With the Enlightened View
Why this business-to-business cataloger started a consumer book: Gray Supply, a company that now sells specialty lightbulbs under the name Topbulb, last year established Lighting for the Home, a new catalog of home lighting accessories for the high-end consumer market.
“The specialty lightbulb business is a great business in a high-margin marketplace. Its dollar size and profitability are very good,” says Phil Bonello, president at Gray Supply. “That said, we’re adversely affected by Asian sources and by improving technology. Lightbulbs last longer these days, so we’ve had to make significant changes to our product mix to stay ahead.”
Getting a new catalog started: “Previously, it was very difficult for consumers to easily source good-quality lamps. You had to go to interior designers or showrooms that were closed to consumers. We saw some lamps in catalogs and realized they were Asian-made knockoffs of better-quality lamps,” says Bonello. “We realized we could sell the real thing directly to end users.
“Companies that make high-quality lamps didn’t want to sell to catalogs, and definitely not to dot-com companies. It took dogged perseverance to get them into the catalog. They had to see we were a real catalog and that other top-of-the-line manufacturers were in the catalog.”
Grew up in: Mount Lebanon, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh
Education: Ph.D. in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Illinois Institute of Technology
Early work experience: Metromail, where he held several positions, including director of sales training and marketing director. “At Metromail I fell in love with directory work,” Bonello recalls. “We developed the first national white pages, the service you get when you dial 411. We created that product and sold it to phone companies.”
After Metromail was sold, Bonello was recruited to work for Topbulb.
Mentor: Jim McQuaid, CEO and founder of Metromail. “He is self-made, a really bright, good person, proactive, cool under fire, great with numbers, thoughtful, sees problems from another’s perspective. He is now on my board of directors.”