Independents Day for Home Improvement

Rather than promote their prices, the mom-and-pops, Speicher suggested, should take advantage of the general interest in lighting that home centers’ advertising creates and “promote to get our names out there.” Speicher pointed out that ad money is available through cooperative advertising programs offered by vendors.

Independents do have an edge on higher-end

High-maintenance merchandise such as crystal chandeliers and Tiffany-style style lighting, which also provide wider profit margins. “They can’t sell crystal chandeliers in home centers: you have to keep them clean. If they look dirty, they won’t sell,” Gottesman said. “Home centers can’t clean like we do.”

While showrooms have focused on high-end lighting products, they have also identified other niches. Capitalizing on every inch of unused space, they offer such accessories as wall art, sculpture, clocks, mirrors and any number of other impulse items that account for add-on sales.

“When someone comes into your store, you’ve got to make a sale. That’s the rule,” asserted Elliott Braunstein, vice president of Dale Tiffany. “You’d like to make it on fixtures, but if not, you make it on table lamps, or mirrors art.”

“We have a lot of portables and lamps shades,” which is an area that showrooms have traditionally shied away from, Royalite’s Gottesman said. “We’ve got to get into things that others aren’t into. Lighting is something people don’t buy that often. Certain items they buy one time every five to 10 years,” he said.

Programs are available from vendors

Another way to maximize square footage, some showrooms have learned, is to install a high-tech lighting laboratory to demonstrate lighting techniques for various areas of the home and garden. Programs are available from vendors such as Lightolier and Juno Lighting to install state-of-the-art lighting concept centers. In addition to boosting sales, the lab helps reinforce the idea that the retailer is expert in the field.

With or without a lab, independents are often perceived as more knowledgeable: There’s usually less turnover and better training among their sales staffs. Independents also offer such services as delivery, on-site consulting and decorative lighting seminars.

“It’s important to be up on the latest products and technology because home centers are not,” commented Michael Ber, of Lighting Inc. of New Orleans. “If we offer excellent service and great products, we get the repeat customers. We’ve been here for 35 years and that helps.”

“Service is the main thing. It comes before everything else,” added Moshe Toledo, manager of Style One, a New York-based showroom. Toledo tells the story of a disgruntled customer who had a problem with a chandelier he bought from the store. Instead of losing the customer, Toledo paid the electrician’s bill for disconnecting the fixture, replaced the defective socket, and paid the electrician to re-install the chandelier. “He was embarrassed that he had been so angry,” Toledo said. “The next month, he came in with his sister-in-law, who spent $10,000 here on lighting for her new home.”

While this is not an everyday occurrence, Toledo emphasized, “we will do everything to make the customer happy.”

“We’re seeing a stronger professionalization in the marketplace,” said Dick Upton, president of the American Lighting Association. “The showrooms are not just sitting wringing their hands, they are being very proactive.”

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