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Stepping Up to the Plate

By Bridget McCrea

During the 2013-14 winter season, few electrical contractors were insulated from the impact of severe winter weather. Across most of the 50 continental United States, projects came to a standstill, business slowed to a halt, and employees were laid off as contractors waited out the stormy season in hopes of a more promising spring and summer. Having just come off of one of the nation’s worst recessions in history, the unexpected pullback was disconcerting for some contractors and downright scary for others.

But much to the delight of both contractors and their distributors, once the snow and other wintry elements subsided, business started picking back up across most of the U.S. “We were extremely slow right up until May,” says Greg Haren, vice president at Enertech Electrical, Inc., in Lowellville, Oh. Compounding any weather-related issues was the fact that Enertech wrapped up a number of large school projects in late-2013 – a phenomenon that left some space open in the firm’s project pipeline.

“There wasn’t a lot out for bid in early-2014, namely because you don’t see many projects out for bid during the winter around here,” says Haren, who adds that business has been on the upswing since May. The company – which laid off 80 percent of its workforce over the winter – is now hiring again to cover the various projects that it’s working on.

During the downtime, Haren says the company opened a service division. “If you could say something positive about the slower business climate, it’s that it gave us time to revamp and reorganize,” he says. “We’ve wanted to start up a service division – complete with a full-time service manager and service trucks – for the last few years, but we just didn’t have the time to do it.”

As business started to pick up last year, Haren says his electrical distributors did an excellent job of keeping up with increased demand for products and services. “They’ve done a great job,” says Haren, who expects a steady increase in business into 2015, barring any unforeseen circumstances. “We’ll plan to go full steam ahead with our service offering; there’s a huge need for it in our area.”

Like Nothing We’ve Seen Before
For some contractors, the post-winter business boom was like nothing they’ve ever experienced before. According to Joe Martin, executive vice president at KenMor Electric in Houston, the company’s founder hasn’t experienced this volume of business over the company’s 44-year history.

“And he was here back in the 1970s, when things were really hopping,” says Martin, who didn’t see much pullback in business during the 2013-14 winter season. “It didn’t really impact us very much. We had so many projects underway that we were able to just keep going.”

When asked how well his firm’s distributors performed last year, Martin says that while local shops kept up with demand, the larger, national distributors “had more issues with pricing and delivery.” Martin says the latter hasn’t impacted KenMor’s ability to complete jobs, but says larger distributors’ inability to meet schedules and deadlines does pose a problem from time to time. “I haven’t heard of any really big issues with that,” says Martin, “but it is happening.”

There’s Never Been an “Up” Like This 
Bruce Seilhammer, electrical construction group manager at Camp Hill, Pa.-based SECCO, Inc., says that any lull that the company felt during the winter months was long ago surpassed by a significant increase in new projects. “We have a backlog right now,” says Seilhammer, “and so many people asking us to bid on projects that we’ve had to tell some of them that we just can’t get out to them.” Seilhammer says SECCO is taking that cautious approach to new projects based on the fact that “if we got the work, we wouldn’t be able to manage it.”

“This is the busiest we’ve ever seen it,” Seilhammer continues. “We’ve been through our fair share of ups and downs through the years, but there’s never been an up like this one.” In assessing the performance of SECCO’s electrical distributors during this onslaught of new business, Seilhammer says all of them have been doing “super jobs” at fulfilling the electrical contractor’s needs.

In October 2014, for example, SECCO started work on a new project that came with an extremely aggressive completion schedule (and two 12-hour shifts running 24 hours a day). “It required a lot of work-hours within just a few weeks’ period of time,” says Seilhammer, who called on a local electrical distributor for support. “We got a 24-hour contact number and the full support of that distributor around the clock. As a result, we were able to finish on time and without many complications.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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