While some lighting showroom owners curse the day
that Internet shopping came to be, one Arkansas retailer has used that technology to her advantage.

AAfter successful careers in real estate, banking/mortgage lending, and construction, Glenda and Ron Milam decided to enter the lighting industry, establishing Lighting Emporium in Fayetteville, Ark., in 1989. As their business boomed, not only did the Milams increase their store’s square footage from 3,000 to 23,000 over the ensuing 25+ years, but they also expanded into lamps, artwork, mirrors, accessories, hardware, lampshades, and furniture. But they didn’t do it alone — just as important to the Lighting Emporium’s success story are the couple’s dogs Crissy (who was with them at the start of the company) and now Gabby.

Since the Milams worked hard to purchase the building they had been leasing, understandably they did not want to see Internet shopping leading to the demise of brick-and-mortar retail. One of the biggest obstacles in the sales process – both online and in store – is the customer’s inability to visualize how a fixture, mirror, table, or lamp would look in their own home, especially if the pieces were very large or small.

Lighting-Emporium-Design-App

Approximately one year ago, Glenda Milam began researching ways to create a smartphone app that would act as a decorating tool for customers to literally “see” how each item would look in their homes (or a similar setting) before they made the purchase.  “It would give the customer confidence,” she explains.

The mechanics involved more than merely copying manufacturers’ product images from their Web sites. Because she wanted the product images to be shown in scale (with customers’ photos of a room in their home or a facsimile of one in template form), the artwork needed to be silhouetted and have clipping paths inserted. “I called all of the vendors myself and explained my idea,” says Milam, who also does all of the admin work herself.

The result is what Milam has named the “Your Décor” app, and it can be downloaded for free for iPhones, iPads, and Android systems. “It’s putting technology into your customers’ hands,” she comments. Customers take a photo of the room they want to furnish and can then add products (offered by Lighting Emporium and stored in the app’s library) to the room shot, arranging and sizing them to get the right look. With just a tap, users can read the description and see the measurements and price. Customers can add those products to their own image gallery, create a portfolio, make a shopping list, plus “share” it with their builders, interior designers, and friends. 

Milam says the app has especially proven useful when working with new construction projects. “The builders can draw up the lights in the room right away,” she notes. Choosing appropriately sized products for each space ahead of time also reduces the amount of returns.

At the recent American Lighting Association (ALA) Conference, Milam shared her app with her peers, making it available to fellow retailers. Her ingenuity netted her first prize in the inaugural Larry Sayah Innovation Forum at the conference, which rewards lighting industry members for forward-thinking ideas.

Lighting Emporium has a designated Web site (http://gmilamapps.com/) dedicated to the Your Décor app that helps interested lighting and furniture store operators get started in learning how to customize the app for their businesses. 