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.
In Part 2 of our list of top strategies for distributors (read Part 1 here), lighting manufacturer veterans 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) offer additional strategies/activities to help ensure success in the lighting industry now and in the future:
- Dedicate Resources – In order to establish themselves as experts and demonstrate their channel leadership in the lighting industry, Universal Lighting Technologies’ Phillips recommends that distributors form a dedicated lighting solutions team to deliver technical guidance and serve as a contractor arm.
- Get Closer – Phillips recommends using face-to-face meetings to educate customers on product and installation trends, such as LED retrofit versus full-fixture replacement options, and to leave behind a document that quickly summarizes the customer’s options. “Ideally, distributors should develop a collaborative plan to bring their sales and marketing functions closer together,” she said. “A good plan begins with a comprehensive end user target database that includes names, titles, phone numbers, and physical and e-mail addresses. This list represents a powerful tool that can not only be used by marketing to foster customer relationships and enhance awareness, but by sales to arrange valuable face-to-face conversations.”
- Engage in Value Engineering – “One differentiator for distributors over online competitors is their expert knowledge,” shared LEDVANCE’s McCarron, who encourages distributors to capitalize on it. “How can distributors make it easier to share expertise with customers? Is it by enhancing their website with more valuable content, or by providing more online customer service options? In addition, how can we make it easier for customers to do business with distributors and manufacturers alike?” McCarron inquired. “Answering questions like these can help generate extra sales and customer loyalty.”Hubbell Lighting’s Smith agreed that a ‘value engineering’ analysis of their business is an important strategic exercise for distributors to undertake. “Start by determining the value of each part of your chain, from the lighting manufacturer through the distributor and contractor channel to the end user,” Smith said. “From a distributor standpoint, staging the project — not just by job, but by floor, office, or application — will help reduce labor costs for the installer, and of course the manufacturer can also help by reducing the number of shipments, consolidating shipments, reducing back orders, and delivering product on time.” He also recommends that distributors consider adding additional capabilities, such as 24-hour pick-up service to allow contractors to pick up material during off-hours or to offer 24-hour and/or weekend delivery solutions in markets with major traffic congestion.
- Think Outside the Box – “What matters is that we’re always innovating and thinking about what could be,” McCarron said. “For example, ‘what if we could combine building materials and light sources so that light wasn’t coming out of a fixture in the ceiling, but instead coming out of the ceiling itself?’ These are the kinds of ideas that motivate us and keep us pushing forward, and we encourage distributors to also have that forward-thinking mentality.”
- Collaborate – According to LEDVANCE’s McCarron, LED technology has revolutionized the electrical distribution business by offering more choices, but at the same time has also introduced more complexity thanks to a wide range of providers flooding the market. “In order to better capitalize on market opportunities, distributors should work with knowledgeable and trusted manufacturer sales partners who can help them work through all of the confusion and who offer robust in-person and online training on product benefits, selling points, and installation guidance,” he said. Universal Lighting Technologies’ Phillips couldn’t agree more. “Distributors should use their available manufacturer-offered marketing funds to support promotions, merchandising, and samples to drive awareness in their local market,” she urged.