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Listen to Your Mama

Feb. 1, 2007
Electrical Wholesaling's editors hope you find some nuggets of helpful advice in the pages of the magazine each month.

Many of us had moms who always seemed to be barking out orders for us to do something. Do this, don't do that — you know the drill. In my childhood home, when it was cold, we couldn't leave the house without a hat. If we had homework, we couldn't watch television or go out and play with our friends until it was done. If we got a present, we couldn't play with it until we wrote a “thank you” note.

I didn't always agree with my mom's reasoning at the time, but I am sure it all somehow made me a better person. The editors of Electrical Wholesaling sometimes fall into that “motherly tone” in our articles when we urge our readers to adopt new ideas, technologies, products and business practices.

We can't help it. It's part of our mission. Our reason-to-be is to help distributors of electrical supplies, independent manufacturers' reps and electrical manufacturers run their businesses more profitably. Over the years, we've published dozens of article about the benefits of electronic data interchange (EDI), the Quality Process, bar coding, matrix pricing, merchandising, the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW), Web marketing, competing with Home Depot and other home centers, utility rebates and plenty of other things that we believe can help readers gain an edge on their competition and run their businesses more profitably.

I got to thinking the other day about what would happen if a reader really did do all of the things to his or her company that EW had urged them to do over the past 20 years. Let's run with this scenario and call this company “Attaboy Electric Supply Inc.” Attaboy Electric Supply got into EDI early, and convinced enough of its electrical manufacturers and independent manufacturers' reps to do the same that it really produced tangible savings for everyone involved by eliminating keyboarding errors, and speeding up communications. The company's management team got so geeked up about EDI that when the Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA), Arlington, Va., launched the IDW, they were first in line to get their data into the IDW, and would tell any vendor or non-competing electrical distributor that would listen to do the same.

Once the company's owner saw the savings from EDI, the owner got on an efficiency kick, and he decided to employ The Quality Process. It was excruciating for all involved, but the experience identified some wasteful processes, and the company made some operational changes that still help it today.

Going through the Quality Process identified some cost-saving opportunities in its inventory management practices, and Attaboy Electric Supply barcoded its warehouse. Much of the cost of the scanners and necessary software was quickly paid back by automating its inventory cycle counts. The company used its experience with bar coding as a base to build up to a warehouse information system where it gets real-time inventory feeds the moment pickers take products off the shelves to fill orders.

In the counter area, the company updates point-of-purchase displays frequently to keep a fresh look, but the basic design and flow of the counter area is much the same from its 1990s overhaul. It's freshly painted and lined with slat-board display paneling. Signage painted in the company's distinctive colors directs customers to where they need to go in the counter area.

From the minute customers pull up in the parking lot of Attaboy Electric Supply, they see a building that still has that clean, professional look of a prosperous electrical distributor that understands the importance of investing in its image.

When the Web craze hit in the mid-1990s, Attaboy Electric Supply immediately saw the Internet's benefits as a tool to market itself 24/7 to new and existing customers and vendors. At the time, the daughter of the company's sales manager was studying Web design in college, and she designed a Web site for the company that kept customers and vendors informed about product promotions, counter days and offered basic company information, such as directions to branches, operating hours, key contacts and a brief company history.

She is still employed on a freelance basis to update the site, add new links to vendor Web sites as necessary, and recently completed a password-protected system where customers can check order status.

One of the companies that discovered Attaboy Electric Supply through its Web site was a small energy-service company (ESCO) that occasionally needed some wire and cable, connectors, replacement circuit breakers and test equipment for the lighting and HVAC retrofits it did for local schools and small businesses. The veteran salesperson who handled the ESCO's business learned from his contact there about the local utility's rebate program and how it can cover much of the cost of the retrofit.

Attaboy Electric Supply didn't really have a specialty in supplying energy-efficient retrofits at the time. But this salesperson quickly realized how valuable this information on the locally available rebates could be to other customers, and in at least one case it helped him solidify a relationship with an electrical contractor who focused on industrial retrofits.

Attaboy Electric Supply's salesperson was able to make that electrical contractor look like a star to a plant manager when he alerted him about a sizable utility rebate for the new T8 lamps, electronic ballasts, reflectors, lighting fixtures, dimming controls and occupancy sensors he was installing as part of a new lighting system for the plant's offices.

Is your company now — or could it be in the future — another Attaboy Electric Supply? Do you compete with any Attaboy Electric Supplys?

Maybe this scenario is too far-fetched. But many companies use at least a couple of these strategies. By stretching their thinking a bit, they can find others that work.

What's the moral of this story? Selfishly speaking, keep reading EW. We will continue to provide you with ideas that can help you run your company more profitably. More importantly, always listen to your mama. She's right more than you think.

About the Author

Jim Lucy | Editor-in-Chief of Electrical Wholesaling and Electrical Marketing

Jim Lucy has been wandering through the electrical market for more than 40 years, most of the time as an editor for Electrical Wholesaling and Electrical Marketing newsletter, and as a contributing writer for EC&M magazine During that time he and the editorial team for the publications have won numerous national awards for their coverage of the electrical business. He showed an early interest in electricity, when as a youth he had an idea for a hot dog cooker. Unfortunately, the first crude prototype malfunctioned and the arc nearly blew him out of his parents' basement.

Before becoming an editor for Electrical Wholesaling  and Electrical Marketing, he earned a BA degree in journalism and a MA in communications from Glassboro State College, Glassboro, NJ., which is formerly best known as the site of the 1967 summit meeting between President Lyndon Johnson and Russian Premier Aleksei Nikolayevich Kosygin, and now best known as the New Jersey state college that changed its name in 1992 to Rowan University because of a generous $100 million donation by N.J. zillionaire industrialist Henry Rowan. Jim is a Brooklyn-born Jersey Guy happily transplanted with his wife and three sons in the fertile plains of Kansas for the past 30 years. 

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