Competing With Big Box Retailers for Light Bulb Sales
 

Amid a fanfare of public relations and environmental goodwill, Wal-Mart recently pledged to sell 100 million compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) by the year 2008.

This pledge sent a collective shudder through the greater lighting industry—for a variety of reasons.

“How can you be sure of quality control?” wonders Lithonia Lighting’s Director of Showroom Sales Mike Virag. “We’re working so hard to convince consumers that the light from CFLs is comparable to incan-descent. What happens when they buy a lower-quality, cooler-temperature bulb from [a big box outlet]? We’re back to square one.”

It’s certainly difficult to fight the marketing power of retail giants with stores on virtually every corner. Increasingly, such outlets are top-of-mind among home-owning do-it-yourselfers and contract professionals alike. The key for showrooms looking to contain the big boxes, says Satco Products Vice President Brian Brandes, is creating bulb buzz.

“Retailers don’t promote the fact that they are in the business of selling bulbs,” Brandes says. “They look at them like a low-dollar item, when in fact they are very profitable products.”

For his part, Palatine, IL-based independent contractor Andrew Hoevker frequently shops hardware outlets for supplies and tools, but when it comes to lighting—and especially bulbs—he shops specialty showrooms.

“I use them far more often than Lowe's, Home Depot or Menards,” Hoevker says. “[My local showroom], Northwest Electrical Supply, has a better selection of bulbs and fixtures, and their prices are typically much better.”

Yet, not all consumers are so well-informed; many don’t even take the time to compare prices. They head to a big box out of habit.

“A customer who buys again and again from [Wal-Mart or Home Depot] may not necessarily be displaying loyalty,” says Linda Sease, author and expert in marketing and consumer behavior. “They may be trapped by inertia, indifference or exit barriers erected by the company or circumstances.”

It’s up to independent showrooms to snap retailers out of that inertia. Every item a showroom sells will require repeat bulb purchases long after the consumer takes it home, making bulbs a perfect profit center for implementing customer loyalty programs.

“Too many companies forget the customer after the sale,” says Darrell Zahorsky, small business consultant and President of Profit Innovators Inc. He encourages showroom owners to check back with customers repeatedly to make sure a fixture is still shining bright and to remind them that, when the bulb burns out, you’re there to fill their needs.

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