An electrician stops by your counter to pick up a box of 100 EMT fittings, but somehow, inexplicably, it only contains 97 locknuts. Because the customer doesn't discover the shortage until stranded on a job site, he is unable to complete the work because of three lousy locknuts. For a few cents worth of locknuts, you could lose this electrical contractor as a customer.

A lost locknut can also topple one of the trophy jobs discussed on page 18 in Electrical Wholesaling's new series, which highlights the electrical distributors that work on some of the largest construction projects in the United States.

These jobs are run on a tight schedule, and distributors are under the gun to deliver the correct products on time. Even if your company meets delivery dates for months during the construction process, if you happen to ship a carton of fittings without enough locknuts in the final construction phase, the electrical contractor will probably remember it more than the year or two of exemplary service.

Impossible? I think not. It's just one example of how service fundamentals mean so much in the business. Technology may race on, and multi-national conglomerates may gobble up smaller electrical distributors, but the electrical industry still relies on service basics and clear, open communication among distributors, reps and manufacturers to grease the wheels of business. That point is made quite clear in several articles in this month's issue.

Little things really do mean a lot in this industry. In the cover story featuring Avon Electrical/WESCO (page 28), Hauppauge, N.Y., readers will learn how the company's industrial division is growing at a double-digit rate despite a down business climate. Avon Electrical's principals, Kenny and Lenny Moskowitz, didn't discover a magic formula to produce this growth. They believed in Richie Curtin and Lance Oslinker, two veterans of the New York electrical market who approached them with an idea for a new industrial division, knew what type of service industrials wanted, and had several Rolodexes full of industrial customers they had nurtured over the past 20 years.

Curtin and Oslinker started out with little more than two phones in a conference room at Avon Electrical. But because they based their business philosophy on the fundamentals of sound customer service, their new industrial division flourished.

Lenny Moskowitz says the industrial business has different service requirements than Avon Electrical's core contractor business. For example, when industrial customers make a purchase, they want a specific product and brand.

“We always had the inventory,” he says. “We always had the personnel. We did not have the mind-set to deal with industrials. When electrical contractors say they want a ‘Chevy,’ if we didn't have a ‘Chevy’ we would get him an ‘Oldsmobile’ because they would both get him to where he wanted to go. When an industrial customer wants a ‘Chevy,’ he only wants a ‘Chevy.’ And he doesn't just want a ‘Chevy,’ he wants ‘Chevy Model 123.’ It's a different mind-set.”

As Avon Electrical discovered in the industrial market, delivering exactly what the customer wants in each and every business transaction requires utter dedication to the task. That's not a new idea. It's a sound business philosophy that's been around forever in the electrical wholesaling industry.

The basics of customer service in this business don't change. Neither do many of the industry's biggest challenges. As you will learn in the ElectroForecast 2004 article (page 33), some of the biggest concerns of electrical distributors, electrical manufacturers and independent manufacturers' reps strike notes that have been heard around the electrical wholesaling industry for years.

Declining profit margins; cutthroat pricing; the challenge of finding, motivating and keeping quality employees; and the need for more open communication amongst distributors, manufacturers and reps are concerns the ElectroForecast respondents have in 2004. They are some of the same concerns their grandparents probably had back in 1904.

The industry's early distributors probably had problems with lost locknuts, too.