By Nancy Pasternak
It is time to concentrate on bringing value and energy solutions, not just products, to clients. That’s the word of longtime lighting expert Chris Brown, CEO of Wiedenbach-Brown, who has been in the business since 1976. Brown has spoken with tEDmag.com about disintermediation in the lighting industry in the past. As 2017 comes to a close, we revisit the topic with him to see where the lighting industry stands and what the forecast is for the next few years.
Brown coined the term “Illumigeddon” when describing the demise of the traditional lighting industry, brought on by Solid State Lighting. At first, disintermediation was one of the biggest threats as dozens of new lighting vendors popped up around the world. Many of these vendors decided to go direct to the end users, as did some of the larger manufacturers. However, bigger changes are on the horizon. Technological advancements including the Internet of Things (IoT) and Power over Ethernet (PoE) are game-changers for the lighting industry.
“As a distributor, accept the fact that there’s going to be some level of disintermediation. It’s gonna happen, whether it happens with your favorite vendors or it happens with another start- up vendor getting to your customer and bypassing distribution. As a distributor, you gotta prepare for it. Accept it as inevitable. But then start to do things you need to do to ensure you stay in the equation,” says Brown.
Brown says lighting distributors have to become valuable by becoming a ‘solutions’ provider, not just a product supplier. “You’re not going to survive if all you’re doing is shipping product to your client,” he states. Sell the result, not just the fixture. Think of LaaS, or light as a service, as your product. Add-ons for the product including installation, financing, maintenance and controls have to be brought to the table. Brown believes you become valuable by becoming ‘that person’ (that kind of provider) and not having your customers lives complicated by having to deal with a number of different people related to your product. “Fundamentally, it’s becoming your customers’ ‘go-to guy’ on anything to do with lighting, anything to do with controls, anything to do with energy,” he says.
One of the big questions Brown has written about and asked when presenting (to distributors) at conventions is “Who is driving the bus when the tech guys and the lighting guys get together?” The concept of Power over Ethernet, which includes not only electrification of a lighting fixture, but data going to and from the lighting fixture traveling over ethernet cabling. A short list of tech companies who are also in the lighting business at one level or another include Cisco, Google, Apple, Amazon, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Verizon. “These guys are already embedded in our clients, one way or the other, providing data and information and analysis,” Brown points out. The question isn’t [about] being taken out of the equation because of the middle man being ‘skipped,’ as much as the system integrator or the Digital Ceiling folks who work with big companies taking over the lighting.
Brown’s term ‘Illumigeddon’ refers to people who have not yet started the process of innovating or evolving their business. But he believes “Illumitunities” are there for those who understand lighting and connectivity and who are taking steps to evolve and remain relevant to clients. Along with being a good distributor, one must be a critical resource for information and service. He has suggested companies hire millennials and look for support and training from their manufacturers. Plus, he says it is imperative to become a one-stop shop. Bring solutions to your clients. “If I were a distributor,” Brown says, “I would be trying to find companies who I could bring in as a service allies and make the whole acquisition process, for a client that needs or wants financing, a whole lot simpler.”Tagged with disintermediation