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Selling wireless technology: Opportunity knocks at distributors’ doors

By Bridget McCrea

Electrical distribution has historically been a largely “wired” arena, with the bulk of the products sold involving some type of wiring and installation. With wireless technology evolving at the speed of light, distributors are increasingly finding themselves working outside of their traditional lines and in a place where cables and wires just aren’t welcome.

The facilities rehab market is one area where electrical distributors can show their newfound wireless prowess. Enticed by “green” tax deductions, LEED certification, Energy Star ratings, energy savings, higher occupancy rates, and increased property values, more and more building owners and managers are integrating wireless energy management solutions into their facilities.

This opens a door of opportunity for electrical distributors that take the time to learn about the market and develop effective sales approaches for it. One distributor that’s already jumped into the fray is Granite City Electric Supply, Co., in Quincy, Mass. According to Greg Smith, vice president of marketing, the company has a number of outside sales reps who work with institutional end users and contractors to sell energy retrofit projects that include wireless sensor switches, occupancy sensors, and controls.

Getting those sales reps up to speed on how to add customer value in the wireless realm isn’t easy, according to Smith. “As with most standard distributorships, we have salespeople who are trying to sell 40,000 SKUs of products ranging from three-quarter inch conduits to these wireless systems, and everything in between,” Smith explains. “Not all salespeople are designed to handle these new solutions.”

Once trained, the sales reps are able to tap into a newfound market opportunity. “Wireless is just one more tool that our reps use to provide an upsell and to give end users some additional value,” says Smith. He says the firm is still in the “beginning stages” of working with such solutions, which can slash building power usage by up to 30 percent. “There’s definitely a place for the electrical distributor in this market,” says Smith, “particularly when you combine the wireless with existing power wiring (since there are no additional cables to run).”

Dickman Supply of Sidney, Ohio, is another distributor that sees potential in wireless energy management systems. About eight months ago the company established a green energy solutions division that handles such projects. According to Doug Borchers, vice president of sales and marketing, the company is also working with Lutron, a manufacturer of wireless occupancy sensors, to sell such products to a variety of customers.

Borchers says wireless solutions are particularly useful for contractors that are working in older, block buildings. In fact, that type of project put Dickman Supply in the wireless business in the first place. “It was a block building where we knew fishing wires down the wall would be very difficult,” says Borchers. “We got around the issue by using wireless sensors.”

Opportunity knocks for distributors looking to get into the wireless market, says Borchers, although the cost of such solutions will have to come down for more customers to adopt them. “The hard part is getting customers to justify paying two to three times more than wired solutions,” says Borchers. “Once the costs come down we’ll probably see all sensing go to wireless. It’s just too expensive right now.”

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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