Light by Design operates in a very different way than most showrooms.
“We’re here to grant your design wishes,” states Vanessa Turney, co-owner of the 2010 and 2011 ARTS Award-winning Light by Design showroom in San Antonio, Texas. “This is a studio that makes lighting personal,” she adds. How the team at Light by Design does that is simple in theory, but rather complex to accomplish.
First of all, the location is deliberately off the beaten path, nestled in an industrial park that is home to a brick supplier as well as a tile distributor. Homeowners looking to upgrade their new or existing homes will most likely pass by this lighting showroom, housed in a building hidden behind a line of shrubbery and positioned at the end of a downgrade. “We purposely did not want frontage,” Vanessa Turney explains. “We wanted the front [to be obscured] so that you would not know what you would see before you walked in.”
That element of surprise often leads to audible gasps as customers enter the art gallery-esque space. There is no sea of lighting fixtures here. Instead, a highly edited selection of unique designs hangs like paintings in a gallery. And yet, having just several dozen products on display does not mean that what you see is what you get. The studio has accounts with nearly every major and esoteric lighting manufacturer from around the world. A fully stocked library of catalogs allows customers to peruse all of the styles that are available to them.
“When we opened up our business in 2007, people said, ‘Lighting showrooms don’t work this way. You need to show a lot of things,’” Vanessa Turney states. “So we asked architects how they chose lighting fixtures for their projects and found that they hardly ever bought what they saw on display.”
Vanessa and her high school sweetheart, Corey, know very well how other lighting showrooms present merchandise. They both worked at the Turney family business – Turney Lighting & Electric – for years before striking out on their own with this new concept.
A Novel Approach
There’s another key difference in the way that Light by Design does business. Instead of the more typical scenario where a homeowner comes in looking for a lighting fixture or two for a particular room, the sales process here starts with a lighting plan. By evaluating the entire space – plus how the people live within in it – the Turneys are able to determine the proper amount of light levels needed in each room as well as the most seamless and attractive aesthetic.
“We design the lighting around the clients’ lifestyles,” Corey Turney explains. “We want to get involved when the customers are in the design phase. The timing is important because if we’re trying to plan for special elements in the lighting, it’s easier to do so upfront without adding cost later on,” he states. “The initial process of our design consultation is done here in our studio and takes about four hours. We want to know how the clients will use each space. Is there special seating? Is there artwork or a piano that should be highlighted? ”
The next step is fixture selection. “We make sure that the designs they want are scaled right for the room. We will also take a look at the plans and make sure there are enough electrical outlets,” he says.
Corey happily reports that many are interested in learning about new technology. “We have a lot of high-end clients looking to use LED and lighting controls,” he says. “We will also seek out companies that can do custom fixtures in iron or create specialty glass. We’ve all designed custom pieces for a client who wants a ‘Wow piece’ that no one else in the neighborhood will ever have.”
Sure, there are customers who enter the showroom on the hunt for one fixture, however, being in an environment where so many creative possibilities are presented often influences homeowners to expand their thinking. “I love when clients come in and insist that they don’t want Contemporary, but [after we show them a variety of choices], they end up happily ordering Contemporary,” Vanessa states.
In most cases, clients are accompanied by their architect or interior designer and Vanessa or Corey will sit down and collaborate on their overall vision for the project. Questions about artwork, indirect lighting, task lighting, and ambient illumination are addressed at an early stage. Corey, who grew up in the lighting industry and is an electrician, finds the CAD process particularly enjoyable. After importing the clients’ architectural CAD file, a lighting plan is implemented, with a documented, color-coded blueprint provided to the client, architect, or builder. “The average size home that we create plans for is approximately 10,000 square feet,” Vanessa comments.
While working at the family lighting showroom when the economy was at its peak, Vanessa and Corey observed that many homeowners were asking for more comprehensive lighting design than was offered. “We were hearing that there was nowhere nearby where people could source this type of design and that they had to travel to Houston or Dallas for it,” she states. Since both Corey and Vanessa were thrilled by design process, they decided to strike out on their own and make lighting design their company’s focus.
“We got involved with trade associations such as the NKBA, AIA, and ASID,” Vanessa says. In fact, the Light by Design showroom is often the site of trade organization meetings as well as charity events that benefit the community. In April, for example, the Light by Design showroom is hosting the NKBA Texas South Plains Subchapter’s Spring Fashion Show and Membership Mixer. Guests are encouraged to donate art supplies (washable tempura paint, glue, glue sticks, markers, sculpting clay, or butcher paper) to benefit the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas.
The Light by Design showroom has also been the venue of choice for the local American Lung Association’s Membership Mixer. “They were looking for an interesting place to hold their event,” Vanessa explains. “It’s really all about letting groups know that we’re here.” Not that long ago, the IIDA held an educational seminar at the showroom that detailed the effects of lighting and the aging eye.
“Right from the beginning we’ve had a good relationship with the architectural community, local homeowners, and with the press,” Vanessa says. Putting her background in marketing to work, Vanessa will often write informative articles about lighting for the Austin-San Antonio Design Guide or San Antonio’s In Home magazine to use in their pages.
“Granted, we can’t service the customer coming in and asking for a light bulb or lampshade, but that’s not the target market we want to reach,” Vanessa recounts.
It turns out that Light by Design’s reach extends pretty far. “We’ve had clients as far as California and New Orleans,” Vanessa says. While San Antonio has experienced some of the economic downturn that has been sweeping the nation, the effect has not been as catastrophic. “The past several months have been our busiest in four years,” Vanessa comments. “This area has a lot of business growth and financial money around. We saw the Recession later than the rest of the country and the recovery sooner.”
Setting the Stage
It wasn’t enough to have unusual product, Vanessa wanted everything about the showroom to underscore this business’ elegance and uniqueness. “I wanted a Wow factor from the minute you walk in,” she confesses. “From the start, I knew I wanted curved walls at the entrance that would visually draw you into the center. Basically, I wanted to create an art gallery – but with lighting.”
Vanessa shopped around the surrounding industrial complex to partner with some of the other companies. The walls are finished in a stucco technique that resembles Venetian plaster; the floors are granite from another neighboring distributor. “I refused to cut back on things that people would notice,” she says. Dust and burned out light bulbs have no place here, under Vanessa’s watchful eye. “I have the floors polished once a week,” she adds. “I put money into certain areas like the kitchen, over the dining table, or the ‘money spots’ in the gallery.”
Even such often-forgotten details such as ceiling color and display grids received a custom touch. Vanessa had the pipes on the ceiling painted white, along with the ceiling, to visually open up the space. The ceiling grids are also custom-made to look more like furniture pieces. “I have anchor spots in the showroom, where I’ll hang a particular fixture low so that customers can see the detail and understand why it may be more expensive,” she notes. “I put the most interesting pieces in the center gallery.”
Vanessa makes it a point to move fixtures and displays around or retire fixtures quarterly. “My clients love that they’ll see changes when they come in regularly,” she states. To move inventory, Light by Design will hold a much-anticipated “Designer Clearance Party” annually in the warehouse and online. The showroom also donates merchandise that doesn’t sell to Habitat to Humanity.
Most importantly, the Turneys want Light by Design to be unlike any other lighting showroom. “We don’t do families here. There’s no matchy-matchy,” Vanessa comments. “We also can mix in traditional with contemporary; you really can blend it all together.”
The goal for 2012 is to expand more into the commercial market. “We’re doing a project of 120 garden homes,” Vanessa confides. “We’ve hired an outside sales rep and are looking to get more hotel and restaurant work. “ Above all else, “We want to break the mold. We didn’t want to be yet another lighting showroom in San Antonio,” she states. “We’re also preparing to launch our e-commerce site, which I think is going to be a game-changer for us. It’s going to be like nothing out there.”
For more features on Retail Lighting head over to our retail lighting home page.
Valley Lighting Gallery