A Peek Inside Restoration Lighting Gallery of Hartford, Connecticut Restoration Lighting Gallery, housed in a former bank across the street from sister retailer Connecticut Lighting Center in Hartford, Ct., has blossomed into a destination store in...
Tag - Retail Lighting Showrooms
Founded by industry veterans, Classic Lamp Parts is gathering steam as a new resource in component parts for lighting. Consider them familiar faces in a new place! Just as most people outside of the lighting industry don’t understand how portable lamps, sconces, and ceiling fixtures could possibly be interesting, that sentiment could probably go double for anyone outside of the lighting component parts business — but that doesn’t bother this group of OEM parts veterans. They share a venerable passion for their chosen careers. “I like learning about what our customers do, especially when I travel to their businesses,” says Michael Jackson, President of Classic Lamp Parts, headquartered in California. “There are still a lot of custom manufacturers in the U.S., and many of those are run by artists and designers. On any given day I may meet with distributors, showrooms, renovation specialists, or even commercial lighting manufacturers. Each one of them has special challenges and I like to have enough expertise to help them with their current and on-going problems.” Jackson’s favorite example relates the resurgence of the Retro-Warehouse look. “The usage of cloth-covered wire is very popular for that style, but the product can be very difficult to work with and installing a line switch is very frustrating,” he recounts. “Our solution is to have it done at the factory. That way, we have individually packaged cord sets with line switches and line dimmers and floor switches installed, with and without rayon coverings.” Donna Domingo, VP/Operations, echoes that enthusiasm, adding, “I find it interesting how lighting manufacturers and their needs differ so widely. I enjoy the challenge of each project and working each one through to fruition.” Filling a Void Since the component parts business for the lighting market has arguably seen more consolidation in the past 10 years than the manufacturing side has, what made this tight group of industry veterans think there was room for a new resource — especially one that was starting from scratch? In short, they saw a void, and had the gumption to fill it. They also have no problem sharing all of the responsibilities; job titles aren’t something that anyone on board is concerned about. “I think what [has been] missing are suppliers who really care and want to help their customers succeed. We are listening and adapting our product line to meet the customers’ needs,” Domingo states. “We spend a lot of time working with individual customers to develop quality product at competitive prices. We have worked hard to find the best supplier partners; they are very special to us and go out of their way to help us succeed.” For Jackson, drawing upon his past experience and the satisfaction he gets from being a problem-solver has been great motivation. “Our goal every day is to try to help the smaller companies. For many of them, it may be difficult to create tooling or to do the finishing on unfinished parts,” he notes. “We are constantly trying to create new items based on customer input — and when we create them, we try to leverage the investment by running as many variations of that part as possible.” Conquering Growing Pains Start-ups are never easy, even when the people involved are well-known and liked within an industry. Going from meetings held around the proverbial kitchen table and renting third-party warehouse space to establishing a dedicated facility for the office and distribution takes time. Remarkably, that journey was accomplished in three years for Classic Lamp Parts. “There certainly is a basic financial barrier to starting a business like this,” Jackson admits. “By its very nature, the turns are low and the initial investments are large. People might think, ‘Well it’s only parts, how much could it cost?’ In actuality, for every single item there are manufacturing minimums. Furthermore, to provide value for our customers we need to produce variations of the popular products that are not currently on the market, and then we need to make each item in a variety of sizes and finishes.” To anyone doing the math, any given product addition requires “approximately 10 or 20 times the product that we might be able to sell in the coming year. You have to really love the business to take that leap of faith,” Jackson laughs. The ability to pick the right items and product groups to focus on is another skill. “We want to be a good partner to our customers,” Domingo states. “We now have a large variety of parts available and have gone through several phases of reorganization to do so.” “It is a very interesting (and humbling) dynamic, going from being part of one of the leading lighting parts suppliers in the U.S. to an absolutely brand new start-up,” Jackson remarks. “When I talk to a customer, I try to make it very clear that while we are not yet in a position to be their only supplier, we bring a unique approach and product assortment.” The reaction from the industry has been overwhelmingly positive. “Most customers recognize very quickly that we speak their language, and we enjoy following up on their input,” Jackson says. “In one case recently we had a hospitality lighting manufacturer ask if we had three-wire twisted rayon cord available, as no one carries it.” In response, Jackson rose to the challenge. “Now we are the only company to offer this product and we just had a brand new customer order six rolls in a variety of colors,” he comments. “The bottom line for most customers is that we are just flat out easy to work with. We usually have a new account set up in less than an hour, we ship 95% of our orders the same day, we pass along all of our shipping discounts, we make returns and credits painless, and we truly like our customers!” Hitting the Road When it came to getting the word out about the new company, Jackson took a page from a very famous leader in the ceiling fan business. “One of my heroes is the late Burton A. Burton, the founder of the Casablanca Ceiling Fan Company. I am a big believer in ‘experiential marketing’ and Burton brought that concept to the lighting industry in an extreme way,” he recounts. One of Burton’s most memorable marketing ideas was to take national promotional trips in his refurbished classic railroad cars. “In that very unique way, he was able to connect with the family-owned lighting showroom market in a manner that few have been able to replicate,” Jackson recalls. “There is not much chance that I will be able to duplicate his results, but my hope is that by taking some trips in my Classic Cuda, I will at least be able to inject some fun into the trips for everyone.” Like Burton, Jackson has chosen to travel via a personal passion project: a 1972 Plymouth Barracuda that he spent seven years renovating. This fall Jackson has been tooling around the country in his Cuda in a quest to discover potential customers. “When I go on the road, it is always with the hope that I will be able to make a positive connection,” he explains. “At the last company I worked for [American-De Rosa] I learned that I enjoy that process very much. In one of our annual planning sessions, the owner even made the remark, ‘Mike, you are so good at this, I should just give you a credit card and let you drive across the country calling on every possible customer you can find’ — and that is what I do now. I look up every type of lighting company that there is in an area and plan a route that takes me past as many as possible,” he recounts. “I might have called on the customers before, but several years have passed and the staff has often changed.” In Jackson’s most recent trip, he drove from Palm Desert, Calif. through Los Angeles, and then up the California coastline, finishing in Modesto. “I racked up about 800 miles in six days,” he chuckles. “We are currently planning another extended trip for next spring that will take us through Idaho, Washington State, and Oregon.” Thinking like Casablanca’s Burton, he quips, “We are hoping to be able to have some live Internet coverage for that one!” Pausing for a moment, he adds, “The toughest thing about long road trips is having a day when no one is interested in a lighting parts supplier who cares about their business, but luckily that does not happen very often.” End Game Strategy “Product assortment, pricing, and product knowledge are just the beginning of what we offer,” Domingo states. “We make it easy for prospective customers to set up an account and we offer a variety of payment terms and shipping options.” The line has expanded considerably since its first catalog, where the concentration was on basic items. With the advent of the second catalog, scheduled for release next month, there are dozens of exclusive items in addition to competitive pricing and high quality on a wide variety of lighting industry staples. “We are particularly proud of our brass and steel stampings, which we offer in a variety of finishes that correspond to the finishes on our solid brass stamped and cast sockets,” Jackson says. Additional changes involve back office and marketing developments. “We plan on updating the Web site to allow customers to check stock, order status, and place orders online 24/7,” states Armando Perales, VP/IT & Marketing. Other plans include adding a Facebook page for sharing information on product, promotions, sales, and lighting industry news with customers. “We’re also looking to create a YouTube channel that we can use to introduce new product and display how a product works in those cases when a product’s story cannot be told by pictures and text,” he notes. “In short, we want customers to think of us as their first choice to work with,” Jackson explains. “We think that this goal is realistic because we are already getting feedback along those lines, even though it might feel like a double-edged sword. Every week we have customers tell us, ‘I wish you carried this item, but I had to go somewhere else.’ With twice as many items in our new catalog, we know that we will be hearing ‘I am so glad you have that now’ a lot more often in the months ahead.” ?Read More
For nearly a century, four generations of Kings have helped the Burlington, N.C. community with its lighting needs. “We’ve been a family business for 95 years, starting out in the early 1920s selling home generator power systems and water pumps,” says Jim King Sr., owner of King Electric in Burlington, North Carolina. His grandfather soon expanded the business to include electrical wiring in 1925. Ranked the 17th largest city in North Carolina, back then Burlington was known for its textile mills. One of its most well-known businesses was Burlington Mills, which employed 200 people in a factory surrounded by a cornfield. King Electric was always located within Burlington, which began steadily increasing its city limits over time. Downtown is now situated where an oyster bar in the middle of nowhere stood in the 1940s and ’50s. After several moves and expansions since opening up the lighting showroom division in 1951, King Electric moved to its present location on Chapel Hill Road in 1970. King Sr.’s grandfather was fortunate to have had all three of his sons involved in the business, and the same is true today. Jimmy Jr. is a licensed electrician who has worked at the company for 20 years after graduating college; King Sr.’s youngest son, Brian, joined full-time two years ago after operating his own successful DJ business (which he still enjoys on a part-time basis). “I’m most proud that I’ve got both of my boys here. As I get older, that means a lot to me,” King Sr. confides. “I’m proud of how they’ve evolved. We don’t want the business to stop. In fact, my uncle (my dad’s brother) is age 78 and still comes into the store every day. It’s hard for most family businesses to [have its members] stay working together, but we don’t step on each other’s toes.” That politeness could be attributed to both genetic and learned behavior. “My dad treated every human being the same,” King Sr. recalls. “He treated the bus boy at a restaurant as if he were the owner. When he died, countless people came up to me and said how fair and nice he was. He treated people with respect.” That trait was not lost on King Sr. Many seasoned business owners are guilty of not taking the younger generation seriously – especially when it’s their own children. There are times when doing something the same way because that’s the way it’s always been done just doesn’t make sense anymore. “Once I stopped being bull-headed [about how I wanted to do things],” King Sr. confesses, the business relationship with his sons improved. Another key was realizing that his sons have different strengths. Jimmy Jr. handles bidding and coordinating jobs with the contractors, while Brian works in the showroom with the retail customers. “The boys have meshed their talents together, which has made them even stronger,” King Sr. reveals. “I’ve always been hands-on in the business, but I’m 65 years old now. I’m used to doing things my way, but when I open my mind and listen to them, they have great ideas,” he states. “It was Brian who talked me into carrying contemporary styles. I didn’t think the look would sell, but it does over and over again – and not just with young people.” What made Brian think it could? Besides interacting with customers daily, he lives an hour away in Raleigh, where he began noticing that people around him were interested in that style. “I learned that if you show something, customers will ask about it,” King Sr. affirms. “Maybe people wanted contemporary all along, but we just hadn’t been showing it.” For King Sr., joining the family business was a given. “I worked summers at King Electric when I was in school. I never thought of doing anything else. I was the youngest certified electrician in the state when I was 20 years old. I really enjoy [my job] and meeting people,” he comments. “So many times customers don’t take the time to tell you the good stuff that you do,” he says. King Electric’s customers, however, are quite vocal about their positive experiences. “We’ve had generations of family shopping here,” he explains. “It’s all about making someone feel good about doing business with you. Having the trust of your customers is important.” Thriving & Surviving Five years ago King Electric remodeled the showroom, doubling its size to 4,000 square feet – all the better to showcase the mirrors, artwork, permanent florals, and portable lamps added to the merchandise mix – and built a 5,000-sq.-ft. warehouse. A separate building houses the equipment for the telecommunications division founded in 2002. When the housing bubble burst, King Electric suffered a significant drop in business. “Every community in the U.S. lost good builders,” King Sr. remarks. “When housing picks up again, we’re going to get a new breed of people who are buying homes and we’ll need to create new customers. That’s why advertising is important,” he states. Having a presence in two local county magazines – Alamance and Alamance Woman – has paid off. The showroom is also targeting younger customers with its advertising. “There are a lot of successful young people in our area,” King Sr. observes. “We’re seeing a gap in the middle between the starter homes and the upper end. When you start to see local builders building, you know things are coming back.” Until that happens, multi-family housing has been strong. “We do a lot of apartment complexes across the state,” he says. “We work with an electrical contractor who prefers that we do all of the lighting packages for his projects. When it comes to multi-housing, we’re seeing better packages being specified.” Diversification is crucial. “We’re a premier distributor for Hunter Douglas blinds and listed on the Web site,” King Sr. says, adding, “Our designer is out all day, measuring windows for condos. We also sell rugs and wallpaper. We find wallpaper is definitely coming back. Last year we did a good business in that category,” King Sr. notes. “If a customer wants to have wallpaper, we have a guy who will install it and estimate how many rolls they need. I want to be pro-active and think ahead – that’s why we got into decorative accessories years ago. I was originally reluctant about adding it, but our showroom manager convinced me. She has a design background and gets a commission on what she sells. Turns out, she’s really good at it.” Another boost to business is a new energy code taking effect in North Carolina. “All recessed cans have to be 100-percent sealed with no air leakage and every new home has to contain 75-percent energy-efficient lighting,” he says. As a result, King Electric will be focusing on promoting LED products. “We’re going to create an ad that mentions that we are experts in LED lighting who can answer customers’ questions about the technology,” King Sr. says. There are also plans to have reps conduct educational training sessions. King Electric’s renovations have included making the presentation more spacious. “You don’t have to stuff your showroom full of fixtures. You can space the merchandise out and still have it look good. We’ve had handicapped people in here and by [increasing the space] it makes navigating the showroom easier for them,” he says, adding, “I think we’ve done a lot of things right to make our business more viable.” Please see our complete list of articles on Retail Lighting Showrooms Retail Lighting Showroom spotlights Butler Lighting: Family Name, Business Creed Retail Lighting Spotlight: Light By Design in San Antonio French Quarter Lighting: New Orleans Style Deep in HoustonRead More
Although Butler is the family name behind a multi store lighting business, it also aptly describes the company’s creed With showrooms in the High Point, Greensboro, and Lewisville, N.C. area, Butler Lighting pretty much has this portion of the Piedmont Triad covered. In fact, the High Point store – the largest of the trio at 10,000 square feet – is located approximately 15 minutes from the High Point Market complex. On the day I visited, several market attendees (still wearing their badges) strode in through the front doors. Over the past 50+ years, scores of interior designers from all over the country have stopped in to source fixtures for their clients. Offering vintage sconces and antique chandeliers along with brand new and modern styles, Butler Lighting holds a long-standing reputation for excellence in the area as well as the industry. “We’re right in the sweet spot of the country,” explains company president Carlos Butler. “North Carolina has one of the highest growing populations in the nation; people are relocating here from everywhere else. We get customers from every direction. Years ago, our customers were comprised of people who were moving up vertically to their next home, but now it’s been newcomers to the area.” Unlike many who start out in the lighting business, Carlos’ father, James Preston Butler, wasn’t an electrician. “He was a tobacco farmer,” Butler explains. “He didn’t know the difference between a light bulb and a wire nut when he started out in 1948 selling supplies, but he hired an electrician and learned the business.” Back in 1950, the store was housed in a small building in Fayetteville. Carlos’ mother, Marie, helped out where she could. “My father intentionally kept the business small,” Butler recounts. “That said, he wanted to have family in every location and, at one time, we had four stores when he was alive.” Later, Butler Lighting showrooms have popped up in Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, Fayetteville, High Point, and Greensboro and all are run by family members. “My dad gave me and my brothers a stake in the business,” Carlos remarks. “We were given the opportunity and he gave us enough to get us going, but then we had to [make a go of it ourselves]. My dad died in 1995, but he was retired a long time before that. I would love to have the opportunity to have him here to talk about what’s going on in the industry today,” he comments. According to Carlos, his father was among the first in the area to sell decorative accessories. “He would drive up to New York or down to Florida on the weekends and come back with a trailer full of antiques and accessories,” he states. “I grew up in the business,” Butler recalls. “In 1950, Rick Wiedemer’s grandfather opened my dad up with Hinkley,” he says. The lighting industry was like family. I bought my first car – a Corvette – from lighting rep Lars Bostrom, and when I got married, half the people there were from the lighting industry.” Butler went to college to study electrical engineering and business, and found his calling merging both of his majors in running the stores. In addition to the High Point showroom, which totals 28,000 square feet including warehouse space, he expanded his business to include Greensboro and Lewisville locations. Customers range from local homeowners and builders to interior designers from all over the country who fly in to shop the High Point Market for their clients. “We’ve done houses in probably every state on the East Coast, as well as some bed & breakfasts,” Butler affirms. In addition, there have been sizable residential projects in California and Colorado. “One customer has done six to seven houses with us, and there are too many to count who have done multiple houses.” Butler Lighting also enjoys a lot of business from referrals by furniture salespeople in the area, such as Furnitureland South, which has a lot of out-of-state customers who drive to the Triad to get a deal. “Some customers come to High Point to buy furniture and will come here for their lighting,” he says. Naturally the bust of the housing bubble hit Butler Lighting hard, along with most businesses. “You used to have a builder base you could count on,” Butler recalls. “Not that long ago, we used to ship out eight houses a day. The consistency that used to be in the market isn’t there today. Now you don’t know what you’ll bring in each month,” he comments. “I think we hit bottom in the last quarter of 2010. Our business dropped 80 percent from our highest point to our lowest.” Still, Butler made it a point to not lay off any employees and has worked hard to maintain the status quo in tough times. “People think that because you have your own business that it’s a cake walk, and that’s simply not true,” he comments. “If you run a small business, you have to work hard. It’s a lot of responsibility.” Butler is optimistic about the year ahead. “I predict a 30 percent increase over 2011,” he states. “I’m hoping that housing starts will be up 10 percent this year. So far, we have one builder who has nine homes started.” Butler Lighting actively participates in events such as several Parade of Homes plus advertises through the local builders association. One of his best and most treasured assets is his employees. “I’ve always had good people working here. Some have been with me since we opened this location in August 1991,” he says. If Butler’s own three young sons express an interest in following in his footsteps when they grow older, he is more than willing to offer his children the same opportunity that he was given. “I love to work and I enjoy a challenge and making things happen,” he comments. If Butler has his wish, the family legacy will continue on through many more generations. Please see some of our additional Retail Lighting Spotlight articles: Valley Light Gallery Retail Spotlight: Light By Design in San Antonio French Quarter Lighting: New Orleans Style Deep in Houston Ricci Sales Agency Transforms a Showroom Wall Restoration Lighting Gallery: A Look Inside King Electric Serving Burlington, N.C.Read More