CRAIG BARRE: RETAIL LIGHTING LEGEND
LEGEND Retailer: Craig Barre Arrow Lighting
May 2, 2017
Legends Leaders Luminaries
How did you get your start in the industry?
At age 14, I asked the owner of Arrow Lamp and Lighting in Larchmont, NY, for a job sweeping the floor and cleaning the chandeliers. That was back in 1969 and I continued working there through high school. When I was in my junior year at New York University, the owner, Charlie Ackerman, wanted to retire. I recruited my brother-in-law, borrowed money from my parents, dropped out of college, and bought the store in 1979.
Arrow Lighting is a very small retail store in a small village in a suburb of Manhattan. I know my customers by name, and they all know me. We've built and strengthened our relationships over the years in spite of technological advances.
What have been the biggest changes you've seen?
The lighting business has changed very quickly environmentally, in style, in technology, and in distribution. Environmentally, LED has been a huge advancement that has enabled lighting designs to look entirely different. Lighting has become fresh-looking and exciting, and LED technology is changing rapidly.
I think computer technology has forever changed the way we conduct business with customers, and crossing over to Apple technology was pivotal. Also, the distribution of lighting is conducted much more through the trade (designer and architects) than before. We have had to adjust to many changes quickly, and in fact business overall has been changing faster than in any other time previously.
What has been the key to your success?
In the mid-1980s, I went to Italy to learn lighting design and manufacturing from the Ricroza foundry in Milan. I also spent time in the quarries of Spain. As a result, I was able to differentiate my store by making my own products with Italian brass as well as Spanish and French glass and alabaster. Since the products were made in-house, margins were good and that helped sustain my business for many years.
Everyone barely got by after the housing crash of 2008 and many small stores went out of business. By offering lighting repairs, replacement shades, and through our own creativity, Arrow Lighting managed to stay afloat but I realized it was time to sink or swim. I chose to make an investment in my business by investing capital and hard labor in updating the store. I recruited my wife, Maureen, and our children to paint, lay a floor, update technology, update our Web site, and begin social marketing.
I am fortunate that several manufacturers got behind us and helped with getting new product and displays to make our store look great. Now Arrow Lighting is a terrific showroom with state-of-the-art technology. In addition to our Main Street business, there is now substantially more business done with the trade than ever before. With the recent technology updates, we're able to easily handle the increased demand. One of the keys to our success has been the ability to absorb the changes going on and react quickly.
Our business relationships with manufacturers and sales representatives are more of a partnership than ever before.
To be able to stay in business in a small town in today's current retail environment is a testament to our showroom's tenacity, creativity, partnerships, and our love of the business. Arrow Lighting is still a relationship-based business even though everyone price shops on Amazon. The challenge is to have the right products - be extremely knowledgeable about them - and have them priced to compete with the Internet. We offer old-time, local friendly service with up-to-date products, thinking, and technology. It's hard to believe that I've been working in this industry since 1969 - that's 48 years of retail lighting! - and the experience has just been amazing.