Industry legend Tom Preston was a master storyteller, and when he was on Electrical Wholesaling's staff 20 years ago he enjoyed teaching us about the electrical market with stories from his vault of life experiences. I always liked his story about how one of his Long Island, N.Y., neighbors would brag about making a long trip to buy meat at a certain butcher's shop on the south fork of Long Island — driving right past several other butchers in her travels. “Taste this great steak,” she would say. “I had to drive such a long way to buy it.”

In reality, that steak probably wasn't any better than what she could have purchased from any number of other butchers much closer to her home, but she believed it tasted better, in part because she had driven so far to get it.

Tom's point was that while we were developing articles for Electrical Wholesaling, the simple approach often worked best. To him, a picture sometimes really was worth a thousand words, and a short, well-crafted 750 word article could convey information better to readers than a rambling 3,000-word dissertation.

Tom's tale came to mind recently while I was reading through survey responses from electrical contractors and other end users about what it takes to be their top source for electrical supplies, in preparation for this month's cover story, “Your Customers Speak Out” (page 16). One of the recurring theme in these responses was that what customers want most from electrical distributors really wasn't rocket science, and in fact was on page one of the electrical market's Customer Service 101 manual: Provide the right products at the right time at the right place — at a reasonable price.

So simple, but so hard to do well. Dozens of electrical contractors mentioned the need for knowledgeable salespeople, well-stocked warehouses, fast turnaround at the counter and hassle-free solutions to problem orders. One Missouri electrical contractor said his favorite electrical distributor always strives to ensure his jobs will be on-time and complete. “Whether I spend two dollars on a junction box or $10,000 on materials for a job, I get the same excellent service and am treated as if I am their only customer,” he wrote.

While full-line electrical distributors were far and away the primary source of supplies for survey respondents, the electrical contractors who prefer to shop at Home Depot or Lowe's didn't pull any punches about why they liked home centers better than electrical distributors. Many survey respondents really valued the ability to check pricing and order online at home centers, and some said they saved money by shopping at them rather than at electrical supply houses.

An electrical contractor based in Colorado Springs, Colo., said, “The Home Depot I shop at has a master electrician in charge of their electrical department. He gets me in and out and I don't waste time listening to gossip and sports discussions and the like that seem to suck up time waiting in line at the parts houses in town.”

I hope this month's cover story offers some new insight into what your customers really want from you. It may even save you from traveling too far to buy your next steak.

A Readers' Note

Several months back, EW's editors heard from Chris Caruso, Central region manager, Priority Wire & Cable, Little Rock, Ark., that the company no longer wants to be listed in our annual Top 200 listing. Our apologies for not running his note sooner.

“Priority Wire & Cable has evolved over the years from our start into the electrical industry as a value-added reseller, to becoming a brand — a hybrid supplier selling a diversified combination of products into the electrical distribution channel. We offer all the services of a value-added reseller and all the capabilities of a manufacturer.

“Our mission and value to the electrical distributor is offering exceptional service and supplying quality products. Because Priority Wire sells exclusively into the electrical distributor channel, our distributor customer sales should be the actual sales that account for the Top 200 category. Priority Wire & Cable would like to request that our company is taken out of the Top 200 distributor ranking.”