At this weekend’s annual meeting in Chicago, the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) kicked off its general session with a lively panel discuss in which three electrical distributors, one electrical manufacturer and a large Chicago-based electrical contractor sounded off on some of the electrical market’s most pressing concerns.
Moderated by Michael Marks, principal, Indian River Consulting Group, the panel featured Brian McNally, V.P., president & CEO, Rexel North America; Walt Reynolds, president, The Reynolds Co.; David White, president, Shealy Electrical Wholesalers Inc.; Aamir Paul, senior VP. retail and partner projects, Square D by Schneider Electric; and David Witz, president and owner, Continental Electrical Construction Co.
One of the more interesting takeaways from the panel was that even though the distributors on included one of the largest electrical wholesalers in the world and two large regional Top 200 companies with distinctly different market focuses, they all had similar challenges in customer service, transitioning from being providers of products to being providers of system-based solutions; and employee retention and recruiting. For instance, David White of Shealy Electrical Wholesalers said his team is focused on providing consistent service to customers in South Carolina and North Carolina, and integrating the different corporate cultures of two recent acquisitions, Electrical Distributors Inc., Charlotte, N.C., and Nova Lighting into the business. In Texas, Walt Reynolds says he and his employees are focused on providing a consistent level of service in the energy market’s boom times, and at the bottom end of its economic cycle when oil prices are low. He also said distributors can hurt themselves just as much in the good times as in the bad if they don’t stick to their core values.
Rexel’s McNally had a different perspective on the electrical wholesaling industry than the other distribution executives because he comes from an executive post with Arrow Electronics in the electronics components industry, where the top two distributors have 70% market share. Despite the different industry profile, he said the electronics market also has difficulty finding, training and keeping quality employees, particularly younger Millennials. He said one of the big differences between the two markets is the importance of the day-today personal relationships that electrical distributors have established with their customers.
David Witz of Continental Electrical Construction offered some fascinating commentary from a contractor’s perspective on a wide range of issues. When asked about the potential impact of Amazon’s B2B efforts, he told the audience about a personal experience he had of installing 60 LED downlights in his home and having 50 of the drivers go bad. Finding the right person at Amazon to handle these products would have been quite a chore, while with his electrical supplier he knew who to call. Witz also made several interesting comments about personnel development at his fourth-generation contracting firm and in the electrical contracting market. The biggest challenge contractors face in the upcoming years will be a massive shortage of personnel, and said this shortage is a “freight training coming right at us.” He said anything distributors and manufacturers can do to help provide time-saving product solutions will be a huge help to their contractor customers.
Aamir Paul offered an interesting perspective on e-commerce because of his 15 years at Dell and his role at Square D/Schneider. He once got a question from one of the 150 new engineers that Schneider hires annually about the company’s order-tracking capability who said something to the effect of, “I can order a Domino’s Pizza and know exactly where it is. But one of your customers can order millions of dollars in products and they don't know exactly where it is?”