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Distributors, It’s Time to Step Up Your Lighting Game

Distributors, It’s Time to Step Up Your Lighting Game

By Bridget McCrea

When David Witz thinks about one of his biggest ongoing challenges—making sure lighting fixtures are delivered in the right quantity and to the right place at the right time—the image of a Whac-A-Mole arcade begins to come into view. “Just when we get one issue addressed, or one distributor aligned well with our needs and requirements,” says Witz, president at Oak Brook, Ill.-based Continental Electrical Construction Co., “another issue quickly emerges and needs to be handled. It’s like a continuous game of Whac-A-Mole, from our perspective.”

That can quickly become a problem when business picks up and the “speed of the game” gets to the point where hitting moles on the head becomes more and more difficult. Witz says his company is feeling that pressure now as both regional and national business has begun to outstretch Continental Electric’s ability to respond. “We’re in a pretty robust construction market for the first time in about six years—if not more,” says Witz, whose firm specializes mainly in commercial and industrial projects. “Right now, we have more opportunities than we can even get to. It’s a high-quality problem to have.”

The End-to-End Supply Chain Approach
Whether they are retro-fitting an existing structure or working on a new construction project, electrical contractors need distributors that will step up to the plate and help them get all of the products, parts, and services that they need to be able to do their jobs. When distributors fall short, contractors are directly impacted—regardless of who was at fault for the misstep.

Knowing this, Witz says he’d like to see more distributors taking the “end-to-end” supply chain approach to lighting orders, rather than just serving as “pass through” entities (i.e., like when the problem lies with the manufacturer). “The biggest issues we’ve had over the last few years, quite frankly, have involved the quality of the fixtures and the delivery times on these products,” says Witz. “We measure and rate our distributors based on key attributes, and we’d like to see them do more than just ‘move the paperwork along’ when a problem crops up.”

Witz sees this request as reasonable, and says that while Continental Electric has a pool of distributors that are “pretty good,” the accountability factor tends to trip many of them up. “When there’s a problem, say with a manufacturer, I don’t expect our distributor/partner to just pass along the problem and say, ‘There’s nothing we can do,'” Witz explains. “I expect them to get involved and be proactive about solving the problem.”

With the national recession still in most companies’ rear view mirrors, Witz acknowledges the fact that many companies are still running “lean” due to the need to trim overhead expenses and labor. “Maybe they just don’t have the depth that they need to be able to work in this expanding market,” he says. “Even so, there’s no doubt that we’ve been frustrated by having our problems and concerns passed along through the supply chain, with nothing being done about them at the ‘interim’ level. That’s our biggest complaint right now.”

As Continental Electric manages its own growth issues and high project volume in 2016, Witz says the company will be hiring new talent and looking for ways to integrate more members of the millennial workforce into the team. “The industry as a whole is getting younger, which means the key to our success over the next decade will lie in our ability to recruit and hire quality, younger talent,” says Witz. “That’s definitely going to be a challenge for us going forward.”

Things Could be Better
Business is also brisk at Terabyte Technologies, Inc., in Aloha, Ore., where Dave Gilson, owner, says the company has watched its project pipeline grow to the point where it had to start sub-contracting work out to its own competitors. “We’re doing this just to be able to keep up with our customers’ needs,” says Gilson. “Fortunately, I have good relationships with my competitors; I know they won’t steal our customers away.”

Through the uptick, Gilson says his electrical distributors have been “fairly decent” at meeting the company’s needs, including lighting for retrofits and for new projects. One area where they could use a little help, he states, is in the area of new technology. “For whatever reason, our distributors have been struggling to keep up with new technology as it comes out and hits the market,” says Gilson. “My guess is that they’re unsure of what the customers want, so they stock some of it and customers begin to buy more than what was anticipated.”

Gilson says another peeve involves distributors that stock and sell one aspect of a larger item, but without carrying the rest of the parts or items that go with it. Take surface mount raceways, for example. Used to house wiring on a wall surface, these products require a certain number of fittings for installation. Terabyte’s distributors carry the raceways, but not the fittings. “That’s what happens when you work with salespeople who don’t actually install and use the products that they’re selling,” says Gilson. “With today’s levels of automation, it seems like it would be easy enough to put all of the parts into the computer system and offer it up as a complete package.”

Gilson has run into similar problems with electrical faceplates. “I have one customers that still loves the old, ivory-colored faceplates,” he explains. “Suppliers will sell you ivory-colored jacks all day long, but they don’t sell the matching faceplates. It makes us wonder why they’re even stocking the jacks.”

On the lighting front, Gilson sees room for more training on the LED side of the market, where new products are literally cropping up daily. This will become even more important as the year progresses and as Terabyte’s project volume picks up. “The industry is exploding and training is behind,” says Gilson. “There’s definitely an opportunity for distributors to educate themselves in this area and then pass it along to us—so we know how to install multiple brands…not just one.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.


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