By Bridget McCrea
Depending on what part of the country they were located in, electrical contractors had it pretty tough this past winter. Even with the national economy and the construction market both in “rebound” mode, a constant spate of heavy winter storms across much of the U.S. made it difficult for these companies to keep their project pipelines full and/or on schedule.
That environment is beginning to change right along with the weather in states like Pennsylvania, where Camp Hill-based SECCO, Inc., is gearing up for the more active spring and summer months. “Being based in Central Pennsylvania meant our business was pretty flat throughout this past winter,” says Bruce Seilhammer, an electrical construction group manager at SECCO. “We were able to keep all of our guys busy, but nothing really ‘wild’ in terms of heavy workload or new projects.”
Seilhammer is optimistic about the upcoming months. “We’re seeing a couple of large projects hitting us, which is nice,” he says. “We’re also adding to our backlog. That’s a big difference over the winter months, when we were going week-to-week with virtually no backlog of projects at all.” Also on a positive note, Seilhammer is hearing that engineers and architects in the region are “pretty busy” – a potentially positive sign for SECCO over the next four to six months, “as those projects start to hit the streets,” says Seilhammer.
In assessing the contracting firm’s electrical equipment and supply needs over the next few months, Seilhammer expects SECCO’s orders to increase along with the firm’s own business. For the most part, he says the company’s needs will be similar to those of the last year or so (in terms of specific components, equipment, supplies, etc.). “We’re not expecting our needs to change too much,” says Seilhammer. “We’ll basically continue using our electrical distributors for the same items that we typically turn to them for.”
The Best Price on the First Go-Round
At Maglio Electric, LLC, in Hampton, N.J., Justine Maglio-Wardell, office manager, says she spent most of the winter “moving snow, just like everyone else.” Once the snow began to clear and the temperatures rose, however, she says the family-run electrical contracting firm saw its usual rise in requests from homeowners and building owners in the area. “Winters are historically quiet here,” says Maglio-Wardell.
Now, Maglio-Wardell says the contractor is fielding a number of requests from malls, major retailers, and other entities looking for pricing on maintenance work. “That’s something new that we haven’t seen in ages,” she says. “It’s an interesting twist.” She says the firm is also hearing from more customers whose generators have “died out,” and who now need help getting them back online.
That trend has put Maglio Electric in the position to fulfill both 100-hour and annual maintenance service needs for a variety of new customers. “A lot of the firms that popped up to do generator installs after the winter storms have since disappeared,” says Maglio-Wardell. “Now they have generators, and no one around to service that equipment.”
Also on Maglio Electric’s “needs” list for the rest of the year are the products and supplies it requires to either replace or repair solar inverters that have reached the end of their lifespans. “It’s the same story; a lot of solar companies popped out of the woodwork and now are nowhere to be found,” says Maglio-Wardell. “Customers have inverters that aren’t working and we’re getting calls to replace them.”
To electrical distributors attempting to get a gauge on their customers’ needs for the next few months, Maglio-Wardell says she’d like to see her suppliers sharpen their pencils a little more before bidding on projects. “We put something out for pricing yesterday and there was a $35 per-unit difference from one supply house to another,” she explains. “Some contractors may just turn in orders, but we shop around for the best value and price. Because of this, we’d really like it if our distributors just gave us their best price on the first time out.”
Construction Picks Up
At Tera-Byte Technologies, Inc., in Aloha, Ore., Owner Dave Gilson says the construction business as a whole is beginning to pick up as the spring months progress. “There is a lot more new construction going on right now compared to last year at this time,” says an enthusiastic Gilson, who is less positive about the consolidation that’s going on among his firm’s suppliers right now. “The big guys are buying up the little guys, and that’s driving up our prices and giving us fewer choices to select from,” says Gilson.
In terms of product and material needs, Gilson says his company recently made its way into the security, cameras, and entry access market. Other than the needs related to those newer lines of business, he expects Tera-Byte’s needs to remain constant – while ebbing and flowing with the increase in business that will come with the improving construction market.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.