Account Manager, Dakota Supply Group
By Joe Nowlan
When somebody calls Dakota Supply Group’s Grand Forks, N.D., location and asks for “Mr. Tupa,” they’d better be specific.
Jay Tupa is the third generation of his family to work at Dakota Electric/Supply.
“I started in the warehouse when I was 16 years old. From 16 to about the age of 22 I spent summers in the warehouse, while still in school,” Tupa said. “My grandfather started in the [electrical] business in, I believe, the late ‘70s…. And then my dad and four uncles have gone into the business. [And] three of them are still there.”
He started full time after graduating from college, the University of Minnesota at Crookston where he was a business major with emphasis on management and marketing.
“My title, account manager, is kind of a fancy way of saying I’m an outside salesperson,” he said. “I’ve got several contractors, most of them do a combination of residential and commercial [and] a combination of some new work and service work. I have some outlying customers that get into some agricultural…. I also have a lot of jobs with retrofit LED lighting.”
The increase in popularity of LEDs and retrofit lighting is an important part of Tupa’s work. Like many in the retrofit lighting arena, he deals with a well informed customer base, most of whom already have at least a fundamental knowledge of the benefits of retrofit and LED lighting.
“Local co-ops and energy partners that actually sell the energy to the businesses and homeowners are creating awareness. They’re doing a nice job of putting rebates in place in certain cases,” Tupa explained.
While customers have a base of information, Tupa emphasizes the long term savings a good retrofit project can mean for a customer.
“I take it very personally,” he explained. “It is my job to let them know what they can save.”
Of course with the many innovations in lighting, training and learning have become an ongoing process. Like many of his colleagues in this “30 Under 35” series, Tupa enjoys the learning challenge.
“I kind of chuckle because, after college, I thought, ‘Thank goodness I’m done learning!’ About a year later, I laughed even harder at my own silly self because I hadn’t even really started [learning],” Tupa said.
In good economic times or bad, training has always been paramount at Dakota Supply, Tupa explained.
“Through any economic downtimes we have never, ever skimped on training,” Tupa said. “We’ve always wanted to train our employees…. If you are always educating and teaching people, the [sales] calls will come, by increasing your value to [customers].”
He and his wife Lauralee have two children: MJ, 4; and Grace, 2. Their third child is due in December. His hobbies include playing hockey, primarily at forward.
“I played while in college and I still play one night a week and in a couple of tournaments with some college buddies,” Tupa said. “In the summertime I play golf. And there’s lake time in the summer, too. Lake time includes the whole family and golf includes my customers.”
Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. Keep your nose to the grindstone and never stop learning. It is very important to continue to learn, to continue to grow your knowledge base because things are changing.
At Dakota Supply, not everybody in the company can answer every question but there is not one question you can ask us that we cannot find the answer.
Q. What do you think is the biggest opportunity within the electrical industry?
A. There is a lot of opportunity available. There is a lack of people getting into the trades and a lack of awareness of our industry, the distribution industry. The opportunity [exists] for our upper management and for our future managers and future leaders in the company and this industry to advertise and build this industry as a very strong one to get into.
We have had some stress over the years. And we’ve had a lot of threats to our industry. But we have a lot of staying power with our expertise. And I think the opportunities are going to be new technologies, like LEDs… [and] how to help contractors become more efficient; how to partner with our contractors and help them be more profitable; how to partner with ourselves to make sure that we make the full use of our knowledge base and use our heads to achieve growth and continue to thrive in the industry.
If we aren’t going to continue to learn and continue to grow, we’re going to be dead in the water.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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