A veteran sales force is extremely valuable. Associates with 20-plus years in the industry have seen it all; nothing can phase them. Nevertheless, it’s just as important to infuse your team with youth. What lighting rookies lack in expertise, they certainly make up for in peer connections.
The mammoth Millennial Generation (also known as Generation Y) comprises 75 million Americans between the ages of 14 and 30. Their buying power will eventually match that enjoyed by their Baby Boomer parents in the 1980s and ‘90s. Yet, having grown up in a technology-dominated world, this demographic’s consumer perspective—and that of their slightly older Gen-X “cousins”—is entirely unique. Employing a showroom staff who not only understands but also lives this new reality is essential.
“Our parents are much more comfortable going to a store than shopping on the Internet,” says Shelley Wang, General Manager of W.A.C. Lighting and in her late 20s herself. “And yet our generation, with our work pace and lifestyle, we don’t really leave time to go to the local showroom. We like the convenience of home centers, but we don’t always appreciate the differences in quality. Understanding the new [home] buyers out there and how they shop will do the in-dustry good in how it markets itself to the younger crowd.”
Though many lighting companies (retail and wholesale) are family owned and passed down from generation to generation, Wang says there is still a dearth of younger individuals in the industry. “You can only count on so many generations enjoying the business,” she says. Succession plans may not always pan out.
Lighting showrooms, rep agencies and manufacturers should focus just as much effort on recruiting new talent right out of college. “Our industry tends to be [made up] of smaller companies that don’t individually have much leverage or exposure when it comes to recruiting,” Wang says. “And sometimes, honestly, they don’t pay enough.”
That’s why Wang has joined forces with several other young lighting executives, including ET2’s Aaron Sperling and Fanimation’s Nathan Frampton, to help the American Lighting Assn. (ALA) launch its new “Initiative for the Future” at this month’s ALA Conference in San Antonio, TX. More than a mere social hour, this initial gathering (which took place Sept. 10, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.) will meaningfully connect twenty- and thirtysomethings from all industry walks.
“We have made it a practice for some time to reach out not only to senior executives but to mid-range and younger [folks],” says Dick Upton, ALA President. “The question is: Can we take our networking outreach to the next level and find something we can do collectively that will be beneficial to the industry?”
Wang is confident that this group can focus its combined perspective on attracting new blood to the industry and offer strong, fresh solutions to issues facing lighting professionals, including Internet-related sales, new Supreme Court rulings on minimum advertised pricing and other tricky topics.
“You can’t stick your head in the sand,” Wang says. “The older groups have a lot of influence on our industry. We respect them and learn so much from them. But they can be so entrenched in what our industry is doing, they may not notice what’s going on outside. This [initiative] will create friendships and opportunities to share information. That’s healthy.“