We are #2!!

Remember those great "we try harder" ads by Avis? There was something about those we could all relate to, I think, because we have all been #2 or #3 for most things in life. When I run marathons, I am happy to finish in the top 100, and I run very small marathons. Anyway, we are truly honored to be the second-best small business in Cabarrus County. I really mean that! The Cabbarus Chamber of Commerce is a great group of people who really have the best interests of the local businesses in mind. They are committed to measured and balanced growth, and sincere in their support of the local business scene.  They have local job postings, weekly meetings, ribbon-cuttings, and much more. So, when we were nominated for "Small Business of the Year", it really was an honor. We went through a long application process and went to the awards ceremony, and met lots of other great local businesses. Our hats off to the winner, Southgate Masonry. I pass them every day on the way to our showroom. It looks like a great business doing well in tough times. Anyway, hope springs eternal and we will certainly try harder next year. Meanwhile, we shall bask in the glow of being #2.

A Great Article on "Returns"

January is generally a good month for us in the furniture and lighting industry. However, as we also sell a good amount of product during December (more "gifty" type items), we can also expect some returns in January.

Its always a quandry, because nobody likes returns, but then again, how you handle them is a true reflection of your company. I thought this article that appeared in Multi-Channel Merchant by Kevin Brown really captured the essence of how we, as retailers deeply involved in Customer Service, can make this challenge a moment to shine.  I have just recopied a snippet below, but click here to read the whole article.

Kevin Brown is director of marketing for Newgistics, a provider of small parcel shipping and mail processing solutions for the retail, mobile devices, electronics, medical devices and asset recovery industries

The 40 Days of Returns
Jan 20, 2009 6:29 PM, By Kevin Brown

It’s early. The doors roll open and stop, sending a crash calling out to everyone in the distribution center that the day has begun. As the crisp morning air rushes into the shipping and receiving area, packages move at a fevered pace. A quick glance at the calendar shows it is the 21st, just a few more days until peak season is over.

But it’s not Dec. 21st; it’s Jan. 21st and your company is buried in returns and exchanges from 2008’s holiday shopping season.

For many retailers, this is an unfortunate reality. While returns are a natural part of the order lifecycle, it is oftentimes one of the most overlooked areas in the supply chain. Problems commonly occur because many retailers have not seriously evaluated their return policies and processes, or they falsely hold on to the hope that the issues will simply go away by waiting long enough.

The fact remains that a poorly executed returns program is difficult to manage, leading to increased call center costs, labor and real estate planning problems and inventory management issues. All of which creates a customer service nightmare.

Yet, as the peak returns season winds down, you have a unique window of opportunity to learn from and address these issues before the next holiday shopping season.

In today’s difficult economic environment, customers choose carefully where to spend their discretionary dollars. The most successful retailers are not only presenting their merchandise in a manner that will entice customers to buy, but are also focused on delivering a premium customer experience from start to finish. How a merchant chooses to manage that customer after the sale can have long-term effects on its business.

Customers return merchandise because one or more aspects of the order experience did not meet their expectations. A retailer’s failure to manage this critical area of the shopping experience may result in the customer’s decision to not purchase from it again. In short, returns are not just boxes, they are customers.

We are the Long Tail

What on Earth is the "Long Tail", you may rightly ask? Well, it means a few things to those who work in internet technologies...it could be a very long keyword search you put into Google, if you are searching for a particular product. Or it could mean, quite literally, the tail of your mouse that you move around to navigate the internet (See "Word of Mouse" on Wikipedia). In most instances, though, the Long Tail refers to the long reach of internet markets and the technology and advertising platforms that allow customers to connect with sellers like Carolina Rustica.

We were recently asked to do a short video for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) that represents many of our advertiser and technology providers. They are, quite rightly, lobbying to make sure the internet stays FREE. That is a very very important thing. If the cable or telephone companies had their way, there would be a free (i.e. slow, spammy, and fairly uninteresting) internet, and a higher-speed, "paid" internet that we could access. Two internets? Impossible and totally impractical, not to mention a good way to kill innovation, interactivity, social networking, and everything that makes the internet fun.

So here is our video in support of IAB. Its an overview of Carolina Rustica, but really its about how we are part of a larger industry that helps employ people and drive the engine of commerce. Enjoy!

Lighting and Furniture Markets

I could write several posts on the numerous furniture and lighting wholesale markets that are the mainstay of our industry.   These markets are huge gatherings of manufacturers, dealers, manufacturer representatives, and buyers.  The true objective of these shows is to generate orders, or at least the interest, of the buyers who are spending money. Carolina Rustica goes as a buyer.  These shows are sometimes in a single huge venue, like the Dallas Market which is primarily for lighting, or they are spread out over miles and miles of showrooms, like our own venerable and economically-challenged High Point Market

However they are organized, they truly are incredibly impressive affairs.  The showrooms are full of wonderful merchandise (I want it ALL) and you can feel the buzz of excitement....new products, new showrooms, and the pleasure of meeting industry friends that you have known for years.  They are social gatherings as well, with far too many tempting lunches and happy hours.  I usually avoid the latter, having learned my lesson early on.   A few drinks and your budget is the first thing to go out the window.

I only go to a few markets a year, Carolina Rustica being a smaller company and very close to the furniture industry in High Point.   They are exhausting affairs, mostly for the reps, but when I go to market its usually 2-3 days of straight walking, few breaks, and lots of conversation.   You can accomplish a lot, get the latest industry gossip, and most importantly, get an idea of how you are doing relative to everyone else.  These days, there is a lot of commiserating at markets.

I'll be going to the Dallas Lighting Market this weekend and I'm really looking forward to it.  Its about 6 floors of lighting showrooms all next to each other, so you can get a real good idea of the industry trends (especially important in lighting) and the general outlook on the future by watching other buyers.  Economists should just go to markets instead of crunching numbers, I tell you.  There is no better indicator of where the economy is than retail sales (IMO) and retailers have a very good knack for gauging the level of business based on instinct.  We have to be..otherwise we would very quickly be out of business!

Lighting Definitions, Tips & Trends

Today's post is a little bit of a shortcut, since I have taken most of this information from our own website. However, it may be helpful to folks who are looking for lighting but may not know all the industry-specific terminology. Lighting, like any other profession, has an infinite number of definitions, acronyms, and descriptive phrases. So here is a quick list of some handy-dandy lighting terms, and when you call us, you will sound like an expert!

Farther down this post you'll find a few light bulb bullet points on lighting ideas and design tips. Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but its good to have a few quick ideas if you are just getting started.

As always, you can call Carolina Rustica at 800-205-7819 if you have any questions at all. Whether you order from us or not, we want you to be happy with your lighting, which makes a big impression on visitors and guests to your happy home!

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Accent Lamp: Portable lamp that usually has a shade from 9" to 14" wide and height no taller than 24".

Adjustable Lamp: Portable lamp that has an adjustable height or width or shade position.

Bankers Lamp: Portable desk lamp with an oblong shade that is usually adjustable.

Base: Stabilizing body of a lamp constructed from various materials such as metal, brass, porcelain, resin or wood.

Beveled Glass: Clear glass, with edges that have been ground and polished to an angle other than 90 degrees.

Billiard or Oblong Pendant: Rectangular or oval shaped shade that is typically suited for suspension over a billiard table, kitchen island or counter.

Bridge Arm Lamp: Table or floor lamp with an arm supporting a single shade.
Buffet Lamp: Portable lamp, usually tall and slender and suitable for use on a buffet, with height generally no taller that 36".
Canopy: The part of a fixture that mounts to the ceiling or wall and covers the junction box to which the fixture attaches.

Cathedral Glass: Transparent single color sheet glass, with smooth or textured surfaces.

Chandelier: Surface mounted ceiling fixture with lighted arms.
Copperfoil: Narrow strips of copper tape used to wrap the edges of glass pieces that have been cut to fit a pattern. When wrapped, solder is applied, bonding the glass pieces together.
Desk Lamp: Portable lamp, usually with a downward task light.
Etched Glass: The use of hydrofluoric acid or sand blasting to create a matte finish or a specific design on glass.
Fan Light: A glass shade that can be used on a ceiling fan.
Finial: Decorative detail on the top of a lamp or the very bottom of a chandelier.
Finish: The decorative color of hardware achieved by painting or plating base or fixture materials.
Fireplace Screen: Decorative screen that covers the opening of a fireplace while not in use.
Firescreen: Functional fireproof screen that covers the opening of a fireplace while in use.
Fixture: Complete lighting unit usually consisting of socket, housing, shade, and connection to electrical power.
Floor Lamp: Portable lamp with a shade that directs light downward and a height usually taller than 48".
Flushmount: Surface mounted ceiling fixture with three inches or less between the shade and the ceiling.
Glass Jewel: Piece of hot glass that is press-molded into a jewel like shape.
Glue Chip Glass: Texture created on the surface of glass by applying hot glue, which after drying contracts and chips the glass surface resulting in a natural pattern, like frost on a window pane.
Granite Glass: A texture with the appearance of granite that is applied to hot glass sheets with an embossed roller.
Hand Rubbed: Process of hand rubbing to achieve a desired finish.
Hardware: Any component that supports the shade and/or socket.
Inverted Pendant: Chain hung ceiling fixture with open end of shade facing toward the ceiling.
Iridescent Glass: Glass with a colorful shimmering effect created when a layer of metallic oxide is bonded to hot glass.
Island Pendant: Ceiling fixture, usually multishaded, horizontally hung and generally best suited for a kitchen island or billiard table.
Jadestone: Durable, compact thinly cut stone with luminous color that can be shaped and constructed with the copperfoil technique.
Mica: A natural mineral bonded with shellac to create a light diffuser, usually available in Silver or Amber colors.
Micro Mini Lamp: Portable table lamp that usually has a shade 4" or smaller and height no taller than 6".
Mini Lamp: Portable table lamp that generally has a shade of 4" to 8" wide and height usually no taller than 15".
Mini Pendant: Surface mounted one light fixture consisting of a single pole or chain, extending from the ceiling canopy with shade no larger than 10" in diameter.
Mini Window: Lighted miniature tabletop glass window suspended from a frame.

Night Light: Small portable light that plugs directly into an electrical outlet.

Opalescent Glass: Glass that incorporates white, or opal glass, into the color mix.
Patina: Coloration of metal finish due to aging or from a solution applied to metal to change its color.
Pendalog: Element that hangs from a shade, base or hardware, usually crystal but can be made of various materials.
Pendant: Ceiling fixture that usually features a shade larger than 10" in diameter, suspended by a single pole or chain extending from the ceiling canopy.
Reverse Painted Glass: Paints are applied to the underside of glass, starting with the foreground and ending with the background.
Ripple Glass: Texture that has the appearance of ripples that is applied to hot glass sheets with an embossed roller.
Sconce: Typically, a one or two light fixture surface mounted to a wall.
Sculpture: A lighted or unlighted decorative tabletop accessory.
Seedy Glass: Glass which contains trapped air bubbles, created with air or gas injected into the molten glass, prior to forming the sheet.
Semi Flush: Surface mounted ceiling fixture with three inches or more between the shade and the ceiling.
Shower: Fixture with a ceiling pan that usually suspends 3 or more pendants.
Stained or Art Glass: Colored glass. See "Tiffany" below.
Swag: Pendant or chandelier with chain and wire that can drape across a ceiling to reach a hard mounted electrical box or plug into an electrical outlet.
Table Lamp: Portable lamp usually with a shade having a 14” width or larger.

A) Style referring to Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Victorian or scenes of nature.
B) The copperfoil technique of stained glass assembly.
C) Opalescent glass invented by Louis Comfort Tiffany 1848-1933, son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, an American jeweler. 
Torchiere: Portable floor lamp with a shade that directs light upward.
Translucent Glass: Glass that allows light transmission while diffusing. Objects cannot be seen clearly through this glass.
Turtleback: Molded glass tiles that are usually irregular in shape and thickness.
Vanity: Surface mounted wall fixture with three or more lights, usually used in the bathroom.
Washed: Process of lightly applying an accent finish by hand.Wispy Glass: Mixed opalescent glass with thin wisps of white or clear glass.

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A Glossary of Other Common Lighting Terms

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act): ADA-compliant fixtures cannot extend more than 4 inches from the wall.

ARM: A decorative-shaped tube or casting that is used to support a socket. An arm usually has socket wires running through it.

BACK PLATE: The part of a fixture that mounts to a wall or vertical surface.

BOBECHE: A disc, decorative plate or piece of glass that sits under the candle sleeve on a fixture.

CANDLE CHASER: A short cap that sets on top of a candle sleeve on a fixture.

CANDLE SLEEVE: Tubing that covers a candelabra base socket on a fixture.

CANOPY: The decorative plate that attaches to the ceiling to cover the junction box.

COMBINATION MOUNT: Refers to the ability for a fixture to either be hung by a chain or mounted to the ceiling.

EXTENSION (EXT.): The depth of a sconce. The measurement from the wall to the farthest point away from the wall.

FINIAL: A small finishing ornament at the crown or bottom of a fixture.

FLUSH: Directly mounts to the ceiling using a pan the same diameter as the fixture.

INVISI-MOUNT: A fixture mounting system where the mounting hardware is hidden on the back plate.

MOUNTING STRAP: A metal strap of galvanized steel used when securing fixtures to a junction box.

PENDANT: Any chain-hung fixture that does not have arms.

SCONCE: Any wall-mounted fixture.

SCREW COLLAR LOOP: A circular ring with a threaded portion used as an attachment point to the canopy on hanging fixtures.

SELECT-A-LIGHT: A lighting system where you may use a single, medium-based lamp or a three-light candelabra base cluster.

SEMI-FLUSH: Sometimes known as ‘close-to-ceiling’ fixtures. Mounts directly to the ceiling using a canopy.

TOP TO OUTLET: The measurement from the top of the fixture to the center of the outlet box when installed.

WIREWAY: Any hollow tubing where wire runs through to either the sockets or the mounting point.

Some Lighting Trends and Tips

For optimum air circulation and efficiency ceiling fan blades should be hung 8-9 feet from the floor. In homes with high ceilings adjust the fan's position by using a downrod.

Fabric Shades play an important role on a chandelier. Their material drastically softens the glare from bare light bulbs, creating a warm environment within a room. They also beautifully accessorize the style of the chandelier.

A fixture's glass significantly affects the overall design. For example, hammered glass lends a weathered, old fashioned feel to a fixture while alabaster evokes modern high end fashion.

For an easy and dramatic way to change the look of a room simply reposition the floor lamps. Remember to keep them behind furniture and in the corners so they don't get in the way of foot traffic.

Sconces can create intimate living space by brightening the border of a room. They should mounted no less than 5-6 feet from the floor, higher in rooms with taller ceilings.

Mini-pendants provide an excellent, decorative light source for kitchen islands. To achieve the ideal illumination, position them 30-40 inches from the surface of the island.

When hanging a chandelier, center it in the middle of the room at least 48 inches from each wall. For adequate head room over a dining room table, make sure the chandelier is at least 12 inches narrower than the table and 30-34 inches above it.

Position floor and table lamps to create a triangle of light that eliminates undesirable, shadowy nooks in sitting areas. Remember to keep lamp shades just below eye level to avoid glare.

A fixture's appeal is heightened by the type of glass used to diffuse the light. Frosted glass softens the light for an overall glowing effect that aptly complements fixtures with dark finishes.

Small living rooms with light-colored surfaces require less ambient light than larger rooms or those with dark paint and wood tones. Wall mounted fixtures in various sizes are the perfect way to create ambient light.

For a spacious effect, use fixtures to define individual areas in the kitchen. Create a cozy breakfast nook with a hanging fixture or outline a work station with an island pendant.

Wall mount fixtures are one of the biggest trends in lighting today. While serving as pieces of artwork adorning the walls they also provide needed illumination.

Warm, welcoming light in your foyer sets the mood for your entire home. You can install a flush mount ceiling fixture or hang a chandelier. Just remember to allow enough space between the bottom of the fixture and the top of the door.

When hanging a chandelier from a standard 8 ft. ceiling, suspend it at least 6 ft. above the floor. Chandeliers hung from cathedral ceilings should be suspended 3 inches higher for every additional foot over the standard 8 ft. ceiling height.

Once only found in dining rooms, chandeliers are making a big comeback. They are a beautiful and creative solution to the lighting needs of bedrooms, hallways, and even bathrooms.

Painted finishes are a very popular trend in lighting today. The two toned finish effects provide rich dimension and versatility allowing fixtures to blend harmoniously with a range of decor.

In order to properly illuminate the bathroom, three light sources are recommended: eye-level, such as wall mount fixtures or sconces; overhead, such as pendants or chandeliers; and night lights.

Wattage measures the amount of energy a light bulb consumes, not its brightness. For increased brightness choose a bulb with higher lumens.

Soft metal finishes, such as brushed nickel and pewter, continue to increase in popularity. The subtle quality of silver metals does not overwhelm a room's design, but provides a clean, understated elegance.

Adding a dimmer to your lighting system puts you in control of the light level. Effortlessly transform your room from bright and cheerful to warm and intimate.

When choosing a single exterior fixture for an entranceway, make sure its length is 1/3 the total height of the doorway.

Keep in mind that from 50 feet away, post top lanterns will appear to be half their actual size. If you are not certain about the size, remember that in this case, bigger is better.

When placing two wall lanterns on either side of an entryway, make sure their length is ¼ the total height of the doorway. They should be mounted just above eye level for optimum illumination.

Consider reducing the total wattage of your outdoor bulbs from 100 to 50 watts to eliminate "light pollution". Effective outdoor lighting is not overly bright. It is well placed.

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