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Managing the Maze

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Managing the Maze

Experts agree that the lighting industry is moving faster now than at any time in its nearly 140-year history. With LED technology dominating most lighting applications, a growing pool of LED manufacturers continually raising the bar on product performance and features, and new frontiers being forged in lighting controllability and connectivity, channel members often struggle to navigate their way through a constantly-changing array of options.

Following, distributor spokespeople Sean Retting, manager of project quotations at Blazer Electric Supply in Colorado Springs, CO (www.blazer20.com); and Julie Wood, Lighting Specialist at Dakota Supply Group in Rapid City, SD (www.dakotasupplygroup.com) share their top tips for staying ahead of the game.

 

lightED: What trends have been driving the rapid evolution of the lighting market?

Retting: I attribute it to the ongoing technological improvements to current LED products.  As LED technology continues to develop, both the fixtures and components are getting smaller with better optics.  As each generation of LED chip/driver is developed, the older fixtures are becoming obsolete, making it imperative to stay in front of these changes.

Wood: I agree — generally speaking, quality has gone up and pricing has gone down, driven by competition; everyone wants a piece of the LED pie. But you have to be very careful, as there are a lot of companies out there selling junk.

 

lightED: Has the recent evolution of the lighting industry been difficult for you and your team (as well as your customers) to keep up with?

Retting: It’s definitely a struggle to try and keep up with these changes, especially with the constant discontinuation of old products as newer versions are introduced.  I’ve ordered 6” LED housings early for projects and by the time the contractor orders the trims they’re obsolete and I need to replace everything, all in the span of only two months.

Wood: One of the biggest difficulties we’ve experienced with products changing so fast relates to stocking. Often, we’ll bring a product into stock because we don’t have enough of it; then, when it changes or something new comes out, we have too much of it. Another issue we find is that a lot of contractors and owners don’t know the basics of LED lighting and assume that all products are the same. They don’t know what they want or need and don’t know how to compare specs — they just ask for multiple bids and go with the lowest. I’ve seen many projects fail because of this. Though products are constantly changing, the basics are the same as they’ve always been in lighting and you just have to know what to watch out for. Things I pay attention to most include the quality of the fixture housing (avoiding things like flimsiness, sharp edges, poor design, a cheap lens, and plastic parts). The quality of light produced is also key — I pay particular attention to spottiness and try to avoid fixtures/lamps that are glaring and leave spots burned into your eyes when you look away; using good lenses and quality LEDs can reduce spottiness. Color temperature, CRI, and efficacy are also important factors to consider in the whole context of the product and application, as is the manufacturer — have they been around for decades or is it some company just shipping in cheap LED products from China?

 

lightED: With all of the new chips, sensors, LiFi capabilities, and other features becoming available in lighting products, what have you found to be the best ways to stay ahead of every tiny turn in technology?

Retting: Really lean on your vendors and lighting sources; we have vendors coming in every 1-2 weeks to show us their latest products.  Also, take advantage of manufacturer-driven training.  We offer short online classes and other product spotlights to help keep our employees as up-to-date as possible on new products.

Wood: The technology is fairly new on some of this. I try to stay educated on what’s out there and what’s coming, but up to this point, I haven’t found a need for advanced systems. I think control systems are finally viable because they can be self-commissioned. Before now, most control systems I’ve seen were expensive and failed in their purpose entirely.

 

lightED: Any final piece of advice you can offer distributors, contractors, and other channel members as it relates to staying abreast of lighting technology?

Retting: Never stop learning.  As soon as you think you have it all covered when it comes to lighting, something new and innovative will be released.  Use all of the resources provided to you.

Wood: My best advice is to read and listen. I try to review e-mails that I receive from reps, industry publications, and trade associations regarding new products and promotions. I also listen to the ‘Get a Grip on Lighting’ podcast — they talk to a wide range of interesting guests in the lighting business and it’s fun to hear about the lighting trends happening in different places; generally, a lot of the same products are working across the board. I also recommend asking questions. If you don’t understand something, ask someone you trust in the lighting business.

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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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