Decorative Hardware: The Next Frontier for Lighting Showrooms

Lighting showrooms looking to expand their merchandise mix find decorative handles, locks, and pulls offer a natural synergy.

Decorative Hardware In Ratail Lighting Showrooms

One year ago, Laurie Gross was searching for new ideas to incorporate into her business, Gross Electric in Toledo, Ohio. During a networking event, she heard that decorative hardware was proving to be strong alliance among lighting showrooms that integrated the category. “Several distributors described how the addition was doing well for them,” Gross remarks. “As soon as I got home, I called some local companies to ask if they would be interested in teaming up.”
As lighting showrooms search for new profit centers and more ways to serve customers, several leading lighting stores have discovered that hardware is a solid solution.

“Decorative hardware and lighting share the same design needs for finish and style coordination¸ [and offering] access to both simplifies the product selection for the professionals and homeowners,” notes Betty Lankford, who heads the hardware division at Hermitage Lighting Gallery in Nashville after Hermitage acquired Lankford Hardware last year.

Decorative Hardware Accessories

Jim Fellows, hardware manager at Connecticut Lighting Centers in Hartford, which just created a hardware division this year, agrees. “It’s an excellent fit. Usually lighting is selected earlier in the construction process, but having this department in the lighting showroom gives us a chance to get in on the ground floor with the possibilities of hardware. Usually it’s a custom detail that’s left to the end of a project.”

Getting Started
How these showrooms have developed their hardware sections is as diverse as their operations. As Gross contacted local companies, she learned more about the category and its market. “Peter Buehler and Archie Nieswander of Buehler Decorative Hardware in nearby Maumee had suffered a lot during the housing downturn. We talked about teaming up and quickly came to an agreement,” she recounts. “As it turned out, many of Peter’s customers were also our customers and they love that they now have a one-stop shop.”

The addition of Buehler Hardware’s competitively priced and high-end designs has been so successful in attracting consumers besides satisfying professionals and builders that Gross Electric recently added a section to its Ann Arbor, Mich. branch.

Betty Lankford is the daughter-in-law of Lankford Hardware founder Samuel Lankford and had been a business neighbor of Hermitage Lighting, which often referred many lighting customers to Lankford for hardware and plumbing fixtures.  One year ago, following the downturn in construction, Lankford was on the brink of relocating the business when Jack Fleischer, CLC, president of Hermitage Lighting, suggested a business arrangement. Alongside Hermitage Lighting’s appliance and kitchen design offerings, Lankford’s hardware selection has dovetailed nicely.

“The physical location of the two showrooms – one block apart on the same street – has made the transition a natural for our mutual customers and made them feel comfortable with the new relationship,” Lankford explains. “What we bring to this affiliation is many years of experience and a reputation for excellent customer service.”
Although the hardware section at Connecticut Lighting is only six months old, it has already made an impact. Headed by Fellows, the department carries one of the most diverse selections of locks, pulls, and knobs in the area.

“We are fortunate to have Jim; he actually came to us with a proposal,” says David Director, president of the Hartford-based showroom. Fellows was formerly the manager of Raybern Company, a decorative hardware showroom in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. “We didn’t see anyone going after this type of product in the area, but right away we knew we would take the same approach we have with lighting and do it in hardware. The integration into our showroom has been seamless and is a full part of the Lighting Centers. We have even changed our tagline to include hardware,” Director states. Connecticut Lighting’s decorative hardware gallery measures 1,000 square feet and carries dozens of lines from moderate prices to exotic and high-end makers.

How to Sell It
All showrooms agree that, similar to lighting, customer service is key and experience is important. Connecticut Lighting has four people dedicated to its hardware segment. In addition to Fellows, Grace Clinton is the hardware buyer and Deborah Cusano, a 30-year kitchen and bath design veteran, and Jacob Karrer, formerly with Crate and Barrel, are sales consultants.

At Gross Electric, Buehler and Nieswander take the lead in the department, although Gross says training more staff is an ongoing process. “Archie is also a locksmith, which is a benefit,” she adds. “Someone has to do the installation.”

Decorative hardware is fully integrated into the Hermitage Lighting showroom. “Our personnel can handle any size residential project,” Fleischer notes.
Satin Nickel and Oil-Rubbed Bronze are the most popular finishes, and most sales are for new construction followed by remodeling projects. Since the selections can be vast and overwhelming, having salespeople attuned to customer desires and the ability to match their style wants with their budgets is crucial. Lighting and decorative hardware also share related challenges from home centers and showrooming by Internet shoppers.

“Hardware has the same big box and Internet difficulties as lighting but, it also has the advantages of skilled and well-trained personnel plus a wide product selection,” Fleischer points out. “Our showroom has never had a problem competing with the big boxes in lighting or hardware. The larger the project, the more difficult it is to accomplish online due to product needs that cross manufacturers’ lines.”

“Big box [stores] no longer try to up sell high-end products as they did when they first began,” Lankford observes. “The local big box showrooms were a great referral source for Lankford’s, and one actually kept a map available to give to customers directing them to our showroom!”

“Absolutely, we have customers showrooming,” admits Director, “But customers also want to talk to someone about the product and also want to know when they can have it for their project. At Connecticut Lighting, they usually can walk away with their purchase immediately.”

“There is also a touchy-feely aspect to hardware,” Fellows explains, particularly when it comes to something like the front door handle. “Many customers want the finishes of their hardware and outdoor lighting to match or coordinate. They are also interested in how the handle feels as you open a door or drawer.”

Fellows finds that clients are very interested in keyless entry systems. “People like that they can program codes for different people such as for a service man or the kids or the housekeeper and change it when it’s no longer needed. Consumers are familiar with keypads for garage doors and home controls, and easily adapt to the technology for entry doors,” he explains.

One difference between hardware and lighting, however, is the amount of SKUs. “The array in hardware is so much deeper,” Director observes. “For example in one style of handle in one family, you may have nine finishes.” Multiply that by several types of handle styles and watch the numbers add up. The depth and breadth of the lines can also pose challenges in how the category is promoted.

Gross agrees. “In some ways the hardware is more technical – for example the number of screw holes in some hinges – and in other ways it’s less technical than lighting,” she says. Gross also finds the catalogs from various hardware manufacturers can be up to 400 pages versus a lighting reference that may be an average of 200 pages. Gross Electric carries up to 30 manufacturers in its Toledo store’s decorative hardware department, which measures approximately 800 square feet. While it doesn’t sell hardware through its Web site, it integrates the Buehler Hardware division in all of its lighting showroom promotions. For its fall Finishing Touches sales, for example, Buehler commanded the back cover of its eight-page tab.

As soon as its hardware department was assembled, Connecticut Lighting Centers produced an abbreviated catalog featuring the most popular styles from its extensive list of manufacturers.

“We are advertising the decorative hardware as part of the Lighting Centers, we don’t want it to appear to be a separate department,” Director comments. “We’re investing a lot into marketing. Besides our online brochure, we incorporate the hardware in all our newspaper and television advertising.”

Likewise, Lankford Hardware advertising is placed in the same venues as Hermitage Lighting’s ads. “Basically, we are appealing to the same audience,” Lankford explains.
While lighting and decorative hardware share several design and market alliances, the addition of hardware requires commitment to personnel, inventory, and promotions. However, the cross-merchandising opportunities make these two categories a profitable team.

About Edward Frebowitz

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