SLHL: What accomplishments in the lighting business are you most proud of?
Bill: The fact that so many designers, home-builders and St. Louisans have gained the confidence in METRO for us to take care of their lighting needs is something in which all of us at METRO take a tremendous amount of pride. This, along with the fact that we service our customers with integrity and always in an honest and fair manner, has always been paramount to us and at the top of the list. In addition, our Brentwood Promenade METRO Lighting location has won the National Arts Award for best showroom on three separate occasions.
SLHL: As a family owned and operated business, how many family members work at METRO Lighting currently?
Bill: METRO is not only a family owned business, but we feel that all our employees are like family, too. We employ close to 200 full and part-time persons. There are 13 actual related family members now employed full and part-time at METRO. We are not only family owned but locally owned, too. That’s very important when you consider that locally owned businesses keep the dollars that our customers spend with us in St. Louis to help boost our local economy in ways that multiply over and over again.
SLHL: We understand that you carry hundreds of vendors; what made you decide to design your own line?
Bill: We do deal with many quality vendors; we don’t ever intend to displace them with our own line. We decided to have our own line of fixtures, though, to help supplement our margin and to offer a quality product at an affordable price. Most vendors today are forced by outside economic pressures to contract off-shore and have their fixtures manufactured for them. Approximately 20 years ago, a vendor that we had a close relationship with sold his business to a larger vendor. He introduced us to his manufacturers, which allowed us to manufacture our own line of fixtures. This gave us better quality control and a much lower cost. The lower cost then allowed us to price our own line of fixtures at a lower price to designers, home-builders and homeowners and at the same time increase quality and our own margins — a win-win for the customer and for METRO. More recently, the internet became a competitor and made it more difficult to return the margins necessary for many brick and mortar businesses to compete with the on-line stores. The on-line stores have just the fraction of the expenses of brick and mortar stores. METRO lowered all our prices on all our lines several years ago to internet pricing or even below it. This allowed us to be more competitive than even the on-line stores. This, though, created a loss of margin for us. Having our own line of fixtures now became even more critical to make up the lower margin we are now making across the board on our other vendor lines. All our prices on all our lines are now equal to or lower than the internet prices and they are guaranteed plus we have an in-home warranty that the internet can’t match.
SLHL: How would you best describe the Philip Austin collection?
Bill: Initially, almost 20 years ago, our own line of Philip Austin fixtures was basic. We started off slow and cautious. As we gained confidence and the experience of importing our own line we gradually increased the number of sku’s by adding new styles and finishes. As time went by we listened to the all-important design trade and the line has evolved. We have added cutting-edge style and have increased the number of fixtures we import. The Philip Austin line now has several complete families of fixtures in many different styles, sizes and finishes. Many of the fixtures in our new collection have directly been created from listening attentively to the designer market in Saint Louis. We feel that designers set the bar for style in St. Louis and that their expertise is just added value to other customers and the home-builders.
SLHL: What makes the Philip Austin line unique in comparison to the other lines you carry?
Bill: We are able to control the design specifically to our market. In the case of typical national vendors, they must design and manufacturer fixtures to the likes of an entire nation. What plays in Peoria may not play in St. Louis, so to speak. Since we order in large quantities of each fixture, we most often have the fixtures in stock. There would be absolutely no way to stock all the fixtures from all the vendors that we currently purchase from. In the Philip Austin line we have the product on the shelf ready to ship out. Obviously, the margins are greater on our own line, which we share with our customers, designers and home-builders. As mentioned, a win-win for customers and METRO.
SLHL: How many pieces are in the Philip Austin line?
Bill: We have approximately 100 different styles, sizes and finishes in the Philip Austin line. We have tried to cover every potential fixture need for an entire home.
SLHL: What is your plan for the collection’s future?
Bill: We are looking to expand the line to attract the eye of the designer. Designers are a strong force in St. Louis, and they set the trend on what appeals to the public. Part of the public then go on to purchase new homes from the home-builder. We feel if we can bring in an affordable product that appeals to the designers, we will be a winner to all our customers: the designer, the home-builder and the general public.
SLHL: What’s HOT in lighting styles right now?
Bill: We have several new fixtures that have no bulb sockets at all but LED’s that are integrated into the fixture itself. This gives a more even light that will last even longer than an LED bulb. Now what’s been hot and is still very popular are restoration styles, typical farmhouse, industrial and even classic. What’s really hot right now is mid-century modern, modern farmhouse and the finish aged brass. Styles come and go, and, as mentioned, the designers set the bar and are instrumental in setting trends and styles. Our mantra is we love designers, that’s because they are more influential in what we sell than any other segment of the entire lighting industry.