Rick Smith, 35
Customer Solutions Manager
Standard Electric Supply Co.
When Rick graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2007, his focus wasn’t on electrical distribution—but electrical distribution was in his blood.
“I didn’t plan on getting into this industry, but I did grow up around it,” said Rick, explaining that not only did his dad own an electrical distributorship but also—many years earlier—his parents met when they both worked for the same electrical products manufacturer. “I worked at my dad’s company in the summers when I was growing up, helping out in general, so I knew a little bit about it—but I didn’t know the ins and outs.”
After graduation Rick went to work in the financial services and insurance industry. “In 2013 I wanted to get away from the large, corporate America-type job. My dad had sold his distributorship to Standard Electric about 10 years earlier, so I had a good feel for the company and the people—some of them had worked with my father—and I liked that it was a smaller, family-owned business,” he explained.
Rick entered Standard Electric as a Sales Support Specialist, a job he held for about two years. In 2015 he moved into the Customer Service Manager and earlier this week (Feb. 15th, 2021) started a new role as Customer Solutions Manager.
“My growth in the industry comes from the understanding that if we’re going to be successful long-term, we have to find a way to stand out. That’s what I will be bringing to my new role,” Rick explained. “The future of the company hinges on adding value for our customers, changing the relationship from ‘Standard Electric is our supplier’ to ‘Standard Electric is our partner’ and providing a trusted advisor type of a relationship for our customers.”
Rick stressed that he didn’t accept the new position because he was unhappy in his old, but rather because “as online retailers become a bigger and bigger deal, we have to be creative and unique…we have to come up with ways to really differentiate ourselves from our competitors. That is our future, and I want to be part of it.”
In fact, when asked what he believes presents the biggest challenge to electrical distributors today, Rick explained: “The traditional role of a distributor, which is typically built on local relationships, has been impacted by the Internet. Some of the products we sell are being commoditized to the extent that we are competing with places like Amazon. We must figure out how to best approach that, while making sure that we remain competitive. We have to find a way to supplement the way we traditionally did business, to differentiate ourselves and add value, because if we’re simply going to compete on price and availability with a place like Amazon, we are going to have a difficult time.”
To this end, Rick explained “I always encourage my team to set themselves apart by giving our customers the personal touch that they want—not just making it a transactional exercise. Our customers buy from us because they like to work with us, so we need to make sure that they continue to like to work with us. I encourage my team to go above and beyond to meet expectations—and exceed them whenever possible.”
When asked what he would tell someone just entering the business, Rick responded, “I would tell them what I was told when I first entered the industry: Always be straightforward and honest with your customers, with your peers, and with your suppliers. Be trustworthy. There’s always the temptation to say what you think people want to hear and then maybe it winds up not coming true. When I first started at Standard a guy I work with said, ‘This industry is really interesting: There are 100 jobs out there but only 99 people—so you’re going to work with a lot of them for a long time…maybe in different capacities, maybe a person was a customer and is now your supplier, and next year might be your peer…and people have long memories.’ What I took from that was: Be honest and straightforward and have integrity. Otherwise, you’re only hurting yourself.”
When he’s not working, Rick stays busy with his wife and three children—two daughters, 11 and 4, and a son who is 1. “Whatever their hobbies are kind of become my hobbies,” he laughed, noting that both the girls play basketball. “The youngest—well, he’s only 1, so he likes to watch movies, play, and break stuff.” Rick also likes to play fantasy football. “I like to think I’m fairly good at it—I won the regular season in my league two years running,” he said. “I also find technology really interesting, so I’ve been learning about blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. I think it’s going to be a big component of our lives moving forward so I’m trying to get my head around it.”
Each year tED magazine recognizes 30 of the industry’s best and brightest under the age of 35. Please visit tedmag.com/30Under35 for nomination information and updates about the 2021 program. Questions can be sent to tED Editor Misty Byers at email@example.com.
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