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Averting Disaster

Averting Disaster


By Susan Bloom

Following a botched lighting upgrade in the city of Chattanooga that still remains in limbo, distributors offer insights on the ways that their presence can help streamline upgrades in cities or towns.


It’s currently ‘lights out’ on a recent LED lighting upgrade undertaken by the city of Chattanooga, TN.

According to a mid-August article published in the area’s Times Free Press, the city purchased lights directly from manufacturer Global Green Lighting and has experienced a number of issues – everything from failing LEDs that were incompatible with controls and telecommunications systems based on misrepresentation/misclassification of the products to installation problems by local utility EPB (Electric Power Board of Chattanooga) subcontractors and finger-pointing between the city, the manufacturer, subcontractors, and EPB – all of which have stalled the lighting upgrade and resulted in a range of lawsuits.

While sympathizing with all parties over the problems currently being experienced in Chattanooga, which boasts a population of over 175,000, industry professionals weighed in below on how the presence of a distributor in the mix could have avoided the current situation and helped streamline the process.

Adept at Adding Value
“A good distributor can facilitate the proper communication, documentation, and solutions to not only solve issues, but, even more importantly, to prevent issues from occurring in the first place,” confirmed Blake Hulgan, director of electrical sales, Atlanta District for Graybar (www.graybar.com).

Bob Settle, vice president of marketing for Crescent Electric Supply Company (www.cesco.com) in East Dubuque, IL, couldn’t agree more. Based on Crescent’s extensive experience overseeing lighting upgrades in major cities, including one in Las Vegas in 2011-2012 and one currently underway in Anchorage, AK, “the role of a value-added distributor changes during the various stages of a project and, in an ideal situation, begins in the planning and pre-spec phase, where the distributor’s knowledge of potential solutions from multiple vendors can provide viable alternatives,” he said.  “In this case, the distributor can offer an objective analysis of each and help rank the options based on various factors:

  • Suitability of the product to meet the technical requirements of the project
  • The “state of the art” of the proposed solution – is it a proven technology or in a developmental phase?  Either can be acceptable as long as the risk/reward is properly identified and the manufacturer has the resources to support and further develop the solution.
  • Capability of each supplier to provide ongoing support in the areas of warranty, service, product extensions, and upgrades.”

Unfortunately, said Settle, in many cases the distributor isn’t invited to the party until the spec has been developed and put out to bid.  “When this happens, the electrical distributor’s influence may be diminished, but they can still provide a valuable service by evaluating the specified product and bundling other services into the proposal that can reduce the overall project cost or provide other benefits that may not have been considered in the original scope.”  According to Settle, these can include such activities as project staging, just-in-time delivery to the job site, and removal and recycling of old light fixtures from the field.  “If there are better solutions available, the ED can also offer those as alternatives to the specified product,” he said.
For these reasons and more, “I would always advise a municipality or utility to engage a distributor in any major infrastructural upgrade,” Hulgan confirmed.  “Reputable distributors should be experienced in these types of projects and should have the capability and know-how to execute the project successfully and add value to a project from planning to completion.”

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



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