool bars, restaurants, and Hollywood people [filming movies], and condos being built,” Orange admits. All of that bustling activity has been great for business.
In fact, the cultural make-up of Toronto varies widely. “You can see the difference in a short drive. If you go 10 minutes north, the styles are more rustic. Travel 10 minutes in another direction and its more ornate traditional,” she says. “There is also a European influence with a mix of contemporary, industrial, and an urban aesthetic.”
This wide disparity made purchasing a challenge. “We had brought in 100 percent of everything, and that was way too broad,” she remarks. A massive inventory clear-out was the result, with Orange donating some of the merchandise to Habitat to Humanity among other solutions. She decided to narrow her store’s point of view. “We’re very eclectic and more of a boutique-style store,” Orange affirms. “I don’t buy trends and I don’t care what a vendor’s top SKUs are or what everyone else is buying. I buy on my gut feeling,” she states. “We don’t run sales and we brand [ourselves] in a way that our customer base knows that we have the coolest merchandise.”
Getting that word out that this is the destination for hip lighting means taking out ads in regional design magazines like Toronto Home and Designlines and participating in events like Toronto’s Interior Design Show. “IDS is an edgy show that is open to the trade; you have to apply and present a design for your booth,” Orange explains. She brainstormed an innovative way for her small IDS booth to stand out from the crowd by putting out an open call to artists on the Web site WorkInCulture (an Ontario-based collective for the cultural arts community). The project was: “a graffiti artist to produce a mural on a 8’ x 14’ wall to be done on either canvas or plywood. We are looking for a mural that depicts the King West neighborhood and it must incorporate our company name (big or small) and LLK’s presence in the community.” She reports that more than 100 submissions came in, which was then short-listed to several top contenders. Once Orange made her choice, she spoke to the artist about the “flavor” of the booth, and gave him a few months lead-time. The artist was present at the IDS booth, where he was able to make significant design connections. When the show was over, she had the mural moved to the Living Lighting on King showroom, where it serves as a focal point.
“Every display in our store has been made from scratch,” Orange says. “The ideas start in my mind – I’ll be inspired by something – and we build and shop for materials to create each one into a vignette,” she explains.
Living Lighting on King has even made light bulb selection fun. “We wanted to demystify all of that lighting lingo of watts, lumens, kelvin, low and line voltage, incandescent, halogen, LED, PAR, etc.,” she explains. “We decided to make things easier for our customers and put together a visual light bulb lab that demonstrates the various technologies so customers can literally see the differences. We put everything they ever wanted to know and see right at their fingertips to explore and play,” Orange notes. “If they’re not sure what their new tile is going to look like with different types of bulbs, we tell them to bring in a sample of the tile and we’ll show you!” One of the store’s advertisements read, “Our Lighting Ninjas just got a little more dangerous. Stop by to see the new lab!” Naturally the backdrop for the lighting lab is an attention-getter in itself. “For our first IDS, we had customers and designers who stopped by our booth actually sign the wall,” Orange says. Over the ensuing years, the wall of signatures has become popular with store visitors.
When Bulbrite ran a merchandising contest for its Nostalgic Bulbs a few months ago, Orange jumped at the chance to enter. “The display was created for our front window, which needs to be traffic stopping,” she remarks. “This window is always our most creative display and rotates seasonally. The warmth of the Nostalgic bulbs was a wonderful feature for a Fall theme. Our goal is to set a customer expectation through their experience with our front window and [help] them understand that we sell more than fixtures and bulbs; we understand design, fashion, and being unique. Since we’re in the fashion district, it was an easy marriage to honor the Victorian fashion era to showcase the collection.”
Every detail that went into the Nostalgic Bulb display was selected based on the Victorian Age. Orange and her team clustered and cascaded nine pendants with different bulb options from a vintage shade that they detailed with period-specific ribbon and pearl trimmings. “The Victorian dresses were ordered in our female staff sizing so that we would be able to add an interactive element to our display [by recreating] Victorian family photos,” she comments. The Nostalgic sconce collection was featured on framed boards – covered in lace – with the mirrored sconce with a Victorian frame highlighted in gold leaf. “The coolest find was a man’s top hat in its original hatbox; it had been originally been purchased only a few blocks away in the old fashion district. When we put the display together, we felt the painted wall was too urban so we quickly fixed that with a tone-on-tone fabric that looked like elegant Victorian wallpaper.”
While the display did not win the Bulbrite contest, it did win over customers. “Showcasing all of the fixtures with multiple bulb options allowed them to see exactly what all of the available combinations are without any effort. Our vintage bulb and fixture sales definitely increased,” Orange recounts.
Merchandising and coming up with marketing ideas are tasks that this store owner relishes. When the showroom is closed, she happily merchandises her heart out with Fritz (her pug) by her side – “He inspects every display,” she says – with the floor strewn with flowers, white teacups, mannequins, and whatever unique items have gotten her attention that week.
“People often ask me where my design inspirations come from,” Orange muses. “The truth is, I never know. I usually just trip over them! When I travel, or am out and about, I am often distracted by things that others might not see — maybe it’s a detail that for some reason grabs my interest, or a feeling or experience that punches me in the gut. The one thing that remains consistent is that it’s always a result of something that’s emotionally captured me.”
The 2013 ALA Conference was Orange’s second since she’s become a member of the bi-national organization. “I think it’s important. Joining the ALA is the best thing I’ve done for my business,” she explains. Orange takes the networking opportunity that the conference presents very seriously. “When I go back to my hotel room, I make notes of who I met and what we talked about so I can put a face or conversation to the name. I’ll ask myself, ‘Did I meet enough new people? Did I gain enough from the seminars?’ I make an effort to socialize with different groups.”
Launching a business just prior to a near global economic downturn was tough, but Orange’s perseverance has paid off. Together with her team of Lighting Ninjas, Living Lighting on King has maintained its upward trajectory and received some much deserved accolades in the industry.
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