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Top Tips for Distributor Success in the Lighting Industry, Pt I

Top Tips for Distributor Success in the Lighting Industry, Pt I

In today’s competitive lighting industry marked by aggressive online and DIY competitors, an electrical distributor’s ability to provide customers with technical expertise and guidance, foster personal relationships, and offer value-added services represent the key to differentiation today and beyond.

Following, experts from several major lighting manufacturers – including Matt McCarron, vice president, Industrial Commercial Channel at LEDVANCE (www.sylvania.com), Susan Phillips, vice president of marketing at Universal Lighting Technologies (www.unvlt.com), and Clayton Smith, director of business development, C&I Distributor Sales at Hubbell Lighting (www.hubbelllighting.com)share their top strategies/activities for distributor success in the lighting industry now and down the road. (Here are the first five tips of 10. Come back Monday for the second half!)

  1. Become a Rebate Expert – LEDVANCE’s McCarron confirmed that utility rebates remain a key driver behind the nation’s lighting upgrade activity.  “With over $5 billion in commercial and industrial lighting incentives expected to be available in 2018 through 1,000+ lighting incentive programs across the U.S. and Canada, lighting remains a very popular target for rebate dollars,” McCarron said.  “The programs emphasize LED lamps, LED fixtures, and advanced lighting controls that integrate with building controls and focus on energy savings but also increasingly on such ‘non-energy benefits’ as safety and health/wellness.”Universal Lighting Technologies’ Phillips agreed.  “There’s still a lot of fluorescent upgrade opportunity out there, so distributors can benefit by explaining in detail the value of rebates and energy efficiency in terms of LED versus fluorescent technology; customers also often rely on distributors to explain which products meet certain qualifications in a local market, so a distributor’s thorough understanding of the requirements can quickly translate into sales,” she said.  Phillips noted that distributors should also take advantage of rebate search tools and offer to handle customers’ paperwork to simplify the rebate qualification process for them.
  2. Connect Customers to Controls – According to Phillips, distributors should specialize in efficient controlled lighting, “as controls play an increasingly important role in a comprehensive connected lighting story,” she said.Hubbell Lighting’s Smith concurred, noting that, with the popularity and prevalence of lighting controls on projects continuing to grow, distributors should consider having multiple control experts on staff to set them apart from their competition. “Taking it a step further,” he added, “having certified field technicians who can commission and/or troubleshoot small control projects will ensure that contractors come back to you the next time controls are involved.”
  3. Segment Vertically – Phillips recommends that distributors evaluate local market opportunities by vertical segment – e.g., commercial, retail, education, healthcare, etc. — and develop a message to address each market’s specific needs.  “For example,” she said, “healthcare facility managers will want to know about retrofit options that minimize ceiling grid disruption and keep the space dust-free.”
  4. Educate Customers – “Identify opportunities to add lighting value for your key customers,” Hubbell Lighting’s Smith recommended.  “Elevate your training capabilities beyond products and educate your customers on code changes, lighting controls, and best practices for specific applications – e.g., solution-based alternatives, not just options based on the best/lowest product price.”
  5. Educate Internally – Smith encourages distributors to keep everyone on their team – from warehouse personnel, customer service, counter/inside sales, and outside sales to top management — educated on lighting trends, new products, and solution-based alternatives. “Your future leaders are likely getting their start in the warehouse, so keeping them involved from the beginning of their careers will give your business a competitive advantage in the long run,” he said.  According to Universal Lighting Technologies’ Phillips, ways to do this include investments in online education (especially NCQLP-accredited courses) and participation in live, manufacturer-sponsored product training sessions.  “With a better understanding of the solutions available and how they’re connected, all team members will be able to demonstrate value for a customer’s business,” she said.


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Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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