When one of the big three automotive manufacturers decided it was time to upgrade the lighting in their production facilities to LED, the project was going to be so large that it took a whole team several years of work just to plan the project! Everything from what products to use, to how to install, to where to start had to be carefully calculated, reviewed, and reviewed again before the first lamp could be screwed in.
Executives, engineers, accountants, plant managers, and many more had to give input on the plan and then sign off on it. After all, this energy efficiency project had the potential to save the company millions a year in utility costs, but if it interfered with the company's more important task of building cars-- it had the potential cost millions more than anticipated.
It's a problem not exclusive to the automotive industry. A number of large corporations rely on just-in-time manufacturing practices and 24/7 distribution centers that leave little room for downtime for energy efficiency upgrade projects, however, the benefits of these projects are very real and highly desired by these large production based businesses.
So the question becomes, how do we, as the lighting and electrical industry, help these large businesses realize the benefits of energy efficiency projects without becoming an inefficiency by interfering with their operations? There are a lot of ways to answer that question and the truth is that every project is going to have unique variables to that project that can't be predicted. However, there are some basic truths that, if kept in mind, should help make these projects more beneficial for the customer as well as more profitable for the contractor doing the project.
It's no secret that every sale starts with a relationship. In large industrial vertical though, the relationship is critical, not just from the standpoint of trust, but also from the standpoint of knowledge. A good contractor partner for a large industrial production customer will not only understand the customer's business, but will be intimately familiar with the customer's processes, risks, and liabilities.
In the automotive industry, this doesn't mean being able to build a car, but it does mean knowing what the process to build that car looks like and what it costs if any of that process is disrupted.
Gaining this type of knowledge doesn't happen with a quick 30-minute orientation session, it comes with months of work researching, meeting with, and listening to the customer. This process of relationship building can be costly for some contractors, but it is an investment that they can't afford to not make!
The largest manufacturing and industrial customers have big research and development departments that work on both external products for sale and internal business practices to build and sell those products. For the most part, these R and D departments will have done a lot of the work to figure out what they want and how they want it done. However, there is usually room for a contractor partner to come in and make suggestions or modifications to the plan. The best practice is talk early on and often in the relationship about what the customer is owning from a research and planning perspective and what they expect the contractor to own. In the end, It's good to be a partner that brings suggestions to the table, and most customers expect that, but make sure you've calculated your suggestions carefully because you can bet the customer will!
One of the biggest lessons FSG has learned over the years of doing large projects for big production customers is that we are usually a small fish in the customers very big pond! Understanding that even as important as the project is, the customers business is still more important can be a hard hurdle to overcome in the relationship and can be one of the hardest things to manage as a contractor.
Scheduling labor, moving equipment, turning off the power-- these are all things that have to be carefully considered against the customer's production goals. Making the mistake of getting in the way can be costly and can be grounds for removal from the pond!
Before any contractor should ever consider chasing a large energy efficiency project with a large production customer that contractor should, at the very least, have the first two dimensions of service down pat-- ability and capability. Ability to do the job-- the capability to deliver it!
However, the third dimension of service that is absolutely critical when it comes to these big projects is the flexibility to roll with it!
Despite all the planning, things will happen both on the customer side and the contractor side. Flexibility is key to getting through those challenges.
The successful contractor partner for large production customers is going to not only be willing to be flexible but is going to be able to afford to be flexible! This means they have the time, money, and resources to zig at the last minute when the plan said zag! Note: This third dimension of service is much easier to offer and afford if the contractor has invested in building a strong relationship and has managed their risk well-- points 1 and 2!
In the end, there are some challenges with these big customers that we don't find with smaller customers, however, that doesn't make them any less or any more important than any other customer. Our goal, as qualified, competent service providers should be to make a positive difference in the lives of our customers so that they can continue to make a difference in the lives of their employees and customers!
FSG has been doing lighting and electrical projects and service for customers of all shape and size for more than 35 years! To learn more about FSG and the solutions they offer, visit www.fsgi.com.
Brannon began his career at FSG in 2012 writing and preparing content for FSG’s communication department. In a world where the story sells, Brannon quickly found his stories and projects being used in sales presentations and thus began his transition from internal communications to marketing and sales.
Brannon works with one of the best teams any marketing professional could ask for to create and deliver dynamic sales and marketing materials to FSG sales teams nationwide. Brannon lives with his wife and four children in the Houston area. When away from his work Brannon speaks publicly for non-profit youth organizations with an emphasis on foster care and youth development. When not doing that, Brannon enjoys camping with his family and going to Disney World with his kids.