When Jan Clouse was building her Mount Pleasant home, she went to a lighting store to see about a pair of gas lanterns for her front door. The somewhat flustered clerk told Clouse the cost would exceed $3,500 - and then turned her back on Clouse in favor of another customer. End of discussion.
That lack of service launched Clouse into search mode. She found someone in upstate South Carolina who had been handcrafting gas lanterns for 20 years. The artisan made a pair of gas lanterns for Clouse.
Clouse realized she knew others who wanted gas lanterns and made arrangements with the upstate artisan to supply them.
“The next thing we know, we’re in the lantern business,” recalls Clouse.
She started Carolina Lanterns & Accessories in July of 1999. The business specializes in custom-made copper and brass lanterns and lamps that use propane, natural gas, or electricity and evoke the elegance of historic Charleston. Clouse learned the business inside and out, including the characteristics of liquid propane and natural gas and the way gas lines are installed. She calls her business education “Gas 101,” a schooling she says has garnered her products good grades from homeowners, building contractors, SCANA Corp. and South Carolina Electric & Gas professionals — even architects.
Prices for her products range from $199 and up - a far cry, she points out, from the cost quoted her by that misinformed lighting clerk. A lantern adds a finishing touch to a home, a building or a neighborhood,” says Clouse, whose historically accurate lanterns - many of them named after Charleston streets - adorn such locales as Mount Pleasant’s Rivertowne Country Club, Park West residential development, Kiawah Island’s Turtle Point Center, the French Quarter Inn, the Anchorage Inn, plus numerous homes not only in Charleston but in Beaufort, Hilton Head and Awendaw. Her web site, lanternlady.com [now carolinalanterns.com], has attracted clients from across the country. “Everybody loves that Charleston look,” says Clouse.
Clouse considers herself a consultant rather than a mere retailer. Customers come here, see what we have on display and we work with them in choosing the right lantern for them,” says Clouse. “We’ll bring lanterns to a customer’s home so they can see how the lanterns will look. That’s what we do best. Also, since our products are custom-made, we’ll do special orders.”
Clouse believes that good business goes beyond the sale. “At the home of one of our customers, it turned out the lanterns had been installed upside down,” says Jan. So we went there at night and installed them the right way.”
Carolina Lanterns thrives on repeat business and referrals, says Clouse. “If you satisfy one customer, they’ll go out and tell their friends.”
Mount Pleasant headquarters at 1362 Chuck Dawley Blvd.
Clouse believes her rapid success stems from more than providing a quality product, “You have to follow through for the customer,” she advises.
“And if you show enthusiasm for your product, that enthusiasm will spread to the customer.”
By Dennis Quick from the Charleston
Regional Business Journal, March 11-24, 2002
Assistant Editor/News & Features