Bulbtronics INC was founded by Frances Thaw in 1976 when she began distributing automotive bulbs in the United States for foreign-made cars. After years of hard work expanding the product line and pushing the envelope, Thaw made the Bulbtronics name synonymous with “the company to call for hard-to-find bulbs” in multiple markets. When Thaw passed away in 2000, her son, Bruce R. Thaw, who had been closely associated with the company for many years as Bulbtronics’ attorney of record, took over as president and CEO.
Under his leadership, the company has become a leading distributor of bulbs, batteries, and related products to biomeds, service technicians, hospitals, surgicenters, group practices, major medical distributors, and independents. Six years ago, Bulbtronics launched its e-commerce site, Bulbtronics.com, which has continued to evolve and grow. The company now has three distribution locations: Long Island, NY; Orlando, Fla; and Hollywood, Calif. We spoke to Thaw and Warren Thompson, director of business development, about the company’s past, present, and future.
24×7: Has the company had to face any obstacles in the past? How have you overcome them?
Thaw: The company was started by a woman at a time when women were not widely working in distribution, especially not as presidents of companies. Despite this, Frances Thaw forged ahead, and little by little, as Bulbtronics became established, all the major manufacturers became vendors.
Another challenge, common for many companies in the past 10 years, was to convert proprietary product information into a usable database for e-commerce. While everything had been computerized early on at Bulbtronics, the technology changed so rapidly that data conversion was an effort practically everyone in the company participated in.
Our Web site is still evolving and changing to meet the challenges of the Internet. We are committed to this sales channel and continue to devote resources to our e-commerce site. Our goal is to build a site that is a destination and resource for the health care market.
Thompson: Bulbtronics still knocks on manufacturers’ doors, but they also come knocking and we open the door to welcome them in. Recently, we began distributing thermal imaging paper and a recycling solution for bulbs, batteries, and ballasts.
24×7: Your company is celebrating its 30th anniversary. How has the industry changed since the beginning?
Thaw: When the company was established, practically no one was in the bulb-distribution business. Since then, the industry has grown significantly in response to the growth in demand. In a relatively short period of time, communications have changed from snail mail to fax to electronic communications in the form of e-mail and EDI purchase orders and e-commerce. (Bulbtronics does them all.) Customers want instant answers, and they want what they ordered yesterday. The pace of business and the pace in our warehouses has definitely picked up. And, we distribute more bulbs, batteries, and related lighting products than ever before. Bulbtronics now counts nearly 70,000 line items in our database.
24×7: What are some of your flagship products?
Thompson: Bulbtronics is a stocking distributor. Our strong suit is sourcing from more than 150 manufacturers from all over the world. As bulb and battery technology changes, Bulbtronics continues to source the latest products for our customers. I am working to expand our sources and product line to include Bulbtronics’ own BT brand alternative to expensive branded batteries and bulbs.
24×7: What makes Bulbtronics different from other companies who offer similar services?
Thaw: In addition to servicing “end-user customers,” we are the only bulb and battery source for large national and smaller local medical-supply distributors. If we don’t have it, we have the resources and buying power to get it for customers when they need it. We also service multiple markets (medical, scientific, industrial, entertainment), positioning us with significantly more buying power. This translates into a choice for customers of branded and equivalent products, at significant savings over OEM aftermarket sales.
Thompson: In addition to our stocked warehouses, Bulbtronics’ sales professionals provide in-depth expert technical service. Customers rely on us to identify the right product for the application. We are the experts; they don’t have to be. Our expertise extends to our e-commerce site, and all products—with specs, images, and pricing—are available for online purchase.
24×7: What do you think the future has in store? What would you like 24×7 readers to know about Bulbtronics?
Thaw: For the future, it looks like further consolidation in distribution, more overseas products, and more overseas sales. There also will continue to be a migration on the part of purchasing managers and buyers to buying online.
Bulbtronics is a strong, vibrant, and growing company; and we have proven our staying power. There are competitors out there, but they have come and gone. The key is that we consider customers to be our most valuable resource. We take our cues from them, and we bend over backward to take care of them.