Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
How do you decide to move a company that was once based in showrooms and catalogs online?
Brett Winter Lemon | Special to The Roanoke Times
Tom Moody is president of Williams Supply, Inc.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Tom Moody loves technology. He loves iPads and iPhones and learning about apps from his 25-year-old daughter. As the president of Williams Lighting Galleries and Williams Supply in Roanoke, he also loves the way it’s changing his business.
Williams Lighting Galleries is an employee-owned company that has been around since 1946. In February, it launched its first e-commerce website. Now the store is not only drawing in new customers, it’s also making sales out of state. Moody said he hopes that Williams Supply, the automation equipment side of the company, will have its own website by the end of the year.
Moody recently spoke about his challenge: How do you decide to move a company that was once based in showrooms and catalogs online?
“It was kind of like an epiphany. I noticed a paradigm shift in the way people were buying things and the way people were selling things. Two things happened, really.
“One was, I was with my daughter in Richmond. … We walked through Nordstrom and the sales guy walked with us, and he had an iPhone. All the while my daughter was buying things, he was just putting them into the iPhone. At the end of that transaction, we never went back to the cash register. He looked at me and said, ‘Should I just email the receipt to you?’ I thought, man, that was cool.
“The second thing that happened was I got involved in building hot rods. I sold a car to a guy in Australia and never spoke to the guy. I did that on the Internet.
“I thought, man, something’s really changing here. … So you couple those two crazy experiences with a small part of our company called the lighting galleries. The building industry went crazy in 2008 and started going downhill, and when that happens the lighting business is kind of hurt. So how can we figure out how to help that business?
“So let’s look at going online and see if we can tap a larger market or more people within the market we’re in. We find a company that’s already doing this stuff. We don’t even have to reinvent the wheel. We talked to them and 20 minutes into it I’m saying, ‘Let’s go.’
“Based on what these guys told us, this company out of Utah, we had the best first-month launch for a young online company. And that’s cool. Here we are little southwest Virginia in Roanoke, and this guy is telling us our launch was better than anybody’s they’d done so far.
“Now social media is a big thing; we did that a while ago, too. We started out with Facebook and went to Twitter from there. We do a pretty good job with that given the small company we are and the industry we’re in. We’re not in a progressive industry. Electrical distribution is not progressive at all. However, we’re trying to do some things that break through the paradigm of what was.
“The company’s embraced it. We have the lighting galleries website, now we have an automation website that we’re just starting. We have Facebook for both of them as well. There’s a lot of communications using YouTube because now more of our larger companies are getting more involved with that. … Most of our selling staff has an iPad. The lighting gallery has iPads in the store that they can use when they’re waiting on a customer.
“Our first goal is to say, what’s our market in a 50-mile radius, and can we bring people from Lexington and Staunton into our store? … It’s a pretty exciting place to be because the products are gorgeous. The people who work there are American Lighting Association certified. When you go there, it’s a pretty good experience. So let’s get people from a 50-mile radius into our store, we know they’re going to buy something. Then we’ll branch off from there. Well, we’ve ended up selling to people in Washington State, and in Georgia already, and in Florida already.
“We have an automation part of the business we’re going to take through e-commerce as well. That’s going to be a little harder because it’s more technical stuff, and it’s done with companies that are all Fortune 500 companies. … They have three shifts. I’m hoping that the guy on second or third shift can buy stuff from us during their shift, and we’re able to deliver it to them first thing in the morning before lunch.
“The paradigm shift is between buying and selling, not just one or the other. The buying shift is with younger folks who are getting involved in decision-making positions. … In my generation, everybody used to show up and bring doughnuts and coffee and talk about it. Now it’s like I’m going to do a lot of research online and I’m just going to be able to order that thing. … We’re just moving our business into that space. I don’t want to bring young people into my old space. I want to move my folks into the young space.
“What we find out is that [the website] fulfilled the prophecy. … The feedback we get from the people who visit the store is, ‘I’ve been online and I really like what you’ve got going on there, and I was so interested that I came to the store.’ ”