A lot has happened since 1924, when electrical contractor and recent emigree from Austria-Hungary Max Lebersfeld opened a modest lighting shop in Newark, New Jersey. Operating a store during The Great Depression and one World War was daunting enough, but then came numerous recessions and Goliath-sized competition from big box stores that ultimately crushed family-owned lighting showrooms like Lebersfeld’s Capitol Lighting. In addition, the housing bubble burst severely impacted the state of Florida, where Capitol Lighting has several stores, and even affected the normally robust New Jersey market.
Despite the tough retail waters, it’s now four generations of ownership later – great-grandson Ken serves as CEO and his brother, Eric, is president – and the chain is stronger than ever with a total of eight locations in New Jersey and Florida. Capitol Lighting continues to receive numerous industry accolades (as both a winner and multi-time finalist in the prestigious ARTS Awards) plus various consumers’ choice awards.
The business remains a family affair, too, with Ken and Eric’s father, Herman, and uncle, Max, still involved in operations as co-chairmen and cousins Jason and Brian serving as CTO and e-commerce manager respectively.
So what do the Lebersfelds know that many other companies do not when it comes to business survival? The answer lies not in some secret formula, but rather in their perseverance and attention to detail; there’s been no resting on their laurels.
“One of our key investments has been in our people,” Eric Lebersfeld reveals. Regardless of the economy, Capitol Lighting is always hiring. “Even if you own the greatest software and operate a comprehensive Web site, if you don’t have the right people in all places, you don’t reach your potential,” he adds.
Where does Capitol Lighting look for talent? Everywhere. The firm networks in various industries as well as advertises online at Careerbuilder, Monster, and Craig’s List. Believe it or not, lighting knowledge is not a prerequisite. Continue Reading
“If someone comes to us with no lighting background and not knowing an A lamp from a PAR lamp, that’s ok. That can be taught, but you can’t teach [innate selling ability]. What counts is passion and dedication about whatever they’ve done before – whether they have been in real estate or jewelry – and whether they were successful,” Lebersfeld states. “If they come to us from another area of interior design with a book of designers who follow them, of course, that’s fantastic.” At Capitol Lighting, the goal isn’t to seal the deal as much as it is to make the buying experience so pleasant that it leads to referrals.
In today’s competitive retail environment, even having the best salespeople isn’t enough. Recognizing how consumers’ shopping habits have changed over the past decade is vital. Years ago, customers would browse inside several nearby stores before making a decision; now they cruise the Internet first. The Lebersfelds noticed this trend and were proactive, starting up 1-800-LIGHTING.com in 1996. “We operate it like a separate store,” Eric Lebersfeld comments, adding, “We’ve fully committed to running it as an e-commerce business.”
Each of the Capitol Lighting stores shares the same master database of product images, pricing, specifications, and details found on 1-800-LIGHTING.com, which also helps create consistency in branding.
Always eager to explore new techniques in retailing, last year the Lebersfelds tried an experiment in its Stuart, Fla. location which has less square footage than the other Capitol Lighting stores (5,000 square feet vs. the typical 16,000 square feet). Instead of cramming more fixtures in less space, the Stuart showroom has a less-cluttered appearance thanks to several large computer monitors at workstations where retail sales associates can sit down with customers to sort through the thousands of options (sizes, finishes, etc.) available through the shared 1-800-LIGHTING.com database. Continue Reading
“The Stuart showroom is staffed with salespeople, just like our other stores, however, it doesn’t have the breadth of product on display,” Lebersfeld clarifies.
The 20,000sq.ft. Boca Raton Capitol Lighting boasts another innovative idea: a freestanding, interactive kiosk prominently placed on the sales floor. Since the Boca location is the chain’s highest-volume store, the kiosk serves as silent salesman when the store is crowded.
“Most customers who come in the store still want to deal with a person at point-of-sale,” Lebersfeld notes. “The kiosk is particularly effective when there is an overflow of customers or when homeowners want to take the time to see all of the configurations and finishes available before narrowing down their selection with a salesperson,” he adds. The kiosk is highly user-friendly and can play the various informational videos Capitol Lighting has on its 1-800-LIGHTING.com site, with topics ranging from 5 Biggest Mistakes in Landscape Lighting, Lighting Controls, and Bedroom Lighting to an introduction to LED lighting.
The educational videos have had a great response with consumers, as have marketing promotions such as the Capitol Lighting’s jingle contest held last fall. Promoted on Capitol Lighting and 1-800-LIGHTING.com’s Facebook and Twitter platforms, the contest drew submissions nationwide with prizes that ranged from a $2,500 grand prize to a second place win of $1,000 plus $750 and $500 certificates for online shopping sprees. Thousands of Facebook and Twitter users voted on the winning videos and were also entered into a sweepstakes. “The jingles were ranked by originality, quality, creativity, realism, excitement, plus consistency with and promotion of the Capitol Lighting brand,” Lebersfeld remarks.
The fact that the contest received attention in states that did not even have a Capitol Lighting store was confirmation to the Lebersfelds that the 1-800-LIGHTING.com Internet site had indeed become top-of-mind in consumer recognition as a source for lighting.
In addition to reaching out to end consumers, Capitol Lighting spends a lot time and energy communicating with the interior design trade. “It’s all about engagement,” Lebersfeld explains.
This spring the retailer partnered with Florida Design magazine to present a free one-day event called “Design Through Light” for designers at the Boca Raton showroom, complete with hors d’oeuvres and wine. Also part of the festivities, social media expert Georgianne Brown, of Big Couch Media Group, shared strategies on ways interior designers can leverage the power of social media to build their businesses.
What will the future hold? “Change is going to keep happening,” Lebersfeld warns. One needs ongoing vigilance to stay on top. “You have to keep the good things and do away with what’s not working. That is what’s made us a stronger and forward-thinking company,” he adds. “You have to stay relevant and stay connected to your customers while striving to satisfy all of their needs that you can.”
There are no shortcuts. The reasons behind Capitol Lighting’s achievement are simple. “We’ve had passion and dedication to our business starting 85+ years ago with my great-great grandparents. We have a lot of pride in our company. These days you have to become adaptable. We’ve made more changes in the last four years than in the last 40,” Lebersfeld states. “Capitol Lighting, with its many stores, has become a big ship, and as such, it takes a lot to turn it. We will continue to keep scanning the horizon to look for the rocks and alter our course accordingly,” he surmises.