This week on the Bright Ideas series presented by Acuity Brands®, Catherine is joined by Brad Picht, the national category manager for Graybar®: a supply chain management company and a leading North American distributor of high quality components.
WITNESSING A FAST-CHANGING INDUSTRY
Brad spent twenty years in the lighting industry after going to school to be an electrical engineer. During his studies, he applied for an internship opportunity to work alongside architects and engineers regularly. After a brief hour-long interview he was quickly accepted; and after another hour of training, he was handed a catalog and told, “Here, go sell something.”
Now that LED and lighting controls are growing more commonplace and standard, lighting capabilities have expanded to now include what distributors and electrical engineers used to only dream of. But more than that, the nature of the business itself has also changed.
WITNESSING A CHANGE IN BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS
When Brad first started his career, relationships and interpersonal interaction was the name of the game. People took their time, built rapport with a select circle, went out for drinks together, and eventually closed deals. Now, similar relationships are still around–– but the industry is extremely fast-paced. Buyer habits are evolving and digitizing, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies may still have industry veterans who are comfortable with cold-calling and face-to-face interactions, but they also need to adapt to meet the new needs of younger employees or prospects who are entering the field.
In this new age, distributors especially have to continually find new ways to be relevant. “People tend to pigeon-hole us as not being the experts on lighting,” Brad shared. “They’re not sure where we exactly fit in the chain.” However, at Graybar, they are actually very focused on trying to provide expertise and be a solution-adding resource for their clientele. They’re seeking new and better ways to improve every process and become more efficient.
This drive to stay relevant involved working with suppliers like Acuity Brands who can provide distributors like Graybar with technical information, training, and even marketing collateral. Whenever one company comes out with a new product or a new process, the other celebrates along with them and collaborates on how to release the changes to their industrial or commercial groups.
“With Covid, it’s been obviously a lot more difficult,” Brad admitted. Personal relationships and sales connections are a lot harder to maintain when sitting down to talk in-person is a challenge, and digital communication methods like phone calls and Zoom calls can get overloaded and drain the participants. However, Brad does have a particular story he likes to share with his new sales reps in order to encourage them when it comes to connecting with customers and staying the course.
ADVICE FOR ANY NEWCOMERS IN THE INDUSTRY
Brad initially started his career in St. Louis, which houses a number of popular breweries… one of which, Anheuser-Busch, decided to release a new beer called Bud Lite in 1982. It was not the first light beer out in the world–– Miller Lite had already cornered the market on best taste for lowest calories. However, Anheuser-Busch didn’t go after those same selling points. Instead, they sought to be the “fun” company. They pursued an entertainment angle in their marketing efforts and spokesmodel selections (the most notable being the dog “Spuds MacKenzie,” and later the main characters of the Dick Van Dyke show). By 2012, theirs was the most advertised drink brand in America.
Budweiser’s sales skyrocketed not because they were trying to mimic their competitors, but because they changed the equation and strove to be better at their own strengths. Brad’s advice to his teams at Graybar (and to anybody) is not to focus as much on what other companies do well, but focus on improving what you yourself do well.
The other piece of advice Brad lives by was learned from twenty years of working for his own father. Whenever a tractor or piece of equipment would break, his father would simply respond with, “Well we can’t throw it away. We have to find a way to fix it.” Brad learned from him that failure can’t be a dead end, and that it has to be learned from. Whenever things go wrong, it’s important to search for a solution instead of simply giving up.
To learn more about Graybar and Acuity Brands, visit graybar.com/c/sup-acuity-brands-group. Next week, Bright Ideas will dive deeper into the changes and challenges that face employees in the lighting industry, and how to welcome equality, diversity, and inclusion programs into your business.
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