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Susan Dickenson

The right planning, pricing, product knowledge and presentation can lead to more lighting sales

Denis CaldoraDenis Caldora with Erin Schwartz during a visit in March 2010 to Dominion Electric Supply (Arlington, Va.). Photo by Catherine Schlawin.
DENIS CALDORA, owner of Floridabased Caldora Lighting Design, is a showroom designer/merchandiser who has spent 30 years helping lighting retailers show and sell their products. At September's annual American Lighting Association Conference, Caldora presented a seminar on the subject, reminding the audience, "Lighting is the most important part of interior design, because without lighting you can't see a damn thing."

He spent the next two hours sharing tips on the purchasing, merchandising and selling of lamps and lighting, emphasizing several points - the importance of shopping with a plan, how pricing and showroom presentation can lead to more sales, and how to add value with accessories.

"Just as home furnishings showrooms and design centers have added lamps and lighting to their inventory, lighting showrooms should diversify with accessories," he said, citing the example of century-old Union Lighting of Toronto, which began expanding into home furnishings and decorative accessories a decade ago. "My goodness, that showroom is incredible! I love every one of my lighting manufacturers, but we cannot live on lighting alone," he said.

When buying at the market, Caldora says it's important to use visuals and a showroom grid, divided into product stories, families and departments. "Before you go to Dallas, take photos of those grids - your displays, walls, the entire showroom - and bring them along with your inventory list. Cross-reference with numbers. It will keep you from buying too much of one style or a look that you already have. You'll know what you need and where you have room for impulse buys."

The system will also help when buying accessories, he advised. "Accessories have to go with something. Put product together in families. Tell a story. Contrast different styles and colors."

When it comes to pricing, Caldora adheres to three price points, his "20-60-20" rule. "The cost-of-home average for your market is your 60%," he said. "If the homes in your area average a million dollars, an average fixture for your showroom would be priced between $1,000 and $3,000, and that price point would make up 60% of your inventory. The next 20% would be the step-up higher, and I do 20% in what would be considered low for my area.

"A customer comes in and sees two similar lamps, one for $300 and one for $800. Show them the difference - ‘This is a casting, this is done in brass, the other isn't. Look at the shade, feel the shade. Feel the liner. This shade alone is probably worth $525.' You have to educate the customer. And you need the three price points in your showroom in every commodity that you sell."

Caldora said he physically displays the lower-end products up high because the customer doesn't need to touch them. "The average price point is in the middle, and then on the sides we've got the ‘va-va-va-voom.' When they come in looking for the lower-priced one, I've got it. When they come in looking for the best, I have it. But I can also use the inexpensive one and say ‘Here, look at the difference between this and this.'"

If it doesn't move, mark it down, but not with "Sale" tags which, Caldora said, gives the message "I'm on sale, I must stink." Instead, mark it as a "Special Value" and tell them, "Oh, you'll see it higher elsewhere, but we knew it was a special product so we brought a lot in."

He also had advice for dealing with home builders. "You have to offer a good price, a great look, uniqueness and value. Be competitive, but don't give it away. If you're going to do a builder step-up package, do it in little steps, $200 increments. And before they come in, you should be looking at furniture trends and at the kind of houses being built."

To be competitive, salespeople need to be knowledgeable - about new technology, new products and interior design. "Anyone can sell a light fixture," Caldora said. "You want to make your business different? Sell them an environment. Show them how you can give their home a layered look in lighting. Everyone in your showroom should know about the newest technologies, LED, how to do recessed lighting, for example, so they can say, ‘I can give you three types of lights in your dining room - chandelier, hostess light and four recessed to light up the room.'"

He suggests having salespeople make their own design "idea books" to reference with customers. "We have to arm our salespeople like interior designers," he said. "Introduce them to furniture, interiors, make sure they understand the different styles. A lot of times they don't. I have an idea book of kitchens, with different paints, granite counter tops, wood finishes."

Caldora also shared some display suggestions:

On visual organization - "I travel around the country and the visuals I see in lighting showrooms are pretty sad. Company's coming over. We want to make the house look good. Organize the showroom. Look at your inventory. Make a family out of chandeliers using a common denominator, dark and florals, dark and the beiges, put a crystal family together. Think Ikea. They don't present pieces; they present collections - a room-by-room lifestyle visual experience."

On bringing in new product - "Mix in the new with the old so the salespeople see everything new again for the first time. Everybody likes selling new stuff. It's the salespeople that create the excitement for the customer. And salespeople sell what they like. Get them involved ... make them part of it."

On differentiating - "Do anything to make your product look different from the competition. When you walk out of this room, look at the chandeliers that hang throughout this hotel. Everything has covers over it. A lot today come with the shade. If they don't, then enhance, embellish ... with a chain cover, medallion (the piece that separates the fixture from the ceiling), specialty bulbs. Make little adjustments, tweaks, that special thing that makes it different.

"These are a few of the bells and whistles that make us stand out from the store they just left. Give them the things they can't get from big-box stores. We must separate ourselves from the competition not only with presentation, but also with customer service and product knowledge. We're in the people business."

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