From selling refurbished ceiling fans & lighting fixtures at local flea markets to establishing a successful lighting showroom, Lee Jordan’s career has been unconventional.
Some lighting showroom owners are born into the business, taking over the reins from the previous generation. Others blaze their own trail. Lee Jordan of Fort Worth Lighting is one of the latter. Take a tour through the well-merchandised 9,000 square feet of showroom space and it’s hard to believe that Jordan’s introduction to lighting sales goes back to age 15, when he helped out at his family’s flea market business and started refurbishing ceiling fans and lighting fixtures on his own. An arrangement with nearby manufacturer Encon, where he’d buy pallets of broken ceiling fans, led to a lucrative flea market business complete with a loyal following. Jordan would also buy broken lighting fixtures from other well-known manufacturers and fix them up for re-sale.
Over the next seven years, Jordan’s flea market business grew so much that soon he had a 4,000-sq.-ft. warehouse where he’d fix/assemble the fans and fixtures as well as store them. Along the way, he teamed up a friend who imported goods, which led to a greater variety of lighting fixtures in his inventory. As business – and new construction – boomed in the Fort Worth area, the enterprising Jordan realized that there wasn’t a sizable lighting store close by. He was confident that his regular customers at the flea market would follow him to a destination store and decided to take the plunge.
Ten years ago, on a drive down an undeveloped section along a major freeway on the outskirts of Fort Worth, he saw his opportunity. There stood an empty lot that wasn’t technically on the freeway, but accessed via a winding side street. Nevertheless, the site was level to the highly trafficked highway – and that made it ideal. There wasn’t a “For Sale” sign, but Jordan sought out the owner and negotiated a price. What followed was a municipal nightmare of having to install fire hydrants on the undeveloped street and a lot of unexpected red tape, but he persisted, even selling his house to raise the equity needed to finish the construction. Taking advantage of every available square foot, “I built as large as I was allowed to for the property,” he explains.
Just as predicted: if he built it, they would come. Right from the start, the showroom was bustling with customers, most of whom had been doing business with Jordan for years at the flea market. His very first warehouse worker is still with the company today as is Jordan’s brother, who is in charge of the store’s 32,000-sq.-ft. off-site warehouse.
Jordan didn’t blindly open a lighting showroom; he did research beforehand, visiting many successful showrooms in non-competing areas such as Garbe’s in Tulsa, Okla.; Timeless Designs in Amarillo, Texas; and Benson’s Lighting in Miami. “I saw elements at each place that I liked,” he recounts.
One thing Fort Worth Lighting has a lot of is lighting. “I believe if you are a lighting showroom that you need to show a lot of lights – and not just what will sell. Diversification is the key to business,” Jordan explains. “We go after the remodeling market pretty hard and about 75 percent of my business is with local builders. And I still have flea market customers from back in the day,” he quips.
In addition to lighting are decorative accessories and mirrors. “Penny, who is a licensed interior designer, buys the accessories and I buy the mirrors,” he says. There are also two full-time employees who put up and take down lights all day long.
In fact, Jordan can often be found out on the floor. “I try to have fun at work. I want to have a real good energy going on in here,” he quips. “I work the floor, including a Saturday rotation like the rest of the employees. I consider myself to be one of them. They know there is nothing I won’t do for them,” he states.
Fort Worth Lighting has a lot of well-merchandised displays, with many styles presented as complete vignettes that include fixtures, mirrors, occasional furniture, and decorative accessories. However, the idea of having displays was completely new to Jordan. Since he specified the building to have high ceilings (the best way to get the most available space within the footprint), he realized he needed a way to show the fixtures at a comfortable viewing height. Using his construction skills, he built a series of three-walled vignettes with his own type of grid system on the “ceiling” of each. Instead of the ubiquitous slatted panel walls seen in most lighting showrooms, he made his own display walls out of sheetrock and painted them in complementary colors for each design scheme. In other areas, fabric backgrounds add a luxe touch to the vignettes.
Customers also know that there is a Clearance room that is separate from the main showroom. What constitutes when something goes on clearance? “There is no set timeframe or rule. I make each decision purely on instinct,” Jordan says. The Clearance prices are often 40 percent off the MSRP. “I don’t have a lot of overhead, so I have a low mark-up,” he admits. “I also will still buy samples at Dallas Market. I get a lot of variety of fixtures that way, but you have to have the manpower and the truck to move it out of there,” he remarks, adding, in a nod to his flea market skills, “Plus I can negotiate the price.”
Having a good work ethic and some savvy financial planning are other tools that have helped Jordan succeed. “When I was getting started, I would save the money I earned Monday through Friday and use what I earned on Saturday and Sunday as spending money,” he explains. “I want to be as successful as I can, but I also want to put money back into the business.”
5 Smart Decisions
- Never Stop Tweaking
“I always want to better, and I change the showroom around continually to keep it fresh.”
- Listen Well
“I got into hardware a year ago because builders were requesting it.”
- Everyone Is Full Time
There are 22 employees on staff. “I don’t believe in having part-time workers; people need to work and have benefits.”
- Get Noticed
“The best [form of advertising] I’ve done is make my own billboard. A lot of people see it.”
- Be Creative
“The stacked stone sales counter that demonstrates color-changing LED lighting was adapted from a kitchen design I did for a house I built.”