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Lamp vendors encourage retailers to get in the lighting game

Lamps by Midwest-CBKLamps by Midwest-CBK
WHILE MOST FURNITURE and home accent stores are selling lamps, not all are doing it effectively or maximizing the opportunity that such a must-have product provides.

Rick Spicer, VP of sales and marketing for Pacific Coast Lighting, offered advice to retailers who are not maximizing their lamp sales, or to ones who are not in the lamps business but know they should be.

"My recommendation is to really understand your consumer's price point and make sure to have enough product to hit that," he said. "And, you need to give them the opportunity to step up. I've seen so many customers that have returned to an opening price point strategy, and they are leaving money on the table."

Also, he advised to be choosy and narrow with your vendor selection.

"If you think you need six vendors, try four first, then see if you really need the other two," he said. "Start with less - after all, less is more today, and you don't need to carry super-deep inventory."

After all, Spicer said, lamps are something that every home needs.

"The retailer in home furnishings that is not committed to lamps is missing an opportunity," he said. "If I only had X amount of dollars to spend, there's no way I'd buy other categories over lighting. After all, when are you home? At night. When it's dark. It's a easy go-with category."

Sean McFadden, VP of sales and marketing for Interlude Home, agreed that it's an important category for retailers, and because of that, Interlude got back into the lamps business over the past year.

"Lighting is a must-have element," he said. "It's a fundamental building block."

Interlude offers "designer lighting at an approachable price point," he said, with an emphasis on mixed materials and the design style that the company is known for. But, he acknowledged that previous lamp collections did not succeed because they did not follow the "conventions" of portable lighting. "Overscale did not work, for example," he said. "We had to go back and really understand the conventions and dimensions that would make us successful."

At Currey & Company, known for its lamps and lighting offerings, portable lamps account for about 25% of the overall business, according to newly named President Brownlee Currey. It is also a growth category, with lamp sales for 2010 tracking 25% higher than in 2009, and 2011 looks promising.

"The category will continue to grow in terms of total sales at an aggressive pace," Currey said.

Midwest-CBK also garners about 25% of its sales from lamps, according to President Rick Contino, who is projecting double-digit growth for the category in 2011.

In terms of style, Currey said natural materials including driftwood, recycled timber and soft gray finishes are working right now.

"More interestingly, we find that our customers are very willing to be adventurous when it comes to scale and materials," he said. "This gives us an opportunity to make different pieces, made from really distinctive materials, such as capiz shell, hand-antiqued mirror and polished concrete, in a variety of sizes, from quite small to downright gargantuan. Forty-eight inches high is a big lamp."

At Midwest-CBK, the key is a lot of "look," according to Molly Kinney, home decor and outdoor living director. "From leopard print to classic bird icons to ‘bling' chandeliers - stand-out statements are key."

And while pricing has become even more important due to the economic circumstances, trend is also returning to importance for consumers. "We continue to have a response to three areas of lamps: Universal styles that work with a wide variety of homes and are well-priced; value price-points; and trend statements in lighting. It's no longer all about price alone - consumers are hungry for personality."

Pricing can be especially difficult in this era of sharp freight increases labor shortages and other external factors.

"We are touched by all of the external factors that affect our industry: Ocean carrier price increases, currency valuation changes, commodities prices increases and labor cost increases," Currey said. "But at least the playing field is level in this regard, everyone in the industry is affected in the same ways. In this sense, I feel there is little to really complain about."

But California's Title 20 regulations are also dramatically impacting the lamp business. Title 20 requires, among other things, that all lamps sold in the state be packaged with a compact fluorescent light bulb inside.

"Title 20 is changing the way we do business more than any other factor in the lighting category," Contino said. "This mandate has affected how we do product development, stock inventory and even take orders."

Overall, the mood among retailers and vendors is improving, and there are reasons for optimism.

"Our customers are feeling that the worst is behind them, and many of the retailers have put together a string of good months. They are more optimistic, and certainly a little more ready to purchase," Currey said. "I find it inspiring to see all of the new small businesses who are opening their doors and making a go of things. I have seen and met with more exciting new retailers and old ones with new ideas in the last six months than in the prior three years."

For Midwest-CBK, a strong end to 2010 bodes well. "Our customers are very focused and careful, but they are positive and are looking to us to keep the market fresh and product innovative," Contino said. "We are very pleased with our year-end/Christmas numbers and see more stability and regular ordering patterns among our buyer accounts. Our appointment schedule is stronger vs. past markets and, most of all, our product line is the best it's ever been."

Spicer said he looks forward to a year with improved results.

"Last year finished up, and 2011 has a feeling that things are going to improve," he said. "It will be a growth year as unemployment starts to go down. The people who are sitting on piles of cash will feel more confident to spend it again. The consumer is going to feel better. I don't think people are going to be doing a ton of moving, so it makes sense that people will begin to redecorate."

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