Madison Electric Deal with Smart Box Signals New Direction for Manufacturer

Dec. 18, 2009
Madison Electric Products, a manufacturer with 80 years of history in the electrical industry, is taking a new approach to building up its stable of products

Madison Electric Products, a manufacturer with 80 years of history in the electrical industry, is taking a new approach to building up its stable of products. The Bedford Heights, Ohio-based company is seeking out electricians who are inventors on the side and helping them bring their products to market.

In an exclusive agreement announced this week with Smart Box Inc., Oakdale, N.Y., Madison Electric is launching the full product line of Smart Box electrical work boxes, which are UL-approved non-metallic electrical boxes that are fully depth-adjustable because they mount internally with screws to either wood or 25-gauge metal stud framing.

The Smart Box was invented by Greg Herth, a Long Island, N.Y., electrician. Madison Electric said its marketing agreement with Herth will be the first of many partnerships it will establish with electrician/inventors to bring “innovative field-tested and field-created products to market.”

Madison Electric has two more such deals ready to launch in the first part of 2010, Brad Wiandt, president of Madison Electric Products, told Electrical Marketing. When Wiandt joined the company 14 months ago, he saw an opportunity to return to its roots and at the same time develop a stronger reputation for innovation. Madison was started by an electrician with an idea for simplifying electrical installations, which became the Madison Strap.

“During every day on the job, there’s a contractor rigging something up to satisfy an installation because there’s not a product that satisfies what he needs for that installation. Doing product development in-house, we could do a good job of addressing those needs — and we do maintain that capability — but we don’t have the experience the contractors have,” Wiandt said.

Madison’s deal with Smart Box began at the Cleveland Electrical Expo in April, where a Madison employee became intrigued with Herth’s products. “We approached him about helping him out, and at first he had that David and Goliath thing in his head — we’re not as big as some of our competitors, but he was still concerned that we would try to own and control him. It took some convincing, but we told him, ‘We’re not here to steal your idea or steal your fame.’”

“What Madison has, that we can offer these guys, is a mature distribution network,” Wiandt said. “We have a complete rep network of 27 reps, we have 15 warehouses, we have complete marketing capability with the collateral to move these products. Those are all things a lot of these guys would be lacking, and it takes time to put them together. We have 1,600 distributors across the country, and all of them are eager to buy something that a contractor would want to make his life easier.”

Some of the product ideas Madison has considered were nothing more than “sketches on a napkin,” while others are fully developed with existing production arrangements and marketing campaigns already underway, Wiandt said.

All three of the contractors Madison Electric has done deals with thus far – Smart Box being the first – were unexpected finds, Wiandt said. “They were all lucky connections. But we enjoyed it so much we decided to change our marketing approach, and we’ll have a major campaign next year to tell contractors, ‘If you have an idea, we can help you.’”

Herth first patented his Smart Box products in 1997 and since then has been awarded nine additional U.S. patents. “It is not easy for an inventor to bring his or her products to market,” he said. “This is why a partnership between Smart Box and Madison Electric Products makes sense. In just six years, Smart Box Inc. has introduced 14 new products and established name-brand recognition as an innovative manufacturer of non-metallic device boxes.”

The Smart Box products will continue to be produced through the contract manufacturing arrangements set up by Herth, but Madison is also ready to use its own production arrangements to get new products into the market, Wiandt said. “We don’t own any direct manufacturing capacity, but we have relationships with 20 to 30 manufacturing companies, both domestically and abroad, so whether it’s plastic or steel or die-cast, we can plug it into those relationships.”

The initiative to partner with contractor/inventors has breathed new life into Madison Electric, Wiandt said, and the company has been expanding despite the economic recession to bring in new thinking and prepare to ride the recovery. New regional manager positions and a new marketing department reflect the company’s commitment to its new course.

“Madison is recognized as a conduit and cable fittings and fastener company, but if something falls outside that, we’ll still look at it,” Wiandt said. “If it helps with electrical installation and can be sold through electrical distribution, we will take a look at it.”