Features

Companies to Watch: Reflections by Claudia

Shedding Light on an Intriguing Business Venture

Claudia Walsh

Claudia Walsh says her lamps have become an attractive alternative to flowers as a bereavement gift, and are appropriate for other milestones as well.

Claudia Walsh taught English, off and on, for the better part of 20 years.
She has put her talents with words and composition of same to considerable use when helping clients put together the thoughts they send along with what Walsh calls the “gifts of light” she sells — although there’s much more to this business than selling decorative lamps.
Here’s one such thought, to go on a card — personalized and embossed in the store — accompanying a lamp sent to mark the birth of a child, one of many occasions for which Walsh’s ‘reflections’ have become popular.
“When the day is done and you cradle your son, let the soft glow of this light reflect upon the beautiful child you have created and the wonderment of motherhood. Enjoy the cherished moments that you will share with the little one as you nurture and care for this person who will fill your life with love, laughter, and pride.”
This was a first draft of sorts, and there was still deliberation about whether ‘child’ or ‘baby’ might eventually replace ‘person.’
Walsh told BusinessWest that assisting clients with crafting such messages is one of the more rewarding aspects of a business venture that offers many. And it’s one of the myriad tangibles and intangibles that have made this enterprise — started in her home as a very part-time endeavor while she was still substitute teaching — so successful in the wake of considerable competition.
Others include everything from a wide selection of lamps and other items (in a host of price ranges) to the innate ability to be able to not only serve, but also comfort people at what is often a very difficult time in their lives.
“That’s not really an acquired skill,” said Walsh, when asked about it. “It’s something I think I’ve always had; that’s just who I am.”
But she has no doubt honed that talent since she started in business not long after the passing of her father following a long battle with bone cancer, an event that turned a simple lamp in her home into a reflection and an inspiration.
“When my dad became gravely ill, he needed so much care and support,” Walsh writes in a welcome to her Web site that explains the concept behind her business. “Just before he died, he made one last trip to my home. While there, he tried to turn on a small lamp, but needed my help. After his death, I put on that same light, and its soft glow reminded me of his quiet presence.”
Soon thereafter, Walsh started sending small, so-called ‘angel lamps’ from a local florist as bereavement gifts. The testimonials she received back let her know that she had created a popular alternative to flowers, and the remembrance light, as she called it, was born.
Walsh set up shop in the basement of her home, operating her venture part-time while she continued to teach. Soon, she would move into a small office in an industrial park on Benton Drive in East Longmeadow, a facility intended as an operations center for what was projected to be an Internet-based business.
“But people kept coming in to see what we had,” Walsh explained, adding that she soon realized that she could — and should — make this a full-time venture, and for that, she’d need a storefront.
She started in a small shop on Shaker Road in East Longmeadow, and later moved into her current, much larger space, on North Main Street, just past the town’s famous rotary.
Over the years, reflection lamps have become popular for a host of milestones, including weddings, new homes, babies, birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, and, especially, bereavements. Meanwhile, the product list has grown to include offerings from a number of well-known manufacturers, including Dale Tiffany Inc., Meyda, Quoizell, Paul Sahlin, CBK, Standard Specialty Co., and others. Items range in price from $30 to more than $200, although higher-end specialty items can be ordered rom any of several catalogs.
Lamps come in all shapes and sizes, and color patterns as well, and can be personalized to recognize someone’s interests or passions, said Walsh, noting that this list includes everything from hunting or fishing to the ocean, to the Red Sox or Yankees.
And the client list has grown as well, to include area residents; several nursing homes in the area, which give lamps when residents pass away; celebrities, such as Michael Jackson and Art Linkletter (Walsh wanted to name few due to privacy concerns); and companies of all sizes (including funeral homes), which have chosen Walsh’s gifts of light for employees mourning loved ones, retirements, and other reasons.
On the day BusinessWest visted Reflections, Catherine Belleville, service delivery manager for the New England Service Office of IBM, was in the store picking up a lamp for an employee who had recently lost his mother.
“We find these gifts a great alternative to flowers,” she said, adding that the company has become a regular customer of Walsh’s, and makes her lamps gifts for retirements and other milestones as well. “Flowers are a wonderful gesture, but they’re gone in three or four days. These lamps last a lifetime.”
Other companies now on the client list include MassMutual, Hallmark Cards, and many others, said Walsh, noting that much of her business is of the repeat variety. She says she gets it because she does more than sell lamps out of catalogs or off her showroom shelves.
There is a personal side to the business, she said, noting that this includes everything from assisting someone searching for the right words to accompany a lamp, to having the ability to help and serve individuals at such a trying time in their lives.
That’s how a company shines bright when its business is gifts or light.

— George O’Brien

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