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.
Oasis Home, Asbury Park, New Jersey
Nancy Mikulich grew up appreciating the beauty of creativity. Her grandfather designed Mid-Century furniture in the 1950s, her parents collected antiques, and her mother was a jewelry designer.
Mikulich herself had a love for music and is a classically trained violinist who performed as a child prodigy with orchestras in New York. She fully immersed herself in the music industry in New York City, performing electric violin with several rock bands and writing, composing, and underscoring music. She spent 20 years on the West Coast, raising her family and pursuing her Master’s degree in Design before her husband was transferred to New Jersey.
The move back to the East Coast was the ideal time to make a change and pursue another creative aesthetic. Mikulich established Oasis Home, providing full interior design services for residential and commercial projects as well as a boutique storefront in the hip seaside resort town of Asbury Park, where she carries fabrics, wall coverings, and high-end lamps.
“It’s often hard for them to understand the size and scale of fixtures, especially large-scale chandeliers, so it’s helpful for them to see just how expansive they will be.”
When selecting lighting fixtures, Mikulich looks for convenience and time savings. “I try to allot my hours more towards the construction part of the process rather than product sourcing,” she explains. “If it’s not necessary, I don’t like to leave my drafting table. It’s very time-consuming to select the flooring and rugs, which need to be done before accessories such as lighting come together. It wouldn’t be a smart use of my time to go out to local showrooms to search for the right fixture. Plus there is no guarantee that a lighting showroom in my area would have the perfect fixture on the floor that I would pick to fit with a particular project. Real estate is at a premium on their floors, so I understand that it’s impossible for them to carry everything. It’s much more efficient to do all my ‘browsing’ online and determine what I want to specify,” she comments.
With her time at a premium, Mikulich needs any trips to lighting showrooms to be expedient. “When I do take a client to a showroom, it has to be productive,” she states. “That starts by making sure ahead of time that they have the fixture I plan to use — or others that are comparable in finish and size — so the client can clearly see what they are going to be getting. It’s often hard for them to understand the size and scale of fixtures, especially large-scale chandeliers, so it’s helpful for them to see just how expansive they will be.”
Besides inquiring about the fixture itself, Mikulich also asks whether the showroom will provide a trade discount. With clients regularly looking up the price of products online, receiving a trade discount can make a big difference in available margins depending on the line and the showroom. Often Mikulich finds the best solution is to bill clients for both her time and the published online cost of the fixture — which together typically equals the showroom’s published price. “My clients feel like they’re being treated fairly paying that price, and I’m being fairly compensated for my expertise and time,” she remarks.
If a showroom doesn’t have what Mikulich is looking for, she’ll turn to other sources: choosing distribution trade partners through referrals from other designers or manufacturers, respecting the territorial borders that manufacturers and reps have in place, and opening direct accounts with manufacturers.
“I have direct accounts with some small independent lighting companies and am very confident in their product quality so those are easy sells to make to my clients. When those lines don’t fit the look or budget of a project, I use the internet to source a fixture and gather all the technical specifications, but then I buy it through a local distributor or rep who carries that line. I know they will provide everything that needs to be done from order through delivery, as well as be there for any after-sale support that my client might need. I don’t buy anything directly online because I want to be able to control as much of the process as possible. I can’t be sure of the level of service, quality, and authenticity of an online retailer, nor would I know for certain that they would respond and appropriately take care of any issue that might arise. My name is on these projects and everything that goes into them; I have to protect my reputation as well as my clients’ interests.”
Advice for Showrooms
Mikulich offers a few recommendations for lighting stores that want to expand their business with designers.
“Clients’ eyes naturally wander around the store, so I really appreciate when salespeople help keep my clients on task when we are in the showroom,” she notes. “It also gains my loyalty when the showroom staff respects designer-client relationships and defer to my vision and keep my clients’ interest focused on the way I’m steering them.”
Mikulich also suggests showrooms be more selective in the products they display and choose as many finishes and sizes as possible — especially large fixtures. “It would be so much more effective than just a sea of fixtures and tags hanging from the ceiling,” she explains. Also helpful would be drawers of actual sample finishes from the lines they sell, rather than hoping the image on a computer monitor is an accurate representation. She also notes that showrooms need to be savvy in knowing the pricing being offered online for their fixtures and lines. “It would be terrific if they offered a semi-private area with a large enough table to spread out design plans and provide beverages and seating while we’re looking over the plans,” she adds.
Mikulich is an advocate of regularly going to the High Point Market to keep current on new finishes and trends as well as to strengthen her relationships with the manufacturers she does business with, and meet new potential vendor partners.
“It’s very important for anyone in the design business to be there,” she remarks. “It gives designers insight into the true quality behind products. There’s nothing like seeing fixtures in person. I can show my customers samples of everything, and they get excited, but there’s always a ‘Wow!’ factor when they see magnificent fixtures in person for the first time. Similarly, it would be advantageous if local lighting showrooms could provide a similar opportunity on a much smaller scale to newer designers who may not have the budget to travel to shows. Showrooms are very beneficial for them in particular as they are learning the business and developing relationships with manufacturers and trade partners. It’s how they get to see and touch a wide range of finishes, materials, and styles.”