It’s been no secret that home improvement businesses were some of the most transformed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic–and in the wake of it.

Starting in 2020, workers who used to commute to work abruptly found themselves working out of houses and apartments that weren’t suited for work. Whether it be insufficient lighting for Zoom calls, short-lived bulbs that weren’t standing the test of being on close to 24/7, or chandeliers that quickly became eyesores when more time was spent around them, homeowners everywhere began flocking to home improvement stores to adjust their homes to the new reality.

Lighting businesses led the pack during this home improvement wave… and are still leading it now! But how did they successfully navigate this boom in business while keeping their staff safe and their shelves stocked?

We sat down with Mike McDougall from McLaren Lighting to hear about how they handled the five S’s impacting home improvement in a post-COVID world.

The Importance of Safety in the Home Improvement Industry

For over 60 years, McLaren Lighting has been one of the most trusted showrooms in Victoria and Nanaimo. Their certified ALA lighting consultants help consumers turn their vision into a reality; they have long-term partnerships with suppliers and buying groups across British Columbia to ensure the best pricing and lighting selection on Vancouver Island.

When it comes to safety, McLaren’s is just as thorough. “We have international health and safety committees that meet on the regular to discuss anything and everything that deals with the safety of our staff and clients,” Mike explained. “We have protocols in place–like cleaning and sanitizing checklists–to make sure it’s done.”

And when it comes to safety in the home? As a lighting designer, Mike is appreciative that the pandemic has shone a light on the role good lighting plays in upping a home’s safety. “When you’re building a home, certain areas have to be taken into consideration–whether it be enough light for certain areas or enough lighting for outside surveillance. We’re seeing customers take that more into consideration now.”

McLaren’s Takes Staffing Seriously

The secret to McLaren’s longevity is chalked up to one core aspect: how well their staff is treated.

“We pay very, very competitive wages–if not better than competitive wages,” Mike said. “We’re a great, fun team environment that operates more like a family than a team. For myself, I’ve been here for 15 years… and there’s a reason I’ve been here for 15 years!”

The Scariest S of All: Supply Chains

With COVID-related supply chain problems running rampant in 2022, Mike agreed that keeping shelves stocked was one of the most challenging hurdles to face.

“You know, if we’re told a product will be here in four weeks and four weeks comes and goes, I mean, we look bad– but it’s not us, it’s the information we’re given. The ports are backed up. Things aren’t coming through when they’re supposed to. There’s just no cut-and-dried way to deal with it.

“At McLaren’s, we deal with every situation differently. I personally don’t like calling with a problem if I don’t have a solution, so if I get a call that says a fixture isn’t going to be here for another four weeks, I usually try to find one or two options that are very similar to present to customers and say, ‘Okay, the exact fixture you wanted isn’t available yet, but what do you think of these?’”

Despite these challenges, Mike reaffirmed that these hiccups are far and few between. “McLaren’s has good buying power, solid relationships, and our suppliers have done very good jobs at holding inventory, so if the odd thing does turn up, it’s not an everyday occurrence. We’re working that much harder to guarantee that our customers don’t face any unnecessary delays.”

How McLaren’s Handles Scheduling

McLaren’s has also found that, especially during the pandemic, keeping scheduling flexible was key to keeping both staff and customers happy. With sick days becoming more frequent, more staff having to take days off due to COVID scares, and more customers visiting the showrooms for home improvement projects, it’s been a challenging balancing act.

“We don’t really work on deadlines; we’re not that type of company,” said Mike. “We just have a good team. We have good support. We have good departments. Whether it be accounting or sales or management, everybody’s strong–we can all back each other up.

“Everybody is there for everybody. It’s not just me, myself and I: it’s an ‘us’, every time.”

And Last But Not Least, The Largest S of Them All–Spending

“Victoria is a strange, segregated market,” Mike mused. “People that are buying or building in Victoria have the money to do so, and inflation hasn’t seemed to deter what they spend. If they have it, they want it, and they’ll spend it.

“Raw materials have gone up, shipping’s gone up, fuel’s gone up– everything has gone up significantly to get the product from the manufacturers to the clients. However, we do see that people are being a little bit smarter with where they’re spending money in their homes. I think they’re spending more time deciding if they’re going to buy a signature piece that’s of best use to them. More consumers are using less expensive or better-priced fixtures in certain areas of the home that aren’t high traffic, and they’ll put the money in the high traffic areas.”

With home improvement (and, more specifically, lighting-related renovations) still peaking across Canada, McLaren’s is proud of what they’ve done right– and everything they’ve learned along the way.