How lighting showrooms can become indispensable to interior designers. By Mary Jo Martin
The value that lighting showrooms provide designers has been a very hot topic in recent years. As we shared in a feature article in our October 2018 issue, the ever-changing market has brought even more competition to the forefront, including designers who opt to create their own direct accounts with their favorite manufacturers.
St. Louis-based interior designer Wendy Dorton has the unique perspective of experiencing that value first-hand when she found herself in a project crisis. She was working on a client’s home and had all the steps timed in a perfect progression.
“My client’s painter had put scaffolding up for his crew and we had ordered lighting that was specifically scheduled to be delivered — and installed — before the scaffolding came down and the flooring was installed,” Dorton recalls. “The lighting order fell through at the last minute, which was going to delay everything else down the line. I decided to take my client to a Metro Lighting showroom, where we found a beautiful fixture and bought it right off the floor. It was delivered and installed that night. Having that experience made me fully appreciate what a valuable service showrooms provide. I decided it was the type of career I’d really enjoy: it would keep me in the design and lighting world while being able to use my experience and Metro’s resources to make a difference for other designers.”
“Designers are a very important part of our business, so we want to show them a lot of extra love.”
—Wendy Dorton, Metro Lighting
Dorton joined Metro Lighting three years ago as a Designer Account Rep. “Designers are a very important part of our business, so we want to show them a lot of extra love,” she explains. “Our business relationships with them often extend into personal relationships, which has helped build great loyalty. Even though our designers already have their own very finely tuned senses of style, they are juggling so many different features of their projects that it’s very helpful for them to be able to lean on us as their lighting experts.”
Rachel Lansing, a third-generation family member of Idlewood Electric, which has three showrooms in the Chicago area, and the company’s Director of Marketing & Public Relations, also understands the importance of strong relationships with designers as well as the role of trusted advisors to trade professionals.
“We have a great team of loyal staff who are the pulse of our showroom,” Lansing states. “We highly value our design community and strategically like to find ways to cater to them. Specifically, we want to be an enhancement to any project they’re working on. Because of that, our designer relationships are very long-term. Designers know when they come to Idlewood, they’ll be assisted by a showroom team they can trust and consider their partner. Most of our designer clients have been with us for over a decade.”
Metro Lighting has six showrooms throughout the St. Louis area while Idlewood has three in Greater Chicagoland. Their spacious showrooms each feature work areas for designers and their clients to spread out plans and meet with the showroom staff to get the technical lighting assistance they need.
“Designers’ time is valuable, and we take pride in the service we provide them,” Dorton notes. “That’s the reason I took on this position – to take the weight off their shoulders so they can focus on design.”
The teams at both companies focus on the importance of being the ultimate resource to their designers both in technical expertise and having the right product on display for their markets.
“While designers often have some preferred brands based on their comfort zone, we wouldn’t be doing our job right if we didn’t expand their horizons by educating them further about other options,” Lansing remarks. “At the same time, our showrooms attract slightly different customer bases, so it’s important to be in tune with each local market and display the looks and quality that will appeal to them. We take cues from designers on the styles, lines, and finishes they’d like to see in the showrooms.
“Today’s designers are willing to take more risks — and so are homeowners,” Lansing comments. “Over the past couple of years, we really transformed our showrooms based on feedback we got from designers about wanting clean lines and LED fixtures.” She went on to note that Idlewood’s experienced team is very good at knowing which trends have staying power, and which don’t.
“When we are deciding about new products to bring in, we talk with designers about what will last, and look at our past sales history of styles and finishes. This helps us stay away from making big mistakes with fads,” Lansing says.
Promoting Each Other
Metro Lighting hosts, or takes part in, several special events within the design community every year. They also reach out to designers with monthly calls/emails and regularly run promotions.
“We host open houses at our showrooms to create foot traffic,” Dorton states. “We invite designers to stop by and see a new line we’ve added or a new product being launched. We encourage them to bring in their clients as well. Typically we offer a light lunch, appetizers, or party favors to show appreciation for their time.
“We’re currently making plans to take a group of designers on a trip to one of our manufacturers and are excited about how many have signed up to go. We also regularly invite designers to attend brief educational sessions with our manufacturers’ reps who are introducing something new. We also sponsor, or contribute to, ASID events several times a year that count toward CEU credit for designers.”
Metro Lighting will also be using its website and social media to promote the work of their interior designer clients by asking designers to share photos from their projects. Furthermore, the Metro showrooms are building a portal on the website for designers to connect with.
“It’s fun to follow along as projects come together from beginning to end,” Dorton shares. “It’s a great way to promote both their businesses and ours online. And it inspires all of us with new creative ideas. I’ve found that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I still need to know!”
Making the Difference
Even with the ease of ordering products online and the quick satisfaction it can bring, Lansing emphasizes that most people don’t want to make a significant investment in something as important as lighting without seeing it first.
“When you’re investing in quality lighting that will provide the right look for your comfort and space, you want to know what you are getting,” she notes. “It’s not a guessing game. Because of that, the function of designers and showrooms will continue to be important to homeowners who want to create an environment that appeals to them. You can’t really visualize what it will look like – especially the size and true finish – without seeing and touching it. There is nothing that compares to seeing a fixture in person.”
In summing up the value that Idlewood brings to designers, Lansing remarks, “When it comes to lighting showrooms, while we all carry the same products, it’s how we sell them that makes the difference.”