Times & Trends: At the Very Root of It All

March 2, 2015
The spirit of entrepreneurship still runs strong in the electrical wholesaling industry.

One of the great things about the electrical wholesaling industry is that when you get right down to it, the vast majority of entrepreneurs who founded electrical distributors, independent manufacturers’ reps, electrical manufacturers  and electrical contractors are living the American Dream.

You have hundreds if not thousands of entrepreneurs who had the guts and vision to start up their own companies and are being rewarded for their hard work. Sure, you have the monstrously large billion-dollar behemoths, but somewhere in their past there was an entrepreneur with an idea. Even Sonepar, the largest electrical distributor  in the world with approximately $18.25 billion in sales, is at its core a family-owned business started by Henri Coisne, who had a dream to run his own company.

We all have our favorite entrepreneur stories. Who can forget the tale of how Ron Kinney grew All-Phase Electric Supply, Benton Harbor, Mich., from a renovated A&P grocery story into one of the largest electrical distributors in the land, with more than 90 branches and $570 million in sales.

So many entrepreneurs have impressed me over the years with how they built their electrical supply houses.  I remember visiting with John Moore, founder of Moore Electric Supply, Charlotte, N.C., about 30 years ago to do a cover story on his company and being fascinated with the story of how he came from the farm fields of North Carolina to build one of the most successful commercial projects distributors of its day.

Anyone in New England who had the good fortune to do business with Goody Gilman of Gilman Electrical Supply can probably tell you the story of how he built his company from a renovated movie theater in Newport, Maine, into on of the most respected distributors in New England. And I know of at least one electrical entrepreneur who got his start by making deliveries in an old station wagon rumbling through busy city streets with bundles of conduit crushing the roof rack, and reels of wire and cable perched precariously in the back seat.

Many entrepreneurs in this industry probably have similar amusing stories; I am glad to have met so many of them. More important are the stories of how many of these entrepreneurs were and are benevolent kings and queens in their local communities, good and decent folks who quietly provided jobs to thousands of employees and made their towns and cities — and this industry — better places to live and work.

Although some industry consultants are now making dire predictions about how AmazonSupply will clean the clocks of complacent distributors in this supposedly sleepy industry, and so much of the industry chatter these days is about who is buying whom, the truth of the matter is that the spirit of entrepreneurship still runs strong in the electrical wholesaling industry. Yes, the industry is consolidating. And yes, there will always be new competitors, whether it be AmazonSupply another company we haven’t heard of yet. But a motivated entrepreneur who  owns a piece of the action can usually run rings around these new competitors.

In few other distributors does the entrepreneurial motor run stronger than at WinWholesale, Dayton, Ohio, the subject of this month’s cover story (“The Will to Win,” page 13). As you will learn in this article from local company owners like Roger Glanz of Ft. Collins Winlectric, Jeff Walker of Douglasville Winlectric, and Carl Long of Odessa Winlectric, WinWholesale provides its local company presidents with the back-office resources they need so they and their sales teams can spend more time on the front lines with customers.

WinWholesale’s local company owners have skin in the game, so the success or failure of their operations is very much up to them. And as one Winlectric company owner said, the parent company basically lets them write their own paychecks because they control how successful their companies can be.

Says Jim Kennaugh, an area coordinator for WinWholesale’s Western region, who helps out several dozen companies in the electrical, HVAC, plumbing and other niche companies, “Thing change, but the two greatest strengths that we have are local company ownership and autonomy. That opportunity to own a piece of the pie and to be able to call the shots. At WinWholesale, we are all about providing the resources so every local president can spend more time with the local customer.”

Sounds like a winning formula.

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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