Brenda Puckett on commodity vs consultation, special pricing agreements, and recruiting new talent
“Every business has to change.” That’s what Brenda Puckett, president at West-Lite Supply Co. says when asked about navigating turning points in the wholesale lighting industry.
West-Lite Supply was founded in Los Angeles, CA in 1981 with the purpose of becoming America’s premier distributor of lighting products. What was then a commodity based business selling lamps and fixtures, has now transformed into a rapidly changing electronics-driven service specialization.
“Now we're not even in the lighting business. I tell all my customers and my sales reps that we're in electronics now. Think about it -- LEDs… we're controlling these things with our phones. We're controlling the colors of them. We're controlling how we interact with them… lighting really is turned into an experience rather than a commodity.”
Being ahead of the curve at West-Lite is important to Brenda. The challenge lies in how you manage inventory when you are selling less of a particular item and you don’t want to get stuck with cases of outdated product, yet you have to balance that with keeping items in stock for your best customers and contractors.
In order to compete with the bigger companies in lighting, Brenda coaches her sales force to focus on the consultative side, providing a high level of customer service. She says, “Don't go in looking for an order. Don't go in wondering what they need. You have to go in and educate them and show them and give them the options.”
Another big challenge is recruiting top talent. Lighting isn’t historically the industry that students are coming out of school and running toward. But that is shifting a bit as the industry becomes more electronics-driven. The concept of engineering environments with customized lighting for particular events or moods is appealing to the younger generation.
In terms of hires, Brenda’s looking for people with a little bit of experience and a lot of willingness to get out there and help customers. Sales isn’t just about going out to see customers -- it’s about doing your research, pre-qualifying and finding out exactly what they need.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an episode about wholesale lighting distribution without a discussion on SPAs, or special pricing agreements, which Brenda says can be both a nemesis and also an opportunity for companies like hers. (And we gather that Jason really isn’t a fan!)
Brenda also shares her personal journey from college, to the New York Times, back to the family business at West-Lite. She surprises us with the story behind why her son does NOT work in the family business and shares what’s lighting her up most about the future of the industry.
Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.
Edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.
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