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Turning the Lunch and Learn Tables

By Chris Brown, CEO, Wiedenbach-Brown

Does this conversation with a manufacturer’s sales rep sound familiar?

“Mr. Distributor, my boss wants me to ask you if we can do a ‘lunch and learn’ for you and your team. Is it ok with you? Only an hour I promise. Aw c’mon, please? I’ll bring your favorite pastrami sandwiches! How about those cupcakes you like? Really need your help on this – I’m in trouble if I can’t get it done. Oh, and we’ve got some pretty cool new stuff to show you. Really.”

Well, if Menko De Roos, founder of Xicato (xicato.com) has his way, that lunch table needs to be turned on its head. Instead of a pleading request from a manufacturer’s sales rep, he envisions the conversation be flipped, with a demand from the distributor for training in the new age of SSL, the Internet of Things, and smart/intelligent lighting.

tED magazine Publisher Scott Costa and I had a great conversation with Menko De Roos recently. De Roos‘ previous concern about the damage ‘margin stack’ was doing to the acceptance of SSL has diminished, and he is optimistic about the opportunities for distribution. In fact, De Roos believes distribution has to re-invent itself to stay relevant and not be easily disintermediated. His optimism is reflected in his belief that there are numerous opportunities to re-invent the channel, and, he says, “I believe over the next five years, we will invent new ways to make the channel better than it ever was before.”

But, and it’s a big but, the bedrock of reinvention has to be a commitment to be better – better than we’ve been, and maybe better than we ever imagined we’d have to be. As I’ve said before, we now have to learn about new technologies, new business models, and the new language of SSL and smart/intelligent lighting. But where will distributors be able to find that training for all of their employees?

That’s where what we are calling “Menko’s Mandate” comes in to play.

“Demand to be trained!”

Politely, of course, but with urgency. Don’t forget that no matter how many LED retrofits you are doing, those sockets are going away, and you’re going to need new and more profitable business to replace that disappearing revenue. As De Roos told us, there is nothing wrong with a distributor saying to his vendor partners “I need help to do a better job. Train me please.” And soon. And thoroughly. And not just about the vendor’s products, but about his strategies for survival and success in the age of Illumigeddon.

De Roos has also observed that “Amazon is an early warning signal that is forcing the channel to read-invent itself.” Amazon may be as ‘easy to do business with’ as any distributor, even easier, with state-of-the-art web technology and incredible logistical capabilities. But distribution has the clients, the relationships and the value-adds that differentiate us from web-only commerce. De Roos reminds us that Amazon is not standing still, and will be working toward narrowing that gap.

And now we come back to training. Demanding product training is one thing. But successful manufacturing partners should be asked to share their successful business practices too. What new business and communication technologies are they looking at, in addition to product developments? For those of us old enough to remember, what will this generation’s fax machine be, that will magically change our businesses? What training conferences does the manufacturer send his team to? What additional values and solutions can the manufacturer bring to the distributor?

So, to sum up the Menko Mandate… Demand more from your manufacturer partners, just like your clients are demanding from you. And don’t be too busy for the ‘lunch and learn’ you’re offered. You might miss more than a great pastrami sandwich!

“Who is Menko De Roos?” De Roos is co-founder and CEO at Xicato, manufacturer of high quality LED modules that are used in commercial lighting applications where performance and dependability matters. Xicato is moving quickly to integrate electronics, wireless communication and sensing capability into its modules to enable truly intelligent and connected lighting. Deroos sees this trend towards intelligent and connected lights as of great relevance for distributors and the trends potentially has a positive impact on how lighting gets specified and distributed.

Brown is the CEO of Wiedenbach-Brown.  He can be reached for comments about this column, or any others on Illumigeddon, at chris.brown@wblight.com or on Twitter at @illumigeddon.


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