The battered economy is certainly being felt throughout the electrical industry, but here and there companies are reporting some bright spots. The usual torrent of news releases announcing grand openings has slowed to a trickle, yet some distributors are not merely weathering the storm, but are continuing with plans for expansion.
Crawford Electric Supply, a Dallas-based subsidiary of Sonepar USA, opened two new locations earlier this year in Texas and Louisiana. The new locations are part of Crawford’s planned expansion throughout those states, made possible by a combination of sustained construction growth in the region and access to capital through Sonepar.
Crawford entered the Louisiana market for the first time less than a year ago, but recently moved into a new, larger facility in Metairie, La., to serve the greater New Orleans market. The new building is over 60,000 square feet and less than five miles from downtown New Orleans.
The increase in space presents an opportunity to expand even further in the market, and allows Crawford to serve a wide variety of customers, from large commercial developers to smaller private contractors.
“Our immediate success in this market over the past year is the result of hard work and a ‘whatever it takes’ approach,” said Crawford Electric Chief Executive Officer Craig Levering. “We look forward to providing unmatched service to our growing list of customers in the great state of Louisiana.”
In the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast following the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita – still underway almost four years later – Crawford has found continuing demand for electrical products and more to come, says Jeff Metzler, Crawford’s president.
“In New Orleans there’s been a lot of activity because of Katrina,” Metzler said. “It’s taken time for capital to get in place for the rebuilding efforts. Due to the slowdown, the tightening of capital has also affected that, and people have been hesitant to rebuild. I think Crawford will be poised to help with the recovery.”
In February, Crawford opened a new branch in Conroe, Texas, an hour north of Houston. The new facility of 25,000 square feet employs a staff of eight. The office and counter areas are equipped with energy-saving lighting controls, and efficient fluorescent lighting units are installed throughout the warehouse.
The residential market of south Texas hasn’t experienced the implosion seen in some other markets in the country. “We think it’s not that good, but the rest of the country may think it’s pretty solid,” Metzler said. “Texas didn’t experience the same rapid growth in real estate values as rest of country. As it has pulled back, it didn’t have much room to give.”
Overall, the economy of the once-very-oil-dependent region has achieved a sort of balance. The oil industry still plays a major role, and last summer’s run-up in gasoline prices did provide a boost, but growth in hospitals and other industries have also been very strong, Metzler said.
Crawford is also pursuing further growth and stability through diversification. Commercial and residential construction have long been Crawford’s primary focus. Over the past year, starting in its Houston branch, the company has been developing an offering for the industrial market, and the New Orleans and Conroe locations will “piggyback” on that, Metzler said.
The uncertain economy hasn’t changed the way Crawford goes about opening new locations, Metzler said. “There’s really been no change to the model. Our model has been very successful, and we’ve been able to grow substantially based on it. We tend to go in lean anyway. We run a lean, efficient organization, we provide best customer service we can, and it works. A good investment is a good investment.”
Even while the short-term outlook is positive overall, Metzler is keeping an eye on development further out. “There’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline that’s still moving forward. We’re fortunate with that,” he said. “Our biggest concern is what’s going to happen in the second half of the year and into 2010.”
The company has no immediate plans for further expansion, due in part to economic uncertainties, but Metzler said Sonepar remains interested in any opportunities that may arise.
Crawford Electric Supply was founded in 1986. Levering (who continues to serve as CEO) acquired it in 1990, then sold to Sonepar USA in January 2007. In addition to the new locations, the company has branches in Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, College Station, Austin and New Braunfels, Texas.