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Lighting Needs a Leader

Lighting Needs a Leader

My friend and partner in the Get A Grip on Lighting podcast, Michael Colligan, says it best (as usual): “There is a vacuum of leadership in the lighting industry today.”

Key players in the lighting industry have changed names, been bought out, or simply gone out of business. New players have emerged and taken significant market share away from established players. The lighting industry has changed rapidly and because of this, a gap in leadership has occurred. Without leadership, there is chaos.

Who will step up and take on the leadership role that is currently up for grabs?

In order to answer that question, we first need to understand which players make up the lighting industry. There is a more scholarly way to name them, but as a lightbulb salesperson in the trenches, I get to deal with them all and this is the best I can do to get to the point.

There are 4 groups of players in the lighting industry as we know it today:

  1. The Thinkers
  2. The Makers
  3. The Doers
  4. The Users

Let’s start at the top of the “ivory tower” (another Michael Colliganism) with the Thinkers. These are the people that spend their time analyzing what lighting currently is and thinking of what lighting can become. We have more Ph.D.s involved in lighting than ever before, so the industry is not lacking brain power. First conquering the energy efficiency goals of LED, they are now they are on to the health effects and other non-energy related benefits of lighting. They are the starting point for all lighting advancements and can include research centers, lighting organizations, accrediting bodies, lighting designers and some manufacturers (makers).

The Makers are next in line. They take what the Thinkers have come up with and turn it into a viable product (aka Manufacturers). The best Makers have Thinkers working for them, but that’s not always the case. Especially in today’s market where many of what we consider the Makers don’t actually make anything themselves, but rather source it. Needless to say, we need the Makers to get to the next level.

Now come the Doers. They need to understand why the Thinkers came up with the product/idea and in turn be able to sell and implement what the Makers are providing. The Doers make lighting happen and are the true decision makers in the chain. Doers include many types of businesses, but it can be boiled down into distributors and contractors.

Last, but not least are the Users. They are at the mercy of what the Thinkers and Makers come up with and what the Doers recommend and implement in their facility. Users pay the bill and count on the other three players to do what’s best for them. This is the largest player, as it consists of basically everyone who uses electric light to see the task they are doing.

Up until recently, the Thinkers and Makers were in charge of the industry. The Thinkers told the Makers what to do, who then told the Doers what to sell, and the Users received what was available. Then came the LED revolution and the Doers and Users took over. This shook up the industry to the point we are at today where there is no true lighting leader.

Who will step up and take charge?  Will anyone take charge?

Those questions are “to be determined,” but what must happen (if a true lighting leader is going to emerge) is the ability to relate to, and respect opinions from, all four players in the industry. Then take the appropriate action based on the information gathered. One thing that is for certain going forward, is that it needs to start with the Users telling us what they want, not what Thinkers tell them they want.

It’s an exciting and confusing time in lighting right now, but there is a major opportunity for a lighting leader to step up and take over.


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Greg Ehrich  is the former President of the National Association of Innovative Lighting Distributors (NAILD) and owner of Premier Lighting, a progressive lighting distributorship.

Discussion (1 comments)

    Howard Wolfman May 31, 2019 / 2:01 pm

    Your comments remind me of many decades ago when I worked for AT&T Teletype (now defunct). When I started with it, Teletype had 90% of the date communications terminal market; the Thinkers decided what the next family of products would be and the Users accepted the products. Fast forward several decades later when Teletype’s market share had shrunk to single digits due to a gigantic increase in competitors which changed the driving force to the Users.

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