EW Surveys End Users on Wish List

Dec. 23, 2010
Electrical contractors are never shy about sharing their opinions, so perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that a survey of Electrical Construction & Maintenance

Electrical contractors are never shy about sharing their opinions, so perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that a survey of Electrical Construction & Maintenance (EC&M) readers for a cover story in next month's issue of Electrical Wholesaling touched at least one live nerve — the need for electrical distributors to get back to the basics of customer service.

The responses from the first 180 respondents to the survey offered electrical distributors a snapshot of what's really hacking-off their customers off these days. It also gives some real-world insight into just how concerned end users are about the still-horrendous state of the construction business in many regional markets and shows that electrical contractors and other end users are quite interested in renewable energy and other emerging green technologies.

Service basics

While many distributors may think all customers care about is getting the lowest possible price, respondents to this survey said they value product availability more than pricing, and that ease of doing business was also a top concern. As you can see in Chart 2 on page 2, the respondents' focus on what should be some pretty basic aspects customer service comes out loud and clear. While it would seem like something salespeople at distributor's counter areas would learn on the first day on the job, many respondents said they are frustrated with how long it takes them to simply pick up an order. In today's economic climate, time is money, and contractors said they can't afford to waste time catching up on local industry gossip, kibitzing about last night's game or munching on free donuts.

Jeff Miller, Jeff Miller Electric & Refrigeration, Yonkers, N.Y., spoke for many contractors in the survey in his response. “Sometimes when I go to pick up an order I feel I might as well pack a lunch because I spend so much time at the counter,” he said. “Speed it up!”

Sam Lloyd, an electrical contractor from Mars Hill, N.C., also asked distributors for faster counter service. His list of other things he wanted to ask electrical distributors summarized some common concerns in the survey. Here's what Lloyd wanted to ask distributors.

  1. Can I buy your stuff online and have it delivered?

  2. Why are there different prices for large versus the small contractors? Why not have a reward system for the amount yearly purchased?

  3. Can I have a system like a credit card and see it online so that I can see my whole account and then see purchases instantly?

  4. Why do I have to wait so long on the counter when I could help myself in a self-serve style and then have a counter that filled the specialty items?

Lloyd's request for online purchasing was interesting because it reflects a market conundrum. The majority of respondents said they purchased less than 10 percent of all products online, but one has to wonder if that relatively low percentage is more of a reflection of the fact that so few electrical distributors offer online purchasing, than it is a lack of demand from end users for online purchasing. Judging from these survey results, end users want online purchasing and they are already doing it from the competitors of full-line distributors that do offer it, including Home Depot, Grainger and Lowe's.

When asked what he would tell electrical distributors if he could get all of his local suppliers in the same room for 20 minutes, Patrick Murray, Murray's Electrical Service, a small electrical contractor based in Elk Grove, Calif., said, “Would you please get up to date on current technology? Online pricing and account info is only offered by one of my suppliers. Even Home Depot offers online purchasing information whether you have an account or not. Home Depot has 90 percent of what I use daily with better pricing, more locations and quicker service than any wholesale house I have an account with. Also a liberal return policy.”

He also said, “Little guys can eventually turn into big guys and they remember how they were treated when they were small and vulnerable.”

Business prospects for 2011

A solid majority (84 percent) of the survey's early respondents are expecting 2011 business conditions to be either flat (36 percent) or show some growth (37 percent). Several of the 16 early respondents who expected their sales to decline at least 10 percent or more were based in California, but until all results are in it's too early to sketch out any regional trends. One California electrical contractor, Matt Stewart, Harris Electric, Fresno, Calif., sounded pretty frustrated with the Golden State's economy, and said he didn't see any big construction projects breaking ground in his market area. He responded, “In California we have elected nothing but idiots. Our environmental laws will kill us all. Are you accepting applications?”

New markets

When asked about their level of participation or interest in some of the electrical market's new technologies, most of the end users (65 percent) said they were already involved with lighting retrofits. Surprisingly, 62 percent of the respondents said they were already working with LEDs. As you can see in Chart 1,another 36 percent said they hoped to someday install LEDs

Another point of interest is the number of early respondents who said they are already installing photovoltaic systems (52) and wind turbines (25). When all of the results are in, Electrical Wholesaling's editors will dig into these numbers to see if these respondents are located in states such as California, New Jersey, New Mexico and Massachusetts that offer ample utility and state financial incentives (in addition to the federal tax incentives) for installation of solar systems, but it would seem logical that this is the case.

The Jan. 14 edition of Electrical Marketing will offer additional analysis of this end-user survey.

chart 1: End Users & New Technology: The Hot Spots Currently involved Hope to install someday No interest LEDs 61.1% 34.9% 6.9% Energy audits in buildings 32.7% 38.7% 29.2% Lighting retrofits 67.6% 25.3% 7.6% Electric vehicle chargers 13.0% 74.0% 13.6% Photovoltaic (solar) products 29.5% 59.0% 11.6% Wind turbine installations 14.4% 51.1% 34.5% Note: Other responses included geothermal, energy harvesting, biomass and fuels but were less than one percent of total. This data is from 175 early respondents to an EW survey of EC&M readers. Chart 2: What End Users Want From Electrical Distributors Least important Somewhat important Important but not critical Pretty important Most important Availability 1.7% 2.2% 5.6% 34.6% 55.9% Price 0.0% 5.1% 14.7% 33.3% 48.6% Ease of doing business 1.1% 2.3% 12.1% 42.5% 43.7% Staff expertise 0.0% 3.4% 16.6% 40.6% 39.4% Delivery 7.9% 11.3% 16.9% 31.1% 33.3% Location 4.0% 8.0% 22.9% 41.1% 24.0% Return policy 2.9% 13.4% 24.4% 39.0% 20.9% Credit 18.9% 6.9% 34.9% 28.6% 11.4%