To see the rest of the finalists:
Georgia Lighting, Sugar Hill, GA
What do you do when a pandemic hits and the equity company running the lighting showroom you’ve worked at for much of your career decides to shutter the business? You reopen it as your own, or at least that’s what Frank Therrien did in late 2020, when the company at the helm of Colonial Lighting decided to close the Sugar Hill, GA, location. That location is now Georgia Lighting, and Therrien is its owner.
“This was as close to a fresh start-up as it comes nowadays,” he says. “We started a new brick-and-mortar experience during a pandemic.”
Having been in lighting retail for 20 years (at that same location), Therrien knew something about creating a showroom that would appeal to customers. Armed with a business loan and an aggressive offer, he opened in November 2020.
Before reopening the showroom, he says, “we ripped the place apart.” Then, he put it back together. Therrien assessed the inventory he had gotten when he took on the project, donated much of it and kept what he knew he would be able to sell. Afterward, he rebuilt his merchandising and assortment “from the ground up,” he says. “After 20 years in this business at this location, I had never experienced so much adulation from builders and customers.”
As he built his new business, he maintained a good relationship with Colonial, making every effort not to disrupt the business they have. He got permission from the owners of a previous “Georgia Lighting” that had closed, to use the name. And then he set about merchandising the retail floor with a mix of established and bespoke lighting brands, decor and furniture, creating a one-stop shopping experience that caters to designers and retail customers as well as the builders that have been the bread and butter of the startup.
Therrien has worked on establishing his brick-and-mortar presence before selling online, but that’s in the works based on how people shop today. He also added an 82-inch television so customers can browse more than 1,000 additional products on the Lights America page. “People shop on their phones and tablets,” Therrien says. “We can show them product at a much higher resolution. We’re bringing the digital experience into a brick-and-mortar setting.” Therrien has seen significant growth in the short time he’s been in business.
While he didn’t pilfer employees from CR Lighting, he did hold on to one employee who wanted to stay. Jim Doherty, now 83, had worked at the Sugar Hill location and wanted to continue on. “I worked with him throughout my time at Colonial Lighting. He is one of the best people I know. He joined me back here in 2021, doing special projects. As long as he wants a place here, he’s got it. If part of this business can be to make something like that happen, it’s very rewarding.”
Guildwood Lighting & Fireside, London, ON, CA
Since its inception in 1976, Guildwood Lighting & Fireside has been a go-to resource for all things lighting-related. Customer service is job one for this retail showroom and the staff devotes extra resources to educating its customers and ensuring they have all of the tools they need to choose the correct lighting for their needs. More importantly, Guildford understands its customer base.
“We’ve spent a great deal of time when people email or call in, so customers having a new house built understand what they need from a lighting perspective,” says Joel Dodd, Guildwood’s Owner. “From color temperatures and control systems to ceiling heights and the decorative aspect of it, customers don’t always know where to start. We spend a lot of time educating.”
This year, Guildwood, which has seen generations of families come through its doors, has taken that education even further, and has established itself on digital platforms for customers who begin the shopping process there. “We have a multi-faceted digital strategy with a dedicated manager on staff,” Dodd says. “Clients can visit our website and view all of our products, including ones not necessarily on display in our showroom. They can produce a Wishlist and submit this to one of our lighting consultants, who will review and work with the client to ensure satisfaction. We are active and engaged on Facebook, Instagram and Google. We realized it’s necessary to connect with our younger clients.”
Dodd continues that the company has also seen revenue increase because of its digital efforts, not to mention it kept the lighting retailer in front of customers when the doors were closed during the pandemic.
From a diversification of how it reaches its customers to an updated merchandising mix, Dodd says Guildwood is keeping its product selection fresh based on the needs of its customers, which includes more and more designers. “We have art, accent tables, upholstered furniture and even kitchen tables,” says Dodd. “They sell.” He adds that the merchandise mix is working well. Guildwood is seeing growth year over year.
While a constantly evolving merchandise mix can spur growth, Dodd continues, it’s the attention the company lavishes on its customers that really makes this retail showroom stand out. “We pride ourselves in treating our customers how we would want to be treated ourselves,” he says. “Our clients are truly a part of our family.”
Lightstyles, Cornelius, NC
Returning from Showroom of the Year winner status in 2021, Lightstyles, in Cornelius, NC, continues to elevate its business, this year launching an exclusive private label lighting collection, Bella Luce. In addition to its Showroom of the Year win, Lightstyles also received accolades from its community, as the best lighting store in the Lake Norman, NC, area.
Like so many other lighting retailers, Lightstyles continues to expand its assortment of furniture and decor, merchandising the showroom in a curated way to allow its customers to envision the possibilities in their own spaces. “We have had such great feedback from our customers about all the positive changes,” says Showroom Manager Dianna Novick. In addition to redefining Lightstyles’ merchandising, the influx of new products has allowed the retailer to mitigate some supply chain issues. “We have people who will stop in weekly to see what’s new and on the walls,” Novick continues, noting that the expansion of categories gives customers reasons to come back in on a regular basis. “We are always looking for new ways to expand and grow with new merchandise,” she says. “The rearranging helps customers who come in often see things in a new light. It really makes a difference. The showroom really does change every day.”
The accolades Lightstyles garnered in 2021 has not motivated the showroom to rest on its laurels. Quite the opposite. It has energized efforts around making the customer experience even better. Lightstyles’ efforts to satisfy its customers — whether retail, designers or builders — goes beyond having the right assortment. Every member of the Lightstyles team is an American Lighting Association-certified specialist, and they continue to hone their sales experience with the help with a special focus on building relationships.
“We have a passion for lighting and work every day to set ourselves apart by providing top-notch customer service, always maintaining a positive attitude, and to continually reach for excellence,” Novick says. That proof is in the results. The changes this company is instituting are working for them beyond recognition and awards. Lightstyles saw its sales increase 22 percent in 2021.
One Source Lighting, Billings MT
Fresh out of college, Laurie Patterson, owner of One Source Lighting, had plans to become a sports journalist. That is until a local lighting retailer offered her more money to come work in his warehouse. From there, she began working in the showroom, and then he asked her if he were to open a lighting showroom in Billings, would she run it. “Three months later, we opened One Source Lighting. A few years later, I bought him out. That was 19 years ago,” Patterson says.
Since then, she is the only woman-owned lighting showroom in her area, with a staff of three. Owning the store has had its challenges, Patterson says. She started in a medium space, moved to a much larger space and then decided smaller was better, and ended up in her current showroom, which is just over 2,000 square feet (with additional space for storage). In her current location, she’s seen sales continue to scale. “It’s a comfortable, warm environment,” she says, noting that the smaller space makes it difficult to shop without someone helping you. “That has allowed us to engage in conversations and build relationships with customers who have become friends and come back again and again.”
One Source Lighting caters to a town of about 100,000 but has become a destination for builders, designers and consumers focused on new home construction from eastern Montana and Wyoming as well. As a result, the store saw record sales in 2021 and is on track to break those records in 2022.
While full lighting collections are not on display — they often showcase one piece — the knowledgeable staff, Patterson included, is always available to help. In addition, the showroom carries a mix of lighting and home decor to give customers reasons to return.
As an integral part of a bustling small downtown, Patterson says, One Source has a strong community connection. “People in our area are trying to attract new business.” To beautify the downtown area, One Source Lighting led the way with the “Lights Over Broadway” initiative, stringing lights across a block on the town’s main street. “The mayor of Billings said let’s keep it going and wrote a check for the next two blocks,” she notes. “I grew up in Billings so I feel a responsibility to give back whenever I can.”
While community is integral to her business, connecting with her clients is her passion. “We work hard to provide a positive, energetic and educational experience,” she says. “We are a small boutique lighting showroom with the power and presence of a large corporation.” Patterson is often asked if she wants to expand into building categories such as flooring, and her answer is no. “Lighting is what we do, what we know, and who we are. We stay focused on being the best.”
Tidewater Lighting & Design, Madison, CT
The town of Madison, CT, is a close-knit community, says Carla Snowdon, the Owner of Tidewater Lighting & Design, the lighting showroom she opened in that coastal community in 2021.
While Tidewater isn’t Snowdon’s first go at lighting retail — she owned a lighting showroom in the ‘90s and spent over a decade in lighting retail when she moved to Connecticut — it was what she wanted to do.
Having an extensive background has helped Snowdon to set up her shop in the right way to provide the best experience for customers looking for lighting for their homes. She’s also pulled in the coastal vibe that thrives in her picturesque seaside community set on the Long Island Sound.
Tidewater is merchandised in vignettes that Snowdon refers to as “clouds.” “Fixtures are at eye level and not mounted extremely high nor in rows,” she says. “We incorporate accessories and furniture under each cloud, tying in the fixtures design and finish found above. The whole feel of the showroom gives you a sense of finish options available and style options as well.”
Snowdon has also utilized decorative elements that tie her store to the coast, such as antique doors from homes that were being taken down, and a large checkout counter that has been painted in the colors of the coast complete with sand and a resin finish. “It looks like a tide and tidewater with the beach sand, and it’s the talk of the town,” she notes. She adds that she keeps her selection curated but has catalogs on hand if customers need to see additional options.
While a merchandising aesthetic is important for getting customers into the showroom, more important, says Snowdon, is the attention they get when they’re there. “We need to train our customers before we sell our customers,” she says. With so many nuances and changes in technology, Snowdon makes the extra effort to educate her customers. “We’ll show them how different LED colors and temperatures will affect blue, yellow or white,” she says, adding that she’ll also ask for blueprints so she can ensure the spacing for lighting is correct and her customers understand how far a fixture’s light will cover. “You end up with a much better relationship with a customer when you want to teach them and help them, and not just sell them,” she says.
Snowdon has honed her lighting expertise and enjoys sharing it. Her confidence in what she offers has helped the business to grow to a point where she knows she will have to add staff in the near future. For now, she’s content with her nautically themed lighting retail showroom as an anchor in this “Hallmark” town where she has the opportunity to make people’s spaces brighter with the right lights.