Steve Ricci’s background in consumer products helps set Ricci Sales apart from the pack.
Steve Ricci didn’t get his start in the industry in the typical fashion. The business he grew up in wasn’t lighting, but consumer products. “That was the language in our home over the dining room table,” Ricci says of his father’s career at Bristol-Myers and his own job in sales at Procter & Gamble in New York City. “We talked a lot about POP,” he affirms.
Learning the ins and outs of attention-getting displays on the mass merchant level plus the importance of branding are some of the effective tools – along with a highly structured sales background – that Ricci applies to his Park Ridge, N.J.-based rep agency. “From early on, I had saved up to start my own business,” he explains. Ricci took the plunge, leaving the world of consumer goods to begin a career in lighting sales.
Starting out in an unfamiliar industry typically means taking on lines that might be small or little-known. Back in the mid-1980s, Ricci’s first factory was a line of wooden duck lamps, and his second was the Aladdin Mantel Lamp Company, a manufacturer of non-electric hanging, shelf, table, and wall bracket lamps. For his retail customers, he recommended Aladdin as a reliable source of illumination for when the power goes out during the Northeast’s famously stormy winters.
Armed with the lighting sections ripped from the Yellow Pages as his first database, Ricci began calling on customers. Lighting retailers such as ARTS Award-winning Klaff’s in Connecticut took on his lines and experienced considerable success with them. Soon prominent New Jersey showroom owners, such as the Mason family which runs Krell Lighting, and Deanna Katz of The Lighting Showroom, began trusting Ricci’s expertise. “Our creed is to service our stores and stand by those retailers until they turn a profit,” he comments.
Over the years, Ricci has been able to add staff, including an outside salesperson to call on custom builders. His firm regularly participates in ASID and AIA regional and shows, plus Ricci is an active member in the American Lighting Association.
One of Ricci’s best strategies is branding. Drawing on the insights he gained from his Procter & Gamble days, Ricci believes making a lighting manufacturer’s name top of mind to the consumer is key. “I understood the power of branding as it relates to consumers,” Ricci says. “While I realized I couldn’t control my factories’ names getting known nationally, I could make an impact regionally.”
His solution was to create galleries and vignettes that prominently display each company’s name as a brand. “I didn’t have any requests from my factories to do this, I just did it on my own,” Ricci explains. “In my experience, consumers will pay more for a branded product.”
Ricci is determined to make the spaces his team handles bring in maximum revenue for each retailer. Very often, that means assembling display areas for the factories he represents even if that means his team must spend a considerable amount of time putting up sheetrock to form new walls, painting, adding fabric, and creating decorative mounting boards. “Our company is known for great merchandising displays,” he adds. “We do this for all of our manufacturers – and they love it,” he states.
Dealers are so pleased with the results that they tend to offer Ricci Sales more space in the showroom to transform. “Showrooms are the reflection of our industry to the end user,” he comments. “We try to orient our displays to how the consumer can visualize the products in their home.”
Ricci Sales also renovates its display every year at no cost to the retailer. “I like to present opportunities to manufacturers,” he says. “Right now I have a few experimental programs going on, and I find factories are willing to try out ideas with me. My philosophy is that every socket should make a profit.”
The rep firm produced 150 display boards in 2011 and has a steady account with a graphics studio to create signage and banners using the manufacturers’ logos and colors. “We’ll even make hangtags for the retailer with the manufacturers’ logo to further reinforce the brand,” he remarks.
“To be a successful rep, you have to make the investment in your business and really service your customers. We try to do everything in a very professional way. We’ll make micro-presentations and pitch books that show retailers the sizzle of each brand,” he adds.
“Coming from outside the industry made me do things differently, but I don’t do any of this alone,” Ricci recounts. “I’m surrounded by talented, hard-working people. You have to lead by example; no team wins without a coach. I’m right there in the trenches with them. My staff is like my family.”