Lighting has always been a different breed of cat for electrical distributors. It's a huge market for distributors; commercial/industrial lighting products alone account for 18 percent of total distributors sales, according to Electrical Wholesaling's 2000 Regional Factbook. If an electrical distributor is in the residential lighting market, too, lighting could account for 21 percent of sales, according to these figures.

But by their very nature, lighting products are not just a couple more line items that your customers add to purchase orders. Lighting shoulders enormous philosophical, practical and safety responsibilities. The fact that lighting products work together to imitate sunlight is pretty heady stuff in itself.

Their responsibility to illuminate where we work, live, shop, worship and play with a fascinating variety of fixture designs, lighting control, lamp types and colors conjures up a host of other day-to-day concerns, as well as public safety issues. Without lighting…well, you get the picture.

Although most of the products that distributors sell do their jobs quietly and effectively behind walls, in service closets or in subterranean vaults, lighting is eminently visible.

Nowhere else in the electrical wholesaling industry do looks count for so much. Design is at the very core of the lighting industry, and interior designers spend their lives painting spaces with their palettes of fixtures, lamps and lighting controls to create one-of-a-kind lighting statements.

The best place to experience the lighting industry's design flair each year is the annual LightFair show. To be held in Las Vegas on May 30-June 1, LightFair is the lighting industry's annual meeting of the clans. Along with being the lighting industry's biggest networking extravaganza, lighting designers, architects, manufacturers, lighting reps and others associated with the lighting industry get the opportunity to learn about the newest products and design concepts, take lighting education classes and find out who's working for whom. Sponsored by the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), the show's attendees and vendors have a decidedly artsy bent, but distributors and reps in the mainstream lighting market who immerse themselves in the show can still learn a lot about the latest in lighting.

Another defining characteristic of the lighting industry is the amount of new product development. Electrical Wholesaling's editors probably get more press releases from manufacturers announcing new lighting products than from any other product area. Lighting manufacturers compete to develop evermore efficient lamps and electronic ballasts and intelligent dimming systems and other lighting controls. Newer light sources such as fiber-optic lighting and sulfur lamps also offer interesting design options and potential for greater energy savings.

The lighting market operates much differently than distributors' core construction business segments, too. The buying influences differ. Lighting reps play a huge role in the commercial/industrial lighting business, and in some markets may entirely control a lighting job from tip to tail. They work with architects to get their vendors specified, quote the job, place orders with manufacturers, and may even expedite the flow of supplies to the job site. They may or may not bring the electrical distributor into the process at all.

One key trend in the lighting market similar to what's happening in the rest of the electrical wholesaling industry is consolidation. As you will see in this month's cover story, “Light Wars” on page 22, the giants of the lighting fixture business have grown rapidly over the past few years in their efforts to provide end users with a one-stop source for an ever-increasing variety of lighting fixtures. We still get requests for a similar article on the industry's largest lighting manufacturers that ran in Electrical Wholesaling nearly 10 years ago. With all the changes that have happened in the lighting game since that time, I am sure that you will find this must-read article to be equally intriguing.