Know Your Sources The surplus market is full of risk, but there are things you can do to control it.

Wholesale electrical distribution is the primary vehicle for delivery of electrical product to industrial and commercial applications for construction and maintenance. There is a great burden of responsibility that goes along with this distinction. The wholesaler must be familiar with and knowledgeable of the product he distributes. This is a challenging task, especially considering the level of sophistication and the multi-applicational nature of much of today's circuit protective and control products. With the constant support of the manufacturers, the distributors are educated and their skills grow to meet the challenge. There are regular requirements, however, for products either poorly supported or not supported at all by the original manufacturers. These products are obsolete, out-of-production materials of various disciplines, including circuit protection, motor control, motors, wiring devices and more. While for each of these products there exist large installed bases that require occasional replacement, often no replacement is available of current manufacture. This leaves the user in a tough situation.

Wholesale distributors have responded to that situation by finding the surplus marketplace, which represents a ready supply network of electrical product of all types, makes, vintages and sizes. An accomplished purchasing agent or a very dedicated sales representative can search for and find almost every product necessary to meet the toughest requirements, often in situations or applications where the original manufacturer cannot deliver. Within that network can be found current style and obsolete merchandise--both used and unused, acquired surplus from over-purchases being liquidated, plant closures, inventory reductions, demolitions and change-outs. Even the used material may have a great deal of useful life remaining. Current-style product from this network is often sold at great discounts; obsolete product is available on an immediate basis to get businesses back on line; current-style products with lead times from the manufacturers are often available surplus for immediate delivery. This sounds like a wonderful resource, but there is a trade-off.

Dealing within the surplus network is like a visit to the Wild West. >From dealer to dealer, you can't rely on any specific level of skill, technical sophistication, or ethical maturity. You can't know without asking what the dealer's inspection, remanufacturing, packaging, testing and warranty practices are. You can't know what level, if any, of insurance a dealer carries to protect you and your client. When buying new materials from an electrical manufacturer, you don't have to ask many of these questions.

What can you do about this dilemma? It's still your job to get your client back on line, so ask a lot of questions of your surplus dealer. Ask them about their reconditioning, remanufacturing, warranty and testing procedures. Get this information in writing, ask for proof of insurance and check references. Always get written quotes that define the product's condition, contain all of the terms and conditions of sale and specify warranty.

In addition, you can contact the Professional Electrical Apparatus Re-cyclers League (PEARL), Parker, Colo., by phone at 303-840-1059 or by e-mail at pearl_mail@aol.com. PEARL needs the help of electrical manufacturers and electrical distributors to create standards for safety and integrity in the remanufacturing and re-qualification of electrical materials.