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Capitol Lighting Improves Sales by Moving to a Modifiable ERP System


“Instead of being bogged down by technology, we’re now much more able to interact with our customers,” says Jason Lebersfeld, Capitol Lighting’s vice president and CTO.Photo by Jordan Hollender

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Customer: Capitol Lighting
Headquarters: Boca Raton, Fla.
Business: Retailer of lighting fixtures and other related products
Challenge: Improve customer support without being hampered by rigid technology
Solution: Deployed VAI’s S2K ERP suite and, with the assistance of VAI, modified it to better fit the company’s business model
Hardware: An IBM Power Systems server running IBM i
Software: VAI S2K

 

When you hear the phrase “turning an operational foundation into a sales foundation,” it’s often part of a rah-rah annual meeting with staff and investors. It’s a good sound bite to energize the troops but it’s unlikely to turn into anything tangible.

However, when Jason Lebersfeld, vice president and CTO with Capitol Lighting, says it, he means it and puts his company’s IT investments where his mouth is. That’s partly why Capitol Lighting’s sales have increased over the past year despite the still-struggling economy. Getting to this point wasn’t a simple, hit-a-switch-and-you’re-done proposition. Instead, it required finding the right solution for Capitol Lighting’s foundational-change philosophy.

Now, with VAI’s S2K ERP suite, the company is looking ahead. As Lebersfeld explains, “Instead of being bogged down by technology, we’re now much more able to interact with our customers, which of course equates to increased sales opportunities—and who doesn’t want that?”

Certainly not Lebersfeld’s great-grandfather Max, who with his wife, Ethel, established the company in 1924 with a single storefront in Newark, N.J. Seven members of the Lebersfeld clan head up the business, and Capitol Lighting now has eight physical stores in New Jersey and Florida, with headquarters in Boca Raton.

 

Shedding Light on the Business

Capitol Lighting might be best known for its Internet presence: 1-800lightingPRO.com. The site went live in 1994, driven in large part by Lebersfeld and his cousin, Eric, after they snagged the 1-800-lighting phone number, purchased what was then a state-of-the-art modem, and posted a single Web page with a photo and phone number. In 1998, they moved to a Yahoo store and, after finding a suitable IT partner, started a burgeoning website.

That’s when things really took off, progressing from a single photo and a curated list of 500 items on Yahoo to the 500,000 items it carries today. Its products include not only lighting fixtures, but also outdoor lighting, landscape lighting, ceiling fans and patio furniture. Capitol Lighting has since bolstered its Web presence with a related secondary site, 1-800lightingPRO, which caters to professional contractors and designers, allowing them to manage multiple customers under one account, according to Lebersfeld. “They can see their order histories. They can fill shopping carts. They can communicate with their customers,” he says.

And that’s not all, as Lebersfeld further explains. “We have a function called ‘Expert Finder,’ where professionals can post their information to our Expert Finder directory and regular customers can search for, for example, an architect, a landscape designer or an interior designer. It’s yet another way to help out our experts, professionals and their prospective clients,” he says.

Capitol Lighting has grown from a single storefront in 1924 to eight stores and a strong Internet presence with its websites 1-800lighting.com and 1-800lightingPRO.com.

Before standardizing on VAI’s S2K, the company’s operations had essentially been split into two, with its New Jersey locations running legacy RPG code and the Florida locations using an earlier version of VAI’s software on an IBM Power Systems* server. The disconnect between the two systems created some problems for Capitol Lighting. Inventory reporting, for example, was often delayed until overnight batch processing took place.

“We were in a position where we didn’t have real-time inventory information,” Lebersfeld says. “We would have people checking on computers, but they couldn’t tell if the information was accurate. They would have to call locations to confirm the validity of what they were being told. Because of this disconnect, the merchandise flow wasn’t easily tracked, where you would start an order and go from there to check on a purchase order and then verify the order status. Very little of this was linked,” Lebersfeld says.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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