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Speaking Out: 12 Tips for Reinventing Your Lighting Business

Sept. 30, 2016
The author’s common-sense take on how traditional lighting distributors need to evolve to survive in today’s lighting market is short, sweet and real world.

Some distributors are already out of business, they just don’t know it yet. When my good friend Chris Brown first wrote his epic post “Illumigeddon” in www.energywatchnews.com, he sparked quite a bit of discussion. I would like to go one step further and emphatically state, “Every single traditional lighting business will go out of business. It’s just a matter of time and it will happen faster than most would like.”

Do you really want to be the last man standing? Remember the movie “The Last of the Mohicans”? Well, that did not end well.  To my friends and cohorts that run successful businesses and are in the market everyday fighting the good fight. You are the doers. You compete in a very competitive marketplace and have my deepest respect. My goal is not to tell you how to run your businesses but rather to contribute to your strategic thinking going forward. I offer my thinking to provide you with some encouraging guidelines in order to disrupt your existing business model for success in disruptive times.

1. Milk your traditional lighting business as long as you can but know that the end is near. Solid-state lighting is the real deal and it’s changing everything.

2. Create a new disruptive lighting business model or acquire one and run it as a separate business. If lighting is not about illumination anymore, then it must be about something else, so call it something else. (GE calls theirs Current, Powered by GE, headquartered in Boston. Maybe they know something else).

3. Consider a disruptive business model that can satisfy the basic turnkey needs of your customers. They want smart buildings and you can provide these services to meet that need:

  • Project management from the audit to ongoing monitoring of the result.
  • Supply of the most advanced electronic technologies, not just lighting.
  • Installation and maintenance. As technologies change so does your value proposition.

4. Don’t put traditional people in charge — hire those that are not hampered by the good ole days. It ain’t your grandfather’s lighting business anymore. You do not need those who constantly want to justify what they did yesteryear but rather, leaders with vision that demand taking an uncharted and maybe alien direction going forward.

5. Hire Millennials. Find the young folks who understand the transition to Smart Lighting,  and more importantly the Intelligent Lighting systems approach. They can work your social media activities as well. Millennials are disruptive tech adopters — they grew up with a phone in one hand and a tablet on their laps and are proficient in the use of disruptive innovations. Most are technologically enabled in unprecedented ways.

6. Customer mining — dig deep into your existing customer files and determine what they buy and how they buy from you. Remember, every single one of your customers will upgrade to SSL systems. Either you will sell them or your competitors will.

7. Dominate small niche markets first. A big fish in small pond strategy seems to work with high-tech companies. The old traditional strategies that worked well in the past will certainly not work going forward. Serve those niche markets you know best. You cannot be all things to all people when change at this magnitude happens.

8. Create a new business development department. Their primary role should be to explore the disruptive innovations in the lighting market that will continue to evolve. Give them the freedom to change course when necessary.

9. Put someone in charge of Content Marketing  — the core of effective communications these days. Even traditional marketing disciplines are changing. Remember the “Four Ps”? Well now it’s the “Four Cs”

  • Product — Customer wants
  • Place — Convenience to buy
  • Promotion — Communications
  • Price — Cost to satisfy

10. Think of your marketing efforts in terms of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). The variety of advertising and promotional techniques used to reach existing and potential customers continues to increase, but so does the noise level.  In this new age of lighting, your challenge will be to tell your company’s story using a blend of traditional promotions, social media and digital communications. You must keep your message clear  and consistent so customers will hear you above all the market noise.

11. Focus on social media and e-mail marketing as a means to enhance CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Keep your business fresh in the minds of your customers and entice them to reconnect with your new business model. Content is fire and social media is gasoline.

12. Get a grip on Lighting as a Service (LaaS). Stay plugged into your customer’s lighting/data service needs on an ongoing basis and charge them accordingly.  Look for new ways to service your customers and service the hell out of everything you sell.

One last thought  about IoT, Internet of Things, and all the rest. It’s not going away, so it must be an integral part of your strategic thinking. Understand it all as it will drive the direction of your new business model. More importantly, it will allow you to be more connected to your customers than ever before.              

Bill Attardi has been in the lighting business for more than 50 years. Now publisher of the energywatchnews.com blog, his first full-time job after three years in Army security was as a sales rep for Westinghouse Lamp in New York. Humble beginnings led to executive posts with Westinghouse, Philips, USI Lighting and a position as part owner in Wellmade Products. In 1994 he founded Attardi Marketing, a marketing and training company. He has an MBA in marketing and is an adjunct professor at Monmouth University and Brookdale Community College in N.J. You can reach him at [email protected].


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Philips Lighting and RAU-Architecten A’dam/Thomas Rau
Distributors, manufacturers and reps can learn how to sell new lighting technology by figuring out where customers are in the Technology Adoption Life Cycle (TALC).
(Photo credit: ©Jasper Sanidad Photography / Gensler)
The lighting system Zumtobel developed for Gensler’s new office in Oakland, Calif., took special care with conference room illumination. To play in the new lighting market, distributors will need to do much more than just warehouse and sell off-the-shelf lighting products. They will need to understand the relationship between lighting, HVAC and other building systems, and the control systems that link them.