More so than at any time in MI retail’s history, brick-and-mortar dealers are embracing products and technologies that are a bit “outside the box” relative to a music store’s typical inventory of electric guitars, acoustic drum sets and brass instruments. Perhaps no category of product, though, has become more appealing than lighting, what with its high demand, its robust margins and its capacity to add “rock star” sizzle to any setup. At the forefront of lighting’s drive into music stores is Chauvet Lighting, whose two brands—CHAUVET DJ and CHAUVET Professional—continue to impress relative to both product innovation and profits.
Who better to discuss that topic, as well as the company’s proud history and bright future, than Berenice Chauvet, Vice President of Chauvet Lighting? In an extensive interview with The Retailer, Chauvet discusses the ripeness of the lighting opportunity for brick-and-mortar music dealers, while also reflecting on her career, her inspiration and Chauvet Lighting’s abiding partnership with the dealer channel.
I hope the conversation is illuminating.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s begin with your background. Trace your personal history with lighting products, the music industry and technology for live performances. Touch on what initially captured your interest. What steps did you take to pursue that interest? Describe the progression of your career, bringing us from the early years to the present day.
Berenice Chauvet: I came to Chauvet in the early 2000s to spearhead our branding and marketing efforts. Prior to that, I was a journalist at the Miami Herald and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. I am a storyteller and, to me, there is hardly a more exciting story than the trajectory of Chauvet. We see a fascinating combination of art, technology and business in the lighting entertainment and performing arts industry.
The Retailer: Now, let’s turn to discussing Chauvet. When was the company founded? Describe a bit about its history, while also discussing the company’s evolution and some of its milestones over the past several years. What have been among its most important, legacy-defining moments so far?
Chauvet: Chauvet was founded in 1990 by my then-husband-of-one-year, Albert Chauvet. We’ve gone from a one-product, one-person company—with Albert picking, packing, shipping and selling—to a global operation with 500 active SKUs, 220,000 square feet of warehouse space in five facilities, four leading brands, 220 employees and more than 2,000 dealers and distributors worldwide. First and foremost, we owe our growth to a dedicated staff, as well as to the dealers and customers who have embraced us.
We’ve also been very strategic and thoughtful in our choices of technologies and brand positioning. Our early and pioneering embrace of LEDs gave us a leading edge on the retail side in the early 2000s. In the mid 2000s, we successfully parlayed that expertise in LEDs into the professional side of the market, which encompasses LDs, installers and systems integrators. Subsequently, we established two distinct brands: CHAUVET DJ for the retail market and CHAUVET Professional for lighting designers and installers. This has allowed us to clearly differentiate our offerings. In 2008, we launched an architectural lighting line: Iluminarc. Three years ago, we introduced TRUSST, our trussing and rigging accessories line. Although each of our brands serves specific market needs, they all share the promise of unparalleled value to the end user and excellent profitability to our dealers and distributors.
We are focused on continuously developing forward-thinking products that remain competitively priced. We are proud of what we have accomplished but, even more so, we’re excited about what’s to come.
The Retailer: You’ve been an integral leader of CHAUVET DJ and CHAUVET Professional for many years, and you’ve seen the company grow by leaps and bounds during that time. What continues to keep you excited, motivated and engaged? What makes you eager to go to the office in the morning and get to work? What inspires you most?
Chauvet: I’m inspired by the chance, and the ability, to have a positive impact on our own staff and the customers we serve. Lighting is a tool that enhances all sorts of art forms and this, in itself, is inspiring. However, we are also mindful that our staff, our dealers and our end users earn a living from what we do to serve the lighting market. There is an extreme sense of responsibility and urgency that comes from that realization.
The Retailer: When you look at Chauvet as it currently exists, what would you say you’re the proudest of? What makes the company stand apart not only from direct competitors in the lighting category, but also from companies in the broader MI industry? What’s the “secret sauce” at Chauvet?
Chauvet: It’s hard to single out one particular achievement. They all add up like building blocks or notes in a symphony. I am very proud of our work ethic. We are relentless and we don’t take anything, including our commercial success, for granted. And, we listen. Our best innovations have come from actively listening to dealers and end users. This is what truly sets us apart: We don’t just design for customers; we design with customers. Thirdly, we back up our products. Our customer service is second to none.
The Retailer: What are some of the biggest non-product developments that have taken place at Chauvet over the past 12 months? Has there been important news as it relates to expansion, new facilities, Internet-centered initiatives and so forth? If so, fill us in.
Chauvet: It was a busy and fruitful 2015. We celebrated our 25-year anniversary. We opened our fifth Chauvet-operated facility, this one in Belgium. We launched a new CHAUVET Professional Web site, a parts order site and a dedicated dealer site. We successfully beta tested dealer carts on our CHAUVET DJ site, giving end users the ability to order directly online from participating stocking dealers on our site, and to request either direct shipping or pick-up at the dealer’s store.
The Retailer: What was Chauvet’s biggest, most important new product news at the just recently concluded NAMM Show in Anaheim? Was this year’s show a big one for CHAUVET DJ and CHAUVET Professional products?
Chauvet: On the CHAUVET DJ side, we are very pleased with our new wireless products, including our exclusive D-Fi USB technology, as well as our new, battery-powered Freedom fixtures. They continue to raise the bar in mobility, speed and ease of setup. Other exciting launches are our new Gig Bar LT pack-and-go system and the new Swarm Wash FX. Both are upgraded versions of our existing top sellers in the MI sector. On the CHAUVET Professional side, we are also very excited about our new Well Fit wireless and the new, full-color ellipsoidal Ovation E-190FC.
The Retailer: Discuss Chauvet’s commitment to the brick-and-mortar music store channel. Is working collaboratively with brick-and-mortar music dealers a key part of Chauvet’s bedrock, fundamental approach to doing business? Give us insight into Chauvet’s dealer-focused philosophy.
Chauvet: Retail dealers are a vital part of our business in terms of what they contribute to our total revenues at Chauvet. Brick-and-mortar shops have the ability to display lighting in action, which is key to a successful sales transaction. They are our eyes, our voice and our ears when it comes to interaction with the end user. So, we strive to work collaboratively and stay in close contact, supporting our MI retailers with training and marketing initiatives, while also getting their feedback on our products and on our service. Our job is to facilitate store traffic, sales and profitability for dealers; in return, we gain valuable market intelligence and continued loyalty. We are working hard to put the power of our brands to work for our dealers with things like the Buy Now feature on our CHAUVET DJ Web site. That directs visitors to stocking dealers. So, in essence, it helps extend our dealers’ reach.
The Retailer: Not only as it relates to Chauvet but also as it relates to other lighting companies, are you finding that brick-and-mortar music stores are beginning to realize the critical importance of selling lighting in their stores, as part of their general product mix? If so, what have been some of the “seal the deal” factors that have compelled MI retailers to “jump in” to selling lighting?
Chauvet: Music stores are definitely—and increasingly—embracing lighting because of the attractive margins and because customers request and expect lighting as part of any performance experience. So, although some other staples of the MI sector have gone down or remained flat, the lighting sector has shown consistent growth and profitability. Also, new products and technologies make it even easier to use lighting. That not only increases the comfort level of the musician who’s looking to spice up a performance, but also—and this is critical—increases the comfort of the salesperson on the floor, who can now more confidently pitch products without being an expert in lighting. Examples are the CHAUVET DJ battery-operated Freedom fixtures, which can be controlled at the touch of a button from a cell phone or tablet. Plus, there are pack-and-go systems, with lighting turned on and off from pedals on a foot controller, which frees a musician’s hands.
The Retailer: In being interviewed for “Five Minutes With,” you’re speaking directly to a brick-and-mortar MI dealer audience. Tell me the specific areas in which you feel music dealers could improve. How could they not only help Chauvet, in terms of selling more product, but also boost their own bottom line at retail?
Chauvet: Music dealers are increasingly savvier when it comes to lighting. Demo spaces and showroom areas greatly help differentiate a brick-and-mortar dealer from online resellers. Lighting is a sensorial, show-and-tell experience. The more we show, the more we sell.
The Retailer: What does the future hold for Chauvet? What can company-watchers expect over the next year…five years…10 years?
Chauvet: The future looks blindingly bright! We are constantly innovating and finding ways to make lighting easier to use. This is exciting to MI dealers, whose clients place a premium on portability and ease of use. We are gaining more and more visibility in major productions; that’s very exciting. Not only is it commercial success for CHAUVET Professional, but it also bodes well for CHAUVET DJ and our MI retail sales. Those shows are seen on TV and in concerts. That serves to inspire musicians to go beyond providing an auditory performance and, instead, to provide a fully sensorial, total-entertainment experience that involves lighting.
We’re excited about what the future holds, but I won’t go into too many details. Let’s just say that, despite our 25-year history, there’s so much more to come in lighting. This is just the beginning.