By Andrea Lillo
Seeing is believing at Ferguson’s North Charleston, S.C., location.
The company’s newly renovated, 8,500 square-foot showroom for lighting, appliances and plumbing features an open interior space with real-life vignettes including a working shower and kitchen. And there are more opportunities to show lighting applications such as under-counter, recessed, switches and more.
But the biggest highlight is tucked in a conference room and has become “the best selling tool I’ve had since I’ve gotten to Ferguson,” said Heather Thomas, lighting manager for this location: a lighting lab, where people could see first hand the differences between such light sources as incandescent, CFL and LED.
While Ferguson, with 1,300 locations in the U.S., is known for plumbing, the company has stepped up its lighting offerings over the past decade, even more so over the past two years, said Thomas. The company has even added more than 30 lighting experts in showrooms nationwide, said Sam Rose, manager of showrooms.
Thomas estimated the lighting category to be about a third of its business. The bulk of Ferguson’s customers are designers, architects and builders.
“Lighting is very important to Ferguson because of the growth potential we have as an organization with the category,” Rose said. “Lighting is a natural extension with our existing customer base today … They are looking for solutions to the wide variety of choices they have with plumbing, lighting and appliances.”
The idea for the lab started when the LED technology began to hit the residential market three to four years ago, Thomas said. Ferguson “embraced the LED movement,” and Thomas fashioned a small, makeshift lighting lab in its conference room to highlight the differences between various light sources. And when the renovation was in motion, so was the move to create a larger, more polished lighting lab, a collaboration between Thomas, general manager Mark Condon and the builder.
The result seems like a simple idea—10 shadow boxes on the wall, each with a different light source, along with coordinating ceiling recessed cans.
“A lot of people I meet with are aware of LED or CFL, but they have never compared it side by side or in application,” Thomas said. “Using the room allows me to help the customer understand, but most importantly see, the differences in the light.”
Customers can schedule to see the lab presentation, which can run from 15 minutes to an hour. In the darkened room, the consultant will start off the discussion with light sources people are familiar with, turning on the light boxes one at a time, and talking about their advantages and disadvantages.
With the shadow boxes, Thomas can talk to the customer about the color of light and color rendering, while the recessed ceiling sources allows her to discuss lumen output and light distribution (beam spread), she said. While she’s been told that customers are not concerned about the color rendering index (CRI), “I think it’s the most important thing” to look for in a light source, she said. “LEDs can range in consistency—that’s where CRI comes into play.”
And lighting overall can be so subjective. “Seeing lighting is one of the most personal things,” Thomas said. Someone may want more light because they can’t see as well, for example, she said. And she’s found that some parts of the country, such as Florida and California, like cooler lighting temperatures, while others such as the South want warmer ones. What colors the consumer already has in her home are another issue. “It’s a huge consideration when you’re picking out your lighting for the home.”
The changing marketplace is already confusing for so many consumers as incandescent bulbs are phasing out of the marketplace and residential building energy codes are requiring light sources to be high efficacy. “This is an education you have to give the customer,” she said. “Customers now have to make this [lighting source] decision and we try to help them.” Following the lighting lab’s success, the concept will migrate to other Ferguson locations, she said, probably sooner rather than later.
The lighting education at Ferguson is not only about light sources, however. It also focuses on the latest in design.
Customers see the newest styles as soon as they walk into the store. Near the entrance, two Swarovski chandeliers are placed over bathtubs—Ferguson is the exclusive Swarovski dealer for South Carolina—and to the right, Thomas has concentrated trendy chandeliers in a row running along the front window. The current group consists of orb chandeliers, as they “are hot right now,” she said, and includes chandeliers from ELK, Troy, Metropolitan, Eurofase and Varaluz. She plans on swapping this area out every six to 12 months to reflect new trends.
Pendants are brought together in two areas, the first—showing blown glass pendants, including ones from LBL and Tech Lighting—in a special display at the front corner of the store.
“It’s one of the first areas where we are focusing on color,” Thomas said. Blown glass pendants “are coming back around,” but while they used to be mini pendants, the current cycle shows that “now people are getting into the larger stuff.” Ferguson does offer a few table lamps, and several are found in this area.
The heart of the lighting selection is in the back of the store in the lighting gallery. Here, Thomas has placed another trendy, designer-friendly group of chandeliers, with about 25 fixtures on the ceiling, including ones from Currey & Company, Corbett Lighting, Hudson Valley Lighting and others.
“We’re trying to grab you a little bit,” she said. The current selection includes polished nickel, crystal and wood textures.
Two other kitchen vignettes are also found in the back area. One hosts the second group of pendants, which focuses on metal and glass selections from such manufacturers as Hudson, ELK, Hinkley, Feiss, Troy Lighting and Kichler. “We wanted to show the mixed styles of the fixtures,” Thomas said. The other is a more modern-looking kitchen with Tech Lighting fixtures, a look that she thought would be too contemporary for Charleston, but people gravitate to it, she said. “I thought Charleston would be more traditional.”
The main chandelier section in the back is divided among traditional/transitional and modern styles, crystal fixtures and larger styles for foyers. One company that “speaks to the customer” is Hudson, she said, whether the style is modern or classy traditional. Capital Lighting is another manufacturer that “listens to customers,” she said. “They’ve stepped up” and now offer more finishes. And the whole Minka line “gives you a little of everything.”
A selection of exterior fixtures is on a wall near the front of the gallery, and includes product from Northeast Lantern, Legendary Lighting and Winterhouse, as well as ceramic options from Justice Design. Troy Lighting also has its own freestanding fixture here. Thomas notices that customers are becoming more interested in U.S.-made products, which includes such manufacturers as Troy, Northeast Lantern and Winterhouse. “People take that into consideration now.”
Another big chunk of business for Ferguson here are ceiling fans, and they’re grouped by manufacturer with another area for exterior options.
Though custom work is not big for the company, there is an area for it in case the client wants it, and fixtures from Hubbardton Forge and Justice Design are included here. “We do have customers who want an item to be special,” she said.
The renovation also will make Ferguson more of a community partner, with such events as cooking demonstrations, architecture and lighting events, and more.