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New Year, New Mileage for Millennials

New Year, New Mileage for Millennials

By Jean Whatley

In February 2016, when networking giant Cisco unveiled a global alliance of industry giants from every conceivable sector needed to catapult smart buildings into a scalable reality, those in the lighting industry might have been well advised to worry. What’s not to be concerned about?  When Cisco saddles up with companies such as CREE, Eaton, Philips, and Johnson Controls, among others, they’ve got everything covered from LED to HVAC.

“The Ciscos of the world seemed to decide that lighting is the Trojan horse that allows them to place their sensing devices anywhere, because lighting is ubiquitous. It’s electrified. Their sensors don’t have to run on batteries and wireless communication. My concern from the very beginning, when Cisco showed up as a player with the lighting industry was, who is driving the bus?” says veteran lighting industry consultant Chris Brown, CEO of NexTGen Lighting.

The solution for distributors, according to Brown, is to put millennials behind the wheel, moving companies forward in the rapidly evolving intersection of light and connectivity. It’s a natural fit for the demographic that was digitally indoctrinated at an early age. “That’s number one. You have to get technological expertise out of your staff. You’ve got to involve your team. It’s their careers that will eventually be threatened. You’ve got to reach out, read, research, go to the conferences, get them trained.”

Manufacturers play an essential role in helping distributors train up to keep up—developing future leaders, many of whom are millennials just getting their start in the warehouse, customer service, or sales.

“I’d encourage lighting distributors to bring these employees into the fold when it comes to education on lighting trends and technology,” says Andy Miles, Director of the Lighting Solutions Center at Hubbell Lighting. “A good example of this pertains to the prevalence of lighting controls, which is growing tremendously. We’re working with our partners to help them increase the number of control experts on staff by certifying field technicians who can commission and/or troubleshoot control projects. This will ultimately help distributors set themselves apart from their competition.”

And set themselves up for survival. At the core of that long-term sustainability is education that remains spot-on in a rapidly changing landscape.

“Our Lighting Solutions Center (LSC) in Greenville, South Carolina, serves as the centerpiece of our commitment to train, educate and develop solutions as lighting technology continues to evolve,” says Miles. “It’s a collaborative environment that empowers participants to tackle relevant lighting issues in a practical way. We’re hosting agent, specifier, contractor and distributor customers on a weekly basis. We know that online training is important as well, and for millennials that grew up online this will certainly be another attractive option for education and training.”

Whether online or in-person, distributors with the long view understand that training takes time and money. “However, that’s a sound investment considering these are the future leaders of the business,” adds Miles. “We employ professional staff with industry-recognized accreditations and certifications to lead our training. Our classrooms are equipped with advanced audio-visual tools for the latest in today’s educational experience in an architecturally and ergonomically appealing setting. We measure return on investment by the health of our relationship with key business partners.”

Even in this age of connectivity, the old school “connection”—that coveted customer relationship—remains the sweet spot, and ultimately a key differentiator between distributors and global enterprises.

“[Distributors] understand the unique needs of the local customer and specific energy codes that shape lighting solutions. The language and methodology for specifying lighting projects has evolved and implementing LED and controls products is not a one-size-fits-all experience.”

In this playbook, the prudent distributor leverages millennials to construct a safety net smack dab in the middle of the digital ceiling.

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Jean Whatley

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