It was not long ago that custom integration companies were questioning the need for showrooms, and who could blame them? The number of audiophile clients that need to have stereo demos was dwindling, and big-box stores with rows of big-screen TVs were serving the needs of customers seeking video gear. And let’s face it — demoing a wireless network is about as exciting as watching paint dry.
But the move to lighting fixtures has once again put a charge on the need for a showroom area. The power of showcasing color temperature and dimming quality can certainly be explained, but seeing is believing, as the saying goes. That’s why integrators are creating small, dedicated areas in their showrooms dubbed “lighting labs” to be able to proactively sell lighting fixtures. According to multiple integrators, the results have been positive.
Of course, simply dedicating an area of your showroom for lighting is not the only step that needs to be taken. It’s important to be able to educate the customer, stressing that lighting fixtures are a long-term purchase that will be part of the home for decades or more, so it is vital to “get it right” from the outset.
Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) member Gramophone has showrooms throughout the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area. The company jumped into lighting a few years ago after Tom Doherty, director of new technology initiatives at HTSA, introduced the category to the buying group.
“I was on the fence about investing in a pretty expensive lighting lab as well as releasing the space in our showroom,” recalls Andrew Davis, CEO of Gramophone. “Our team was more interested in selling home theaters and audio, which are still a huge part of our business. But we carved out a pretty small space, and with Tom’s help put in our first lighting lab. The rollercoaster ride has been awesome ever since.”
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Gramophone has multiple showrooms, each about 30 minutes apart, with a unique lighting lab in each location. That differentiation gives the company a reason to bring clients to multiple storefronts so they can get a different experience at each one.
Creating a 30-second Lighting Demo ‘Skit’
“Tom helped us create a ‘skit’ that we take every customer through,” Davis explains. “I can give a four- or five-minute demo on layered lighting, trims, LED and color temperature. Most customers don’t even know why they’re in the space. Often they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s great. I’m not really sure how that relates to me.’”
The “skit” is a layered light demo that starts off by hitting a Lutron control panel to retract a motorized window shade. In the demo, area sits a small dining table with several places setting on it and a lighting fixture in the ceiling above. As soon as the Lutron shade exposes the light fixture, a glaring light hits the client in the face. It is purposefully horrible. The Gramophone salesperson points out that the awful light is likely what the customer can expect to receive from a homebuilder, which is a single light on the ceiling in the center of the room with no automation and no dimmer. Next, the salesperson begins the layered lighting demo by first dimming the ceiling light, and then activating two tiny pinhole lights on the place settings followed by a wall wash arc of light.
“It’s impactful,” says Davis. “The demo takes this horrible space that no one would want in their house and in literally 30 seconds the customer is talking about replicating it in their own home. All of a sudden, you have the customer’s attention. That’s when we discuss color temperature, beam spread, different trims, the health and wellness aspect of lighting, and circadian rhythm. All that comes from a 30-second demo.
“We really don’t pitch a hard close at that time, we just show them how it can impact their furnishings and furniture,” he continues.
“We also own a design-build business, so we do smart home renovations and we can explain, ‘This is how lighting should look in your kitchen, your bathroom, or your basement that we may be building out for you. Frequently, 24 to 48 hours later, a customer will go home and reflect on the demo and we’ll either get a text or an email asking, ‘Can you guys come and do what you did in your showroom in my house? I never realized how poor my light is.’”
“I was concerned we were going to step on the toes of lighting designers, specifiers, others in our market. Actually, we use [our lighting lab] as a way to create and formulate relationships.”
Andrew Davis, Gramophone
From there, Gramophone found itself not only doing full projects but going into existing homes and re-lamping them with new LED fixtures.
“It is very simple, and an easy place to start. We took one of our best automation sales guys, got him up to speed on Ketra, and let him become our brand champion to start selling,” Davis says. “We had him tiptoe in the water and sell a project or two. Soon, all our salespeople were saying, ‘Oh, I want to do that.’”
The results at Gramophone have been dramatic. Davis says the lighting fixture business is now outpacing the company’s control business.
“Our Crestron numbers, our Lutron numbers, they were all great, but they weren’t growing dramatically year over year. The fixture business has now exceeded all of those combined,” he notes. “I don’t have the exact sales numbers today, but they’re tremendous. We started with working with other electricians probably seven-plus years ago, and now we have 15 to 20 in-house electricians if that gives you an idea. It’s pretty incredible.”
Lighting Lab Does Not Need to Be Big or Costly
Ken Irvine, vice president at the Premier Group in Carmel, Ind., took a small section of their showroom and put in a lighting lab with LED, horizontal, vertical, front-back, 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-inch downlights and linear tape lights. The lighting lab is just 28 square feet — a 14-foot long by 2-foot wide standard counter depth.
“It’s not a humongous, large area. It just helps solidify category when you’re talking to your clients,” he comments.
The Premier Group had a local artist come in and build a piece that is a bird’s nest with an egg in it. Initially, the curated artwork is hit with 2,700 Kelvin light, but when the light ramps up to 3,000K, the nest gets muted and the egg pops (not literally).
“It’s a way that you can use lighting color temperature to show the differences of what your artwork will do. Like what Ketra does when you go to their showroom and they walk you through it. They can take that piece of artwork work and make it look many different ways,” describes Irvine.
Mike Teolis, president of Colorbeam, says it does not require a huge investment for integrators to add a lighting lab, but he thinks it is important not only because it will resonate with homeowners, but also with specifiers.
“If you’re going to get serious into the lighting business, then the showroom is necessary. It’s going to drive higher-end sales. In a lot of cases, our key dealers that have invested in showrooms are also driving key relationships with specifiers.
“AV guys are often not relevant to specifiers. We never have been, we are the last guys in. Our key dealers are now driving relationships with specifiers that they never imagined having because of what they’re doing in the lighting category. Not only are they selling direct to homeowners, but they are also driving other key relationships that are now bringing them business. They’re getting it from both sides. It’s been very impactful for those dealers to have showrooms,” says Teolis.
He says showing off the lighting is important because it is by its very nature an “emotional” experience.
“If you’re a salesperson, you want to be able to sell something you can get people excited about and lighting is that. ‘How’s it going to make me feel better? How’s my home going to look better?’ A showroom doesn’t have to be a ton of fixtures. It doesn’t have to be a ton of money. It’s showing someone what better lighting today means and how it’s going to impact them in their home. It doesn’t take $20,000; it’s a small space. It’s a select amount of fixtures. You’re showing tunability, color, a couple of different trims, and the technology behind it. That’s really all you need to show people,” he says.
Davis agrees, noting that Gramophone makes its lighting labs available to architects, designers, and builders.
“One of the hardest things that we face as integrators is getting specifiers into our spaces and being relevant to them. We’ve offered up our lighting labs as an olive branch to these individuals,” he says. “I was concerned we were going to step on the toes of lighting designers, specifiers, others in our market. Actually, we use it as a way to create and formulate relationships. We invite them to utilize our lighting lab and explain to their customers why lighting matters — whether they want to buy anything from us or not. There’s no pricing in there. There are no brands. You can tell a story. Anyone can go in there and utilize it. We’ve used it as a way to get tighter with the community.”
Gramophone also has created 3-minute video clips for its YouTube channel that highlight the excitement of lighting for clients who can’t make it to the showroom.
Incorporating Wellness into Lighting Lab
Azione Unlimited member Kyle Steele of Global Wave Integration in Burbank, Calif., has incorporated some wellness flourishes into the Ketra demo area in his showroom. Using Josh.ai voice control, the demo area can not only reveal hidden speakers but activate color LEDs to outline where the invisible speakers are located.
Steele recommends avoiding the term ‘circadian rhythm’ when discussing the wellness elements of light. “Don’t say that — they don’t know what it is,” he says.
The Ketra demo area includes the tunable lighting as well as biophilic materials like the paint selection and flooring, Steele notes. Global Wave is also working with the International WELL Building Institute, the standard developed by the team behind wellbeing specialist Delos, on certification for its showroom building.
“We’re working with them to get that actual part of the standard, because we have solar and we want to showcase the whole [sustainable] chain where we have solar, battery backup, energy automation tied into our giant Crestron display dashboard of air quality, how we’re managing the power, how we’re off the grid,” Steele explains.
During the demo, Steele recommends avoiding the term “circadian rhythm” when discussing the wellness elements of light.
“Don’t say that — they don’t know what it is,” Steele says.
Converting Existing Spaces
Instead of demolishing an area of his showroom to build a lighting lab, Richard Millson of Millson Home Technologies in Vancouver, Canada, converted a boardroom, the guest washroom, and the foyer into a lighting demo area using some Ketra fixtures.
“Through those different areas, we can show layering and lighting scenes and color temperature,” he says.
“We didn’t have to tear out something and build a true lighting lab from scratch, although that’s highly desirable and I would’ve preferred to do that. We didn’t do that. We just used some existing space we already had and just did the lighting in the space in a much more complete way where we could show different things.”
GHT in Atlanta has a 20,000-square-foot facility in which it got rid of a few audio rooms to make space for a lighting lab. According to Eric Joy, chief experience officer, GHT themed the area completely around hidden technology.
The lighting is accompanied by small-aperture James Loudspeaker speakers, invisible speakers from Sonance, motorized Lutron Palladiom shades, See-Less fixtures, and a Future Automation lift that conceals a Sony TV.
“So it’s not just about the lighting,” he says. “Even our team members that aren’t lighting enthusiasts yet are comfortable coming into that space now.”
Does Your Company Name Need to Say ‘Lighting’?
As lighting becomes more prevalent among custom integrators, will they possibly be limited in their ability to sell it because their company name still says “audio/video”?
It’s a similar dilemma that AV integrators likely confronted years ago when they began branching into surveillance cameras. Why do I want the “AV guy” doing my security, or my lighting?
By coincidence, several of the integration companies having success in lighting do not have “audio” or “video” in their company names. It’s a question that Andrew Davis, CEO of Gramophone, has already addressed.
“We’ve started to market ‘Lighting Lab by Gramophone,’” he says.
“I think that you just need to get very creative with your marketing team. I don’t think you have to change who you are or the DNA of the company, but I think you need to get creative in explaining why you are the lighting specialists. Just like anything new that comes out in our world that we embrace. We don’t go running and change the name of our organization. We change the way we demo. We get excited about it. We market it may be a little bit differently.”
Eric Joy of GHT says the evolution of the industry is what led the company to rebrand as GHT versus its long-time name of Georgia Home Theater.
“One of the things that really got us thinking about making that identity change was we would go to a client’s home to do a nice home theater system and we’re seeing all of the great technology in the rest of the house. When we would ask, ‘Who did all of this stuff for you?’ the clients would tell us, ‘We thought you just did media rooms and home theater systems.’”
The GHT brand name allows the acronym to continue to stand for Georgia Home Theater, or Georgia Home Technology. When the company expanded to the Florida Gulf Coast, the GHT acronym could stand for Gulf Home Technology.
“We’re going to be the GHT Group and GHT will stand for whatever we want it to be,” Joy concludes.