Philips, Osram Sylvania, and GE. These are the three big names in the lighting industry and have been the largest players for years. With the rise of LED light bulbs, and the ban of new manufactures of common 60-watt incandescents, there was a chance for smaller players to break into the lighting market.
At big box stores like Lowe's, Home Depot, and Menard's, though, the shelves are stocked with only the big brands. Does the reason for this boil down to a branding or a technology issue?
In terms of the technology, LEDs would make an almost-perfect fit for electronic components manufacturers to edge into the lighting market. After all, LED technology is all over computers, circuit boards, and all sorts of components. Companies that manufacture these items have the potential for vertical integration of a lighting division.
Samsung is a perfect example of a company that started making LEDs, and currently has a line of them, but they are nonexistent to most consumers since they are not on the shelf at Walmart or Menard's. In addition to candelabra and reflector bulbs, Samsung also created a line of general service replacement LEDs for 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent bulbs.
This indicates that the big names in lighting are big because consumers recognize them, so big boxes stock their products almost exclusively. It has been uncommon for other companies — large or small — to generate buzz in the lighting industry, with the recent rise in popularity of Cree being the exception that proves the rule. The vast majority of products stocked by most home improvement stores reflect the lighting industry's brightest stars.
While Philips, GE, and Sylvania make excellent products (which is why they are so popular), consumers at big box home improvement stores are offered an extremely limited number of options when shopping for LED lights. Now that LEDs are mainstream and coming down in price, the opportunity is huge online but seemingly limited in retail stores.
This is why LED shoppers have to go online and do their own research to find what are often very competitive options. Most manufacturers offer long warranties for their bulbs, from three to five years, making it attractive for consumers to switch from the older to newer technology. Besides tradition and name-brand recognition, there is little reason to shop blindly for LEDs through only the big three lighting companies.
At least in this first round of LED development, the big three remain at the top of the food chain. As lighting technology continues to increase, will we see more players jump into the market? Cree's popularity indicates that there may be more room in the future for lighting companies to break through the mainstream and start appearing on store shelves.