Each year, the Showroom of the Year awards honor lighting showrooms across North America who demonstrate a strong commitment to excellence, customer service and their communities, and each year, the finalists blow the judges and editors away with their entries.
This year, our esteemed judges — Greg O'Neal, Co-founder/CCO of CUR8; Stacy Garcia, renowned designer and founder of several lifestyle brands; and Richard Sexton, Chief Product Officer for MicroD — narrowed the competition down to just five showrooms in the three revenue categories: Under $2 Million, Under $5 Million and Over $5 Million.
We caught up with these 15 showrooms to learn how they're growing, changing and adapting to the ever-changing world of retail.
Revenue Under $2 Million
Alcott & Bentley, Louisville, KY
A Louisville institution since 1979, Alcott & Bentley burned to the ground in 2006. New owners John and Allyson Mokhtarei seized the opportunity to build on the lighting showroom’s past success and set out to transform it into one of the most recognized businesses in the city.
Located in Louisville’s historic Highlands shopping district, Alcott & Bentley is the picture of Southern charm, but its gracious roots run deep. The showroom’s team of five does business “the old-fashioned way:” earning the trust and respect of customers and cultivating relationships that last a lifetime. The teams gets to know each customer individually, listening to their needs and wants and thoughtfully guiding them to a personalized solution that fits their vision and budget.
Modern merchandising for a traditional aesthetic
Louisville’s customer base leans toward a traditional design aesthetic, but Alcott & Bentley designers know how to push the envelope. Designers regularly change out displays, selecting artwork, accessories and accent furniture to complement the latest lighting trends. The practice provides designers an opportunity to play off their colleagues’ creative talents, and the friendly competition results in a constant stream of innovative displays.
Beyond the bricks and mortar, Alcott & Bentley designers appeal to current and would-be customers through the showroom blog, a collection of deep dives into recent projects and educational articles that showcase the staff’s skill and breadth of industry knowledge.
Shop talk: “As a local and independent business, Alcott & Bentley has the advantage of quickly responding to challenges in the industry, to our clients and to our community. We rely heavily on the neighborhood and populace around us to be a prosperous small business. In this way, we are dependent on the success of our individual team members, dependent on the support of our community and in turn supporting those around us. Understanding that we are a part of something greater is one of our immense assets as a company.” – Allyson Mokhtarei, owner
Denney Electric Supply, Ambler, PA
In business for 80 years, Denney Electric Supply has seen and met its share of challenges. So as other local businesses fold in the wake of e-commerce giants like Amazon, Denney Electric simply finds a way to do it better.
Reinvesting in the future
Since 2016, the company has renovated each of its eight stores, broadened its product selection and focused on storefronts as a tool for engaging with the local community. The showroom’s constantly changing thematic window displays, like a beach scene for summer and a collection of fixtures the store provided for the DIY Network’s “Stone House Revival,” pique the interest of passersby.
Denney Electric’s visual focus also spills onto the showroom floor resulting in displays that help customers see and feel what different products can do in their homes. In a Landscape Lighting Lab co-sponsored by Kichler Lighting, the Lutron RadioRA system controls path lights, hardscape lighting, wall washers and more. Customers can also try out Pico remotes and ask Amazon’s Alexa to adjust the lighting, shades and a Sonos speaker.
Targeted social media
As often as they appear together, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram aren’t interchangeable, and Denney Electric has a target strategy for each one. The company’s Facebook page is for conversations with its customer base, event promotion and articles and blog posts about home decor and electrical topics. Denney Electric uses its Instagram account to show off fixtures and lifestyle shots. The company’s Houzz profile is a partnership with Hinkley Lighting and offers yet another opportunity for Denney Electric to share its projects and ideas with customers.
Shop talk: “Like many other small businesses, the greatest challenge we face is competition from the internet. The key is to stay relevant through unique product offerings and elevate the customer experience. Ultimately, our brand position gives the customer a choice: If they want a light that all of their friends have seen before, they can shop online or at the big home centers. But if they want something special, something exceptional, they need to shop at Denney Electric.” – Jill Weiskopf Noga, Marketing Manager
Elektra Lights & Fans Inc., Wauwatosa, WI
At only 2,000 square feet, Elektra Lights & Fans is small, even by small business standards. But what it lacks in real estate, it more than makes up for with tight (and lucrative) relationships with many of Milwaukee’s top builders, remodelers and interior designers. Along with a strong consumer clientele, they look to Elektra for quality products, fair prices and a local boutique experience.
Although Elektra has a strong local following, the company competes with online retailers with low prices (and price-matching when possible), great customer service and the ability to be flexible. Next up: This year, Elektra will launch online sales through Lights America.
Real life displays
A recent showroom renovation included new lighting fixtures, an LED mirror and Adorne switches in the store bathroom. Elektra also integrated Legrand wall plates into its displays. In its undercabinet displays, the company installed LED tape from two different suppliers. Since the renovation, sales of these products have increased.
Each year, Elektra donates product to The Great TV Auction, a benefit for Milwaukee’s PBS station. Participation in the auction, a big one in terms of prime-time viewer ratings and net revenue, offers Elektra an opportunity to gain even more visibility in the community and to show support and raise money for the PBS station and its important programming.
Shop talk: “At Elektra we have a staff of six to eight at any given time. Having a boutique-sized showroom lets us really collaborate and get everyone’s input. From our fixture coordinator/handyman, to our billing folks, to our sales team, everyone’s personal input and style is taken into account. Another great thing about being independent is our ability to display what we want when and where we like it. We don’t commit certain spaces to certain brands or maintain a lot of overstock.” – Kimberly Huven, Lighting Consultant
Village Home Stores, Geneseo, IL
As much as you look forward to the final result, building or renovating a home can be a frustrating, not to mention exhausting, endeavor. Village Home Stores knows its customers have busy lives, so it offers appliances, cabinetry, floor covering and lighting all under one roof. Inside the lighting showroom, trained staff make sure the lighting selection, ordering and installation runs just as smoothly.
Key to that streamlined process is a newly renovated sales floor. Prior to the revamp, Village Home Stores did their research, visiting other similar-sized showrooms for ideas and inspiration. The resulting piano-hinged wall boxes, floating shelf pendant wall and portable light posts help make the showroom a versatile place to display product and an easy place to shop.
Relevant social media posts
Village Home Stores uses its blog to stay top-of-mind with customers. Each week, the blog features a unique project that showcases products and the workmanship of its staff. Posting the project to Houzz and Pinterest help reach a larger audience and position the store as an expert.
The showroom also has its own 30-minute TV program that airs weekly on the local ABC affiliate network. The Village Home Show features projects and the products available through the showroom. Locals can tune in on Sunday mornings or binge on all 19 episodes available on YouTube.
Shop talk: “One of our secrets to success is to focus on the future of our store by working on a better staff culture. This is an investment in our long-term success: not being competitive salespeople but working together on projects within multiple departments of our store. It’s a staff trait that even our customers have noticed and pointed out. People buy from people, and when a customer can tell a workplace is happy and fun and works well together, everyone gets an added layer of confidence.” – Keri Swanberg, Lighting Manager
Waterplace, Crown Point, IN
At WaterPlace, a Leeps Supply Company kitchen and bath showroom, treating customers to a playful experience is serious business. After learning about color temperatures and LED technology through interactive displays, customers can put on their bathing suits to try out a shower with chromatherapy, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Merchandising on steroids
If taking a shower in the showroom seems a bit over the top, WaterPlace customers can check out other luxurious bathroom products like bidet toilets, fancy tubs that release essential oils, lighted mirrors and a waterproof Bluetooth audio system. And there’s plenty of lighting, as well. The showroom features more than 150 electrical junction boxes and 22 clouds full of illuminated product.
Education for designers
At WaterPlace, education isn’t just for consumers. Architects, designers and builders can choose from a variety of courses, including the Impact of Lighting on Bathroom Design and Lighting Controls as a Component of Interior Design, to learn more about the products WaterPlace offers and to earn continuing education units (CEU) in a local setting.
Digital that drives brick-and-mortar business
WaterPlace’s website, social media platforms and digital billboards focus on generating buzz about new lighting, kitchen and bath products, but the ultimate goal is getting customers to come in and see it for themselves. The Instagram account @waterplaceshowroom, for example, entices followers with beauty shots from top manufacturers as well as photos and boomerang demos of the coolest new products straight from the sales floor.
Shop talk: “To stand out from the crowd, our focus is on customer experience, design, education and quality luxury products. These days, luxury is less pretentious, more excellent in design, less indulgent and with more attention to quality. So having a showroom where customers can be educated and experience the product and where the staff can help you put it all together is our secret to success.” – Doug Van Der Weide, WaterPlace Designer and Showroom Manager
Revenue Under $5 Million
Dominion Electric Supply Company, Laurel, MD
If there’s one thing Dominion Electric knows after nearly 80 years in business, it’s that you have to roll with the punches. Since it opened its doors in 1940, the retailer has been learning, growing and changing based on the market, technology and the needs of its customers. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is Dominion’s commitment to customer service.
A family affair
For Dominion, being a local family-owned and operated business is a source of pride, but it also comes with responsibility. The retailer is there for its customers should they have special requests or problems with an order or if they simply want to come in and “kick the tires.” For customers who are ready to get to work, in-store lighting consultants walk them through a comprehensive lighting layout, lend technical expertise and help with product selection.
Focus on business-to-business clients
Builders and designers can take advantage of Dominion’s Design and Specification department, which offers a laser focus on the unique needs of B2B. That includes education. Three times a year, Dominion partners with vendors to offer designers CEU courses at no charge.
An app for that
Dominion’s branded app gives design-savvy customers the tools to customize their own lighting designs directly from their smartphone or tablet. Customers can upload a picture of their room or use one of the provided templates and then choose from a list of products to add to their design. From there, they can create a personal portfolio and a shopping list. Customers who need just a bit more guidance can email a photo of their room along with the room dimensions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and Dominion’s lighting consultants will take it from there.
Shop talk: “Hand’s down, our secret to success is our staff. Their passion to assist our customers in finding the correct solutions for their lighting projects is unmatched. As simple as it sounds, our main goal is for our customers to be happy with their shopping experience and with their purchase.” – Marcia Hussey, Showroom Manager
Inline Lighting & Electric Supply Company, Huntsville, AL
The success of a business often depends on its staff, but at Inline Lighting, the burden goes both ways. As an Employee Stock Option Plan, Inline is 100 percent employee-owned, which means when they succeed and grow, so do their shares of the company.
Open floor plans continue to be on trend in the building and remodeling sectors. To help customers visualize how different products work together in their open-concept space, Inline displays coordinating pieces together in similar or complementary finishes. Vignettes featuring different aesthetics serve to inspire customers and help them hone in on their style preferences.
Inline works with its manufacturer’s reps to stay informed about new technologies and educational resources they have to help employees stay up-to-date. The showroom offers regular training webinars and lunch-and-learn opportunities to its salespeople.
For retail customers, designers, architects and engineers, Inline hosts an annual Energy Expo. The event features demonstrations and displays designed to inform customers about the latest energy-efficient products and strategies. Industry professionals in attendance can also take advantage of CEU-accredited seminars throughout the day and the opportunity to get their questions answered by experts.
Shop talk: “The best thing about being an independent retailer is working with customers that come in overwhelmed. We can help them determine their style, work with them to create the vision that they have in their head and, together, see that vision become a reality.” - Beth Swann, Assistant Showroom Manager
Northwest Lighting and Accents, Mt. Prospect, IL
Even before the economic downturn in the early 2000’s, NorthWest Lighting and Accents understood that its survival rested on its ability to innovate. And innovate it has. In recent years, the business has altered its showroom operations, displays, personnel, philosophy, product mix and service offerings. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, today, NorthWest continues to be a successful work in progress.
Design Services division
Although some customers know what they want straight out of the gate, for others, NorthWest’s two-story showroom full of galleries, meticulously appointed vignettes and experience centers is a lot to take in. For those customers who need help coming up with a lighting plan, NorthWest meets their needs with its new Design Services division featuring a menu of billable design services, including lighting and design layouts and specifications, reflected ceiling plans, photometric point plotting, in-home consultations and lighting and control schedules.
When the showroom heard over and over again that its corporate name “NorthWest Electrical Supply” sounded too industrial to catch the attention of the retail and design communities, it rebranded the residential lighting side of the business with the more decorative sounding NorthWest Lighting and Accents.
Connecting with industry professionals
Twice a year, NorthWest partners with a local interior design school to host a training program for aspiring designers. The company also offers design internships for students as well as educational events for industry professionals.
Shop talk: “I think the most interesting thing about our showroom is that we are ever-evolving in terms of how we interact with customers, how we display our product and how we weave in technology throughout our showroom.” - Lynn Carlson, CFO
Pace Lighting, Savannah, GA
For all the talk about LEDs and connected solutions, lighting showrooms themselves are a relatively traditional bunch. Lights on the ceiling, wall and floor with a living room or foyer vignette sprinkled in for some visual appeal: It’s the way it’s always been done, and it works fine. So when a showroom like Pace Lighting comes along and shakes things up a bit — carefully curating vignettes, fully installing fixtures and fans from finished walls and ceilings as if in a real home and putting dimmers on everything — people can’t help but take notice.
At the helm of Pace Lighting, its female-led management team is a guiding force both in the showroom and beyond. Inspired by conversations with her peers at markets and the American Lighting Assn. (ALA) Conferences, Pace CEO Lisa Dixon recently created a Facebook group called Lighting Showroom Coalition to help open up the lines of communication between lighting retailers across the country.
Experts on staff
Dixon calls her staff the “backbone” of Pace Lighting. While the showroom wows customers from the moment they walk through the door, it’s the ALA-certified staff that seals the deal — greeting customers with a friendly smile, offering individual consultations and following up after the sale.
Striving for more
Given its keen interest in industry issues and collaboration, it’s no surprise that Pace Lighting is always on the lookout for ways to improve. The retailer is currently overhauling its marketing process to put more focus on online content. The team has a new blog as well as a tightly focused Facebook and Instagram strategy in the works for the coming year.
Shop talk: “We are extraordinarily proud of our reputation within the lighting industry. Lighting is our passion, and it is a delight to be able to share this passion with our customers and with our industry colleagues.” – Lisa Dixon, CEO
The Lighting House, Shelburne, VT
The Lighting House may be a small business in a small town, but that hasn’t stopped them from selling lights, and lots of them, for 40 years running. Maybe it’s the wide selection of products or the friendly customer service. Maybe it’s Earl, the shop dog. Whatever it is, the showroom is doing it right.
At 7,000 square feet, The Lighting House is a small but formidable undertaking for even the most decisive patrons. But even with a large inventory of designs across an array of categories, the showroom maintains an inviting, family-friendly atmosphere that’s intuitive and easy to navigate.
A new digital strategy
When showroom traffic showed signs of slowing due to competitors on the internet, The Lighting House fought back. Marketing Director Zach Blanchard added online sales to its website, increased the showroom’s social media presence and continued to invest in a digital marketing strategy — moves that helped bolster foot traffic and improve sales.
In addition to supporting the Shelburne community by offering donations to local causes, The Lighting House does its part to help out the local environment, as well. Residents can bring in their old fluorescent lamps, and the showroom will dispose of them properly free of charge.
Shop talk: “When my family started this store in 1977, it was very unusual to have a standalone store that sold just lights. Then, the competition was the local electrical supply house. Now, we have to adapt to competition from other showrooms, the internet, the big-box stores and even some manufacturers. You really need to adapt to the continuing changing business environment. We have, and over 40 years in business will attest to that.” – Zach Blanchard, Marketing Director
Revenue Over $5 Million
Avenues Lighting, Jacksonville, FL
It’s hard to miss Avenues Lighting, a 16,000-square-foot super showroom just off Interstate 95 along the Jacksonville, FL, home decor retail row. But just in case, there’s also an LED billboard encouraging shoppers to stop by the showroom. Once customers are inside, Avenues doesn’t disappoint.
Thanks to the building’s generous ceiling height, Avenues is able to display massive chandeliers like those that hang in the showroom entry along with more than one hundred ceiling fans and thousands of other kinds of fixtures.
Avenues partners with top vendors like WAC Lighting, Tech Lighting and Feiss to show off the best in everything from landscape lighting to bath lighting, while helping to break up the showroom and provide an exciting focus for customers. Loyalty to its manufacturer partners comes with important perks, too. As top customers themselves, Avenues can take advantage of more purchasing power and the ability to offer the best options to their clientele.
Last fall, Hurricane Irma tore through Florida, damaging and destroying homes from Key West to Jacksonville. Avenues Lighting donated a 15-foot box truck’s worth of indoor and outdoor fixtures to the MM50 Relief Project, which continues to support Florida residents as they rebuild their homes.
Shop talk: “One reason for our success is how we treat our staff. All our salespeople attend a Dallas market, which gives them a great perspective on the lighting industry. Working for Avenues is a great opportunity for a career, not just a job. We are proud of how long our people are with us, and have staff members who have been with us for more 40 years.” – Pete Duprey, Vice President
Design Lighting, Surrey, BC
Design Lighting may no longer be a family-run business, but the showroom still operates as such. Inspired by the company founders, who started Design Lighting in 2000, the group views itself as one big extended family. Those solid relationships built on hard work and mutual respect filter through to its suppliers and reps as well as the local community, which had come to view Design Lighting as a business that always goes above and beyond.
In 2015, Design Lighting committed to converting its entire showroom to LED. The company retrofitted more than 3,000 fixtures with the latest LED technology and removed any products that could not be retrofitted from the show floor. The showroom itself features energy-efficient lighting, as well, and with the help of an Optiwatt system that operates each and every light, the showroom makes sure only 10 percent of the fixtures are turned on at one time.
Design Lighting collaborates with HGTV’s series “Love It or List It” about families who are struggling with homes that no longer fit their needs. Teaming up with celebrity designer Jillian Harris, Design Lighting provides the lighting for the show’s remodel projects.
Merchandising with personality
At Design Lighting, individual staff members get an area of the showroom in which to show off their creative talents. Not only does this give employees a sense of ownership over the showroom, it also ensures that different design aesthetics will be represented.
Shop talk: “The best thing about being an independent retailer is that we can create relationships with our customers and be an active part of our local community. The communities of Langley and Surrey have supported us since we opened our doors in 2000, and we are very thankful for that. – Teresa Guesebroek, Showroom Manager
Hermitage Lighting Gallery, Nashville, TN
A Nashville staple for more than 70 years, Hermitage Lighting Gallery has its share of repeat customers, some of whom have been visiting the showroom since they were kids. Now, they’re helping their children shop for their first home. Hermitage may be a go-to for longtime residents, but as the Nashville community grows and changes, the company is always looking for ways to get the attention of new customers.
Hermitage donates product and supplies lighting packages to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville. As a result, the organization called Hermitage “one of the most important gift-in-kind sponsors we have as well as a donor and friend to our ReStore.” It’s an endorsement that speaks volumes to the local community.
Hermitage reaches approximately 20,000 Nashville residents by sponsoring The Nashville Predators hockey team’s First Goal of the Game contest. Fans who correctly guess the first player to score have a chance to win an autographed puck and a gift certificate to Hermitage Lighting.
Women for the win
Studies show that women control spending with it comes to purchasing items for the home, so Hermitage makes sure it takes care of its female clientele. As an extension of its involvement with the Nashville Predators, the showroom also sponsors a contest in which women can win an all-expenses-paid night out with friends at the rink. Hermitage also sponsors Tennessee Women in Green, a local organization of women committed to sustainable building practices.
Shop talk: “Not only does every Hermitage Lighting Gallery employee strive for outrageous customer service, but we deliver an outrageous experience to each customer as well. This means we go the extra mile to educate our customers, as well as cater to them and make them feel special for shopping with us. Plus, we offer coffee, water and even fresh baked cookies.” – Brad Dobson, Showroom Manager
Idlewood Electric Supply, Highland Park, IL
When Idlewood Electric says its success depends on its customers, it puts its time, money and manpower where its mouth is. Recently a customer was counting on the showroom to deliver a chandelier in time for a dinner party she was hosting. When inclement weather threatened on-time delivery, the Idlewood staff drove to pick up the fixture at the shipper’s warehouse and personally delivered it to the customer’s resident dining room. At Idlewood, that type of scenario isn’t considered above and beyond; it’s simply how they get the job done.
Idlewood is no stranger to dynamic displays, and in addition to many branded areas, the showroom features an entire gallery dedicated to Hudson Valley’s new line, Mitzi. Strategically placed at the front of the showroom, the gallery grabs the attention of a younger generation of lighting customers, many of who came in with their parents as children.
As a third-generation owner, Barbara Lansing has seen Idlewood through both tough and prosperous times. Now, her daughters Rachel and Jessica are working alongside their mom, building an environment where multiple generations learn from the experience of each other. The showroom is in the process of applying for Women’s Business Enterprise accreditation, which will open up new opportunities for growth, support and prestige.
A digital strategy that works
A comprehensive digital strategy gives Idlewood solid footing at the forefront of the marketplace. It also ensures they’re reaching both current and potential customers locally and across the country. That strategy includes working with a third-party digital marketing company to increase their SEO and traffic to their website, the showroom and, eventually, their online store, which is set to launch later this year. Idlewood’s website also features a blog that offers engaging content on various lighting-related topics and yet another reason for customers to visit Idlewood for their lighting needs.
Shop talk: “We are celebrating our milestone 60th anniversary this year. It’s an incredible accomplishment, and we can only thank our fantastic staff and dedicated customers over the years for our continued success. While the lighting landscape continues to evolve, Idlewood is always proactive to the changes both online and in the marketplace so as to continue to expand our business potential.” – Barbara Lansing, CEO and President
Lights Unlimited of Garner, Garner, NC
Lights Unlimited in Garner, NC, isn’t in the business of selling lights. And while customers will likely place an order at some point during their visit — sconces and a bath bar from Visual Comfort or a chandelier from Hubbardton Forge — what the showroom really offers is the experience.
Lights Unlimited is designed to make customers comfortable. The team designed separate meeting spaces around the showroom so clients have more spaces to meet with lighting designers and make decisions without feeling rushed. The showroom also offers free Wi-Fi, snacks, soft drinks, tea and coffee and will even send out for lunch during longer appointments. Music is always playing and there’s always a bowl of candy at the sales counter.
The best selection
If lights are what customers come for, lights are what they get. Lights Unlimited recognizes that their customers want to see as many fixtures as possible, so the showroom focus is on the fixtures themselves rather than elaborate backdrops and detailed vignettes. To keep the showroom feeling open and flowing smoothly, Lights Unlimited hangs its fixtures at varying heights from 9-foot clouds.
Social media savvy
With nearly 10,000 followers on Facebook, Lights Unlimited keeps its social media-hungry customer base engaged by posting about lighting as well as community information and upcoming local events. The showroom builds excitement by reporting on growth in the community and sharing the progress of up-and-coming subdivisions and local business openings. Lights Unlimited also throws in the latest information on in-store promotions and fun engaging extras like local history and trivia.
Shop talk: “The best thing about our showroom is our employees. I bought the business in 2015 because it had been successful for over 30 years prior, and the employees were the biggest part of making that happen. Our customer service would not be accomplished without the entire team from the sales team to the office staff to the delivery team. It takes a village.” – Michele Ball, owner
The Showroom of the Year winners will be announced on June 20, during Lightovation at Dallas Market Center.