Distributors

Questions posed, discussed during technology panel at NAED National Meeting

By Joe Salimando 

One of the final sessions at the NAED National Meeting was a technology panel with a Q&A format. After very brief introductions of the panelists, moderator Ken Cain, vice president of marketing for Sonepar’s Capital Tristate, of Upper Marlboro, Md., invited questions from the audience.

The panelists at the educational session were Phil Hale, CIO for Elliott Electric Supply; Chris Phillippe, branch manager for Eoff Electric Supply (also a Sonepar unit); David Rosenstein, president, ConneXion; and Jeff Skiles, director of IT for Kirby Risk Electrical Supply.

Todd Kumm of Dakota Supply Group, Fil Cerminara of F&M Electric Supply Company, and Steven Bellwoar of Colonial Electric Supply were among the attendees who participated a significant amount.

The attendees asked questions on a wide range of technology topics.

Social Media

Rosenstein noted that his company, only four years ago, was working to grab the social media bull by the horns. It is involved in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, he said. ConneXion also has five blogs and RSS feeds.

“Thus far, it is the least sexy of these (the blogs and RSS feeds) that are the most successful in [generating] site visits and lead generation,” Rosenstein said.

Apps

Hale noted that his company, which develops its own IT and has 18 software developers on staff, has created an app that enables a sales person in the field to take a photo “perhaps of a starter he can’t identify” and e-mail it to a supplier.

“They could do this same thing without the app,” Hale said. “But this makes it easier for them.”

Contractors and Technology

Phillippe revealed that Eoff had surveyed more than 1,500 electrical contractors recently. Of the respondents, 68% had smart phones used in the field; and of those, another 37% had tablets they were using on jobsites.

QR Codes

Quick Response, or QR, codes were another topic of discussion. How are these being used? One manufacturer said his company has printed QR codes on the back of business cards. Another suggestion was to put a QR code on the box of a product that, when scanned, would take the smartphone’s screen to a page displaying a video of how to install the product.

Above: A QR code featured inside a recent NAED advertisement for Branch Manager University.

Video

Phillippe also noted that 90% of contractors responding to his company’s technology survey said they’d prefer to watch a video to get information instead of reading a document.

Cloud Computing

In answer to a question from Kumm on cloud computing, Bellwoar said that two years ago, his company went to “everything Google.” “It’s a good way to use the cloud,” Bellwoar said, also noting that it’s inexpensive.

Four Final Riffs

With numerous participants and a wide range of topics covered, the technology session contained ideas not included in technology panels of years gone by. Four examples illustrate that point:

  1. There was no mention of the Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA). There was a brief discussion of EDI at the session’s very start, but it did not come up again. There were at least three IDEA employees in the room.
  2. In a short conversation, Kumm indicated some concern about distributors losing control of documents they might need later. Some of the discussion in the room was about employees buying their own smartphones or other equipment and using these for company purposes. Kumm’s thought was, if you put a phone number on your sales person’s company business card, and that leads to a phone owned by the sales person, who owns the content stored on that phone (e-mails and text message exchanges between the sales person and your customers)?
  3. One technology and three products mentioned in passing, about which one might want more information:
    1. Cloud computing
    2. Drop Box
    3. Sharepoint
    4. Skype
  4. Hale is CIO at a company with 116 branches. Because Elliott Electric Supply’s history started with a small IT operation, he now supervises an IT department with 18 software developers and 11 other employees. In his final statement, Hale said, “I’m finding we don’t need to push these technologies and apps out at the sales people. In fact, every day I’m challenged by them – they have ideas and needs for more and more technology.”    
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