The Ganzenmuller Electrical Marketing Award, or GEM Award, was established in honor of George Ganzenmuller, who was chief editor of Electrical Wholesaling magazine for more than 30 years until his death in 1986. George was a man whose integrity, fairness and industry knowledge won the respect of the entire electrical industry for nearly four decades. Since 1989, Electrical Wholesaling magazine has awarded the GEM Award to honor those independent manufacturers' reps who exhibit these same leadership qualities. A companion award, the GEM Rising Star Award, recognizes those independent reps whose early careers and industry contributions show promise of leadership.
The editors of Electrical Wholesaling believe the electrical industry can learn from the business careers and personal philosophies of this year's winners of the GEM Award and GEM Rising Star Award.
Walter Yusen, Yusen Associates, Woburn, Mass.
General Power and Control Corp., Jefferson, La.
As Charlie Todaro looks back on his nearly 50 years in the electrical business, he marvels at the good fortunes that have come his way. Supported by his wife, Stephanie, and four daughters (Alicia, Tanya, Rhonda and Charlotte), Todaro and his team at General Power and Control Corp. built the firm's business to a level that he had never dreamed of. The numbers are impressive. Since 2001, its customer base grew 35 percent; overall market share increased by 50 percent in Louisiana and Mississippi; gross sales increased 120 percent; and commissions grew 125 percent.
Todaro gives a lot of credit for this growth to Tom Briggs, Cooper Industries, Houston; the Netcom One networking group; and Scott Silvey, his business partner since 2001 and today the company's president.
Todaro's journey through this industry wasn't without major obstacles. During last year's Gulf Coast storms, the company had to temporarily relocate its headquarters. They recovered quickly, thanks to Scott Silvey and employees who loaded up cars and trucks to move important files, equipment and inventory out of harm's way. But as a native of New Orleans, the hurricanes hit Todaro hard. One can see the love he has for his city and the hurt he feels for his community when he talks about the devastation and ongoing recovery efforts.
In the late 1980s, family health issues and a recession in his market's oil and gas industry put Todaro and his company to another test. His wife was diagnosed with leukemia, and the New Orleans business climate, heavily dependent on the Gulf Coast oil business, was in bad shape. But just when things seemed darkest for Todaro, there were several glimmers of hope. After a bone marrow transplant from her sister Denise, Stephanie's health improved. At about the same time, the New Orleans and Gulf Coast economy started to surge.
The stress of those years wore on Todaro, and he considered leaving the electrical business. Stephanie and Tom Briggs, then with B-Line, urged him to stay with General Power and Control and grow the company. With renewed commitment, Todaro threw himself into the task of expanding the company's business base. It turned out to be a watershed era for General Power and Control. “It just took off, and we did very well,” he says. “The years 1990 to 2000 were phenomenal years. The general business climate had improved considerably. At that time, we had 80 percent industrial lines, and 20 percent was commercial. We built on that and brought in residential.”
During the 1990s, Todaro also became quite involved with the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), Tarrytown, N.Y., on the local and national level. He helped found NEMRA's New Orleans chapter and served on the NEMRA board as secretary and treasurer for two terms. Todaro says NEMRA helped his company and many other reps operate their businesses more professionally, and gave them more credibility with their vendors.
The company surged again after 2001, when Briggs of Cooper Industries helped him pick a succession partner and suggested that the company diversify its product portfolio even further. In 2001, Scott Silvey, who had worked for General Power and Control from 1993 to 1998 and managed GE Supply's Baton Rouge location for three years, rejoined the business as president and Todaro's business partner. Together, they developed a business plan to expand the company's product portfolio.
While the company has broadened the range of product lines it represents, the core business philosophies on which the company was built and has thrived remain the same. Todaro says he always wants General Power and Control to operate from a “position of strength.” That involves creating demand for its vendors' products by spending 50 percent of its sales and marketing efforts with end-users, specifiers and contractors.
His years working for New Orleans electrical distributor Long Electrical Supply early in his electrical career and the specification experience he developed there taught Todaro that distributors weren't going to stock a rep's products unless the rep could “guarantee” it would sell. “We had to sell it to the end users and then go back to the distributors and say, ‘You can be one of my ‘prime’ distributors,’” says Todaro. “That is where dealing from a position of strength comes from.”
2006 GEM Rising Star
Electrolink Sales, Albuquerque, N.M.
Like many independent reps, the winner of the 2006 GEM Rising Star Award grew up in the electrical business. But Barry Oliver started selling electrical products much earlier than other reps. His dad was a utility lineman and worked for WESCO. WESCO would let him bring home light bulbs for his 10-year-old son to sell door-to-door to raise money for local charities. “People would take sympathy on us guys,” says Oliver. “We would sell light bulbs and it would all go to charity. I learned early on the results of working hard and supporting what you believe in.”
Along with that early sales experience, Oliver worked for 12 years in electrical distribution, including five years as a branch manager for a Denver electrical distributor. He also sold wiring devices for Hubbell's Bryant Electric, gained some important management experience as a Hubbell regional manager, and got a taste of the rep business with a Southwestern rep firm before starting his own rep firm in 2002.
Oliver never had aspirations to own his own rep agency during his early years in the electrical business, but he saw an opportunity in the New Mexico market for a rep firm that would focus on a relatively small package of lines, in contrast to some of the larger reps in the territory that represented 30 to 40 product lines. “We took a manufacturers' perspective in the marketplace,” he said. “We wanted to do more with less lines.
“We couldn't have started ElectroLink Sales without Hubbell Electrical Products, Leviton and Picoma. Don Brody, Izzy Oleinik, Bill Donahue and Larry Lunzmann were very supportive. I take this very personal, and I owe them.”
With Beth Alexander, an electrical industry veteran with 18 years of distribution experience, managing support efforts in the office, Oliver hit the road selling. He was convinced that he could do more for customers with a small package of quality lines, even though friends in the business were telling him at the time to take on every second- or third-tier line. His persistence paid off, and now ElectroLink Sales represents the following product lines: Hubbell Electrical Products (including Raco, Bell & Killark), Leviton Manufacturing, Picoma, Juno Lighting Group, Ferraz Shawmut, Southwire, Cantex, Republic Conduit and Cablofil.
Oliver says the sheer size of his market, which includes all of New Mexico, east to El Paso, Texas, and north to Durango, Colo., was a huge challenge when he first started because of all the “windshield time” he spent driving to call on customers. “In the beginning, I did all my driving before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m. at night, because I couldn't afford the lost sales time driving during the day,” he says. “One time I was in Durango finishing a counter day and drove all night to get to El Paso (nearly 500 miles) for another counter day. That's what we did in the beginning to make it work.”
Since hiring some veteran industry salespeople, Oliver cut down on his windshield time. David Porter, the company's southern market manager and a 10-year industry veteran, is based in El Paso and covers that market along with southern and eastern New Mexico. Kimbro Connell, the company's Albuquerque-based northern market manager covers Albuquerque, central and northern New Mexico and Durango, Colo. The company's support staff includes Karen Fincher, sales associate; Brian Henry, inside wire specialist; and Deborah Oliver, secretary and treasurer.
Oliver says he was able to attract an experienced team of employees because they wanted to “get in on the ground-floor of an up-and-coming business. I told them, ‘I am not looking for a business to make Barry Oliver rich. I want to raise the level of the lake together.’ That's what convinced this talent to come on.”
Another one of Oliver's efforts to differentiate ElectroLink Sales is the company's Web site at www.electrolinksales.com. A unique feature of the Web site is a link to current and historical copper prices. It's been a big hit with contractors who need to show their customers credible third-party evidence of skyrocketing copper prices, and why they must factor those price increases into their job costs.