Mary Jo Martin asks interior designers and lighting showrooms to speak frankly about the positive aspects of the lighting showroom and interior designer partnership, along with advice on how to create better synergy between them.
Colonial Electric/Bright Light Design Centers,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware
Spending time with David Bellwoar leaves you refreshed, motivated, and ready to conquer the world — so it’s no wonder that his Bright Light showrooms are a popular destination for both the design community and consumers.
Bright Light is part of Colonial Electric Supply Co., which has 100+ years of roots in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. Bellwoar – along with his three brothers – acquired Colonial Electric from their father, Joe, in the mid-1990s. When they formed a Showroom division in 1999, David decided to take on the challenge of running the new business. Under his leadership, the division has become widely respected for its strength as a business partner and for the staff’s passion for excellent customer service. There was quite a learning curve, however. Operating a retail-type of environment for consumers and designers was nothing like traditional distribution for electrical contractors.
“Looking back, we really weren’t prepared for what we were trying to start,” Bellwoar recalls. “Nearly every aspect of this business model was new to us. We were used to having a large established customer base of electrical contractors and didn’t have to do much marketing. And most of them had approved lines of credit with us, which was managed by our credit department. Doing business with retail customers – and what’s important to them – was completely different. Even the software we used to run Colonial Electric didn’t fit the showroom business, so we ended up writing our own.
“No one gives you an instruction manual when you take your business in a new direction. It’s kind of like being a parent. You just figure it out one step at a time. You don’t just open up a store, hang some chandeliers, and expect customers to walk in. We were fortunate that we had the resources of Colonial behind us in those early years.”
Five years ago, Bellwoar hired a marketing consultant who advised becoming more involved in the design community by participating in local events to meet designers. Bright Light now dedicates more marketing dollars to hosting special events and CEU courses that would appeal to designers. Bellwoar also volunteers as an officer with Philadelphia’s ASID chapter.
“We’ve changed the way we greet consumers entering the showroom,” he notes. “Instead of the typical, ‘What brings you in?,’ we now ask, ‘Are you working with an interior designer?’ and then advise them that working with trained professionals can help them save money on their projects.
“We’ve built a portfolio of designer profiles based on their personalities, style, and type of projects and clientele that are their specialty,” Bellwoar explains. “Then when consumers visit the showroom, we gather as much information as we can from them, including their budget. This allows us to confidently recommend designers who would be a good fit.”
Bright Light has also adapted its sales philosophy to one that better supports designers and their clients. In the early years of the showroom, there was more of an emphasis on selling the product that the buyer was bringing in. “Legitimately, a showroom wants to sell product they’re stocking,” Bellwoar admits. “But, we also want to be a valuable resource to clients by offering them a true showcase. Our staff’s expertise is honed through weekly training courses by manufacturers and reps. We do a lot of role-playing and communication exercises. They know the probing questions to ask as they tackle a project wish list one by one. They also know the right sources to go to for each product. All of this supports our designers and their clients on every project they bring us.”
How It Works
The Bright Light sales team earns about 70 percent of their total compensation from commissions. “It’s great motivation and gives them each the opportunity to manage their own business,” Bellwoar says. “I provide them the education, tools, and facility they need to be successful but let them form their own relationships with customers, cultivate their style, and ultimately determine what their earnings will be. Our IT programmers keep our computer systems finely tuned, so our sales team has easy access to any information they need. We encourage them to regularly communicate with the designers they’re working with to keep them informed of the order status — especially in the case of any backorders or unexpected changes.”
The showroom works closely with individual designers on the right pricing that will allow both parties a fair profit. Because of its size, Bright Light can typically place orders right away because it doesn’t need to meet a freight allotment and can get products shipped much more economically than designers who order direct and pay freight charges.
To complement all of those added value variables and further well-position Bright Light in its market, the recent renovation of its King of Prussia flagship takes showroom design to a new level.
“Our goal is to present an environment that helps customers visualize how the products will look in their homes,” Bellwoar comments. “We’ve removed the typical clutter, added more vignettes and small kitchen dinettes, and left comfortable spacing around each one. We have a small gallery of pendants that allows customers to see the fixtures individually as well as what the pendants can look like in small groupings. We also have a dedicated Baccarat crystal area and place those stunning pieces in our dining vignettes. Touches like showcasing artwork not only makes our space feel more like a home than a store, but it’s also a great way to demonstrate how lighting can enhance the art in customers’ homes. There is a 16-foot wall on the backside of a living room vignette that features a large painting with a lot of colors. We have a variety of lighting options surrounding it so clients can experience the differences of each one.”
To make designers and their clients comfortable, Bright Light provides individual desks and work-
stations with multiple chairs and a big screen monitor so they can easily look up specs and other product information. They also have private rooms available if designers would like to spend time alone with their clients. Beverages and canapes help refresh them during the process.
Bellwoar believes nothing beats visiting a showroom to see and touch product during the selection process. “We all shop online when making various purchases,” he says. “But lighting is way too important of a selection to leave to chance and order based on a digital image. Photos online or in catalogs are done by professionals using specialized lighting and filters, plus computer monitors are not always accurate in representing the true color and finish. Seeing fixtures’ size and scope in a setting like ours helps customers understand the presence they would have in rooms of their homes. They need to actually see and touch these fixtures to get the true visual of what they’re ordering. When designers or customers make the effort to visit our store, they deserve to be treated like royalty. It’s a huge compliment that they’ve selected us, and we want to give them the ultimate in service, product, and support.”