NAED Customer Panel Calls for a Return to Service Basics by Electrical Distributors

Jan. 25, 2002
The end users on the customer panel at the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) Region 1 Conference, held Jan. 16-19 in Palm Desert,

The end users on the customer panel at the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) Region 1 Conference, held Jan. 16-19 in Palm Desert, Calif., offered electrical distributors some sound but often-heard advice: To earn customers' business, you must prove that your company is a dependable source of supply.

The three panelists agreed distributors must prove to customers that they will be available for and follow up on questions, offer on-time job-site delivery, have salespeople able to provide knowledgeable technical support and provide all of these services at reasonable prices, if not the lowest prices.

Along with being the most vocal participant, Darrell Bender, senior vice president of purchasing, Cupertino Electric Inc., San Jose, Calif., was the most familiar with the operations of electrical distributors, as he had spent several years with WESCO Inc., Pittsburgh.

Bender knows that the lighting and switchgear business, which make up two thirds of his electrical supply purchases, doesn't provide distributors with many points of profit. But if his chosen distributors support Cupertino Electric, one of the largest electrical contractors in the United States, according to the 2001 CEE News Top 50 Electrical Contractors listing, with these products, he will give them a piece of his more profitable commodity supply business.

He said one of the most important things that distributors must remember about electrical contractors is that with union electricians earning the equivalent of $1.50 per minute in some big-city markets, contractors can't afford to have them waiting around on the job-site for late deliveries of supplies.

Blair North, maintenance supervisor for Gatorade's plant in Tolleson, Ariz., said because his crew consists of “multi-craft” technical people who do more than just electrical service work, he needs electrical distributors who can train his people on the control products and maintenance supplies needed to keep his manufacturing lines running. Like Cupertino Electric's Bender, North lives with the high cost of down-time; when a manufacturing line is down it can cost his company thousands of dollars. North adds that he can't possibly stock all of the maintenance supplies he needs, so he relies heavily on local distributors to warehouse emergency electrical supplies.

Electrical distributors were the primary source of supply for all of the panelists, and none of them were frequent users of the Web as a supply source, unless their distributors could not get them a product in an emergency.

“Having a line down is expensive,” said North. “We will do what we have to do if the local distributor does not have it.”

The panelist Chet Chapman, owner, Chapman Electrical Contracting Inc., Glendale, Ariz., has more than 30 years of experience as an electrical contractor; for the past 17 years he has owned his own business. He has good relationships with his local distributors and relies on them to service all his electrical supply needs. Like the other panelists, he said neither Home Depot nor other alternate channels are a major factor in his purchasing decisions.

“We need our electrical distributors,” he said. “We don't go to Home Depot, and we don't have the time to look around the Internet for supplies.