WESCO Helps Contractors Pursue New Opportunities

October 25, 2010
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According to Bill Elms, manager of the WESCO Las Vegas Branch, electrical contracting firms are reinventing themselves to stay afloat in today’s tight construction market. Two years ago, he was aware of only one local electrical contracting firm that was involved in the solar market, and now, the majority of contractors are dabbling in photovoltaics. In addition, Elms says that nearly every electrical contracting firm is now trying to reduce costs in any way possible. In Las Vegas, for example, very few cranes are up in the air, and some of the largest firms have slashed their number of electricians from more than 2,000 to fewer than 100. “I’ve been through two other recessions, but I’ve never been through one this deep,” Elms continues. “The electrical construction market has shrunk tremendously, and contractors are trying to survive for the next economic boom.” Following are some ways in which WESCO is helping electrical contracting firms pursue new market opportunities and compete in today’s slowing economy.

Network of Branches. To boost their bottom line, some electrical contracting firms are pursuing work out-of-state and even overseas. For example, WESCO operates seven Distribution Centers and about 380 full-service Branches in the United States and abroad. Chris Crump, a solar specialist for WESCO and Brown Wholesale Electric, says he is seeing more electrical contractors crossing over their geographical boundaries. “For the longest time, contractors were localized, and now we’re seeing regional contractors who cover multiple states,” Crump says.

Sponsor Training Sessions. More electrical contracting firms are competing for fewer jobs in today’s construction market. If they want to continue to retain or grow their businesses, they need to look for different opportunities than they have in the past, says Geoff Kay, WESCO Branch sales manager. Before jumping into a completely new market, however, electrical contractors need specialized training. That is where WESCO comes in. WESCO Branches try to keep their customers up-to-date on the latest technology through educational sessions. Crump organizes training sessions every month for electrical contractors. “He brings them into our training facility to go over the topics of the day, and during the course of the training sessions, he explains what we have in stock,” says Kay.

Trade Shows. In addition to providing free vendor training sessions every month, the WESCO Phoenix Branch also invited its electrical contractors to an all-day solar trade show at its warehouse. Almost 20 vendors showcased their products, and the vendors provided training on racking, inverters, and panels. “We had two classrooms with simultaneous training, and about 180 customers came to learn more about solar,” Crump said.

Stock Specialty Items. As several commercial electrical contractors have started to go after the solar market, WESCO Branches nationwide are meeting their need for specialty products. For example, the Phoenix Branch has become a fully stocking solar location, which sells panels, inverters, and racking. “We have all the materials in stock that a contractor needs to complete a solar job,” Crump said. “The contractors around town are aware of what we’re doing, and it’s working out well. In fact, in the first year to date, we have $1 million in sales.”

Third-Party Logistics. In addition to specialized training and a wide product selection, WESCO Branches can also offer help to contractors when it comes to handling materials. For example, they can provide the service of third-party logistics to contractors. “Contractors want to stock and handle less and less material,” says Charlie Kincaid, district sales manager of the Charlotte, NC Branch. “We had a large contractor tell us that their primary job is installing electrical projects, not warehousing or inventorying products. They wanted their distributor to do everything else for them and had the desire to reinvent their material handling model using the distributor as their warehouse and material handler.”

Kitting. As contractors branch into new market segments, another way in which WESCO is helping them to be more productive and profitable is through kitting. Some of the Branches are prefabricating a lot of the material onsite. Then, they can transport the material directly to the jobsite with many of the connections already made. Rather than paying a contractor $45–$60/hour to do the wiring, the work can be done by a $15/hour temporary worker in the shop, says Jim Targonski, national construction accounts manager. “It saves them a lot of time and labor out in the field,” Targonski said. “Because it’s plug-and-play in the field, they can move quickly.” Five years ago, kitting started to take off, and in the last three years, WESCO has provided even more capabilities to contractors. “WESCO has the flexibility, as well as the room in our warehouses, to let contractors prefab materials if they buy materials from us,” Targonski says. “Sometimes, our employees do special kitting, and we do the prefab for them.” By providing material handling, training and support, WESCO is able to help its electrical contracting clients to not only branch out into new markets and regions, but also to achieve success while doing it.

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