Electrical Wholesaling's editors can never learn too much about our readers' information needs if we are to fulfill our mission — to help electrical distributors sell more electrical products and run their businesses more profitably.

While we are proud of our efforts in doing this for the past 80-plus years, we cannot let it cloud our vision of what information electrical distributors expect from us today, and will need from us in the future. To learn this, we try to meet as many of you as we can at various industry events, talk with you on the telephone and, when we can, visit with you at your companies.

Another method of learning more about our readers is the Electrical Wholesaling Reader Profile survey, which is done every few years. After analyzing the results of the 2002 Reader Profile, the editors of Electrical Wholesaling realized the survey responses from well over 300 electrical distributors had valuable information worth sharing with our readers. This data included some of the demographic trends shaping the electrical wholesaling industry, as well as some interesting data on the operating characteristics of the “average” electrical distributor. Following are a few of the key findings of that study.

DEMOGRAPHICS

The magazine has always focused on providing information to managers at electrical supply houses, and this focus is borne out in the mix of survey respondents. Approximately 84 percent of respondents are involved in their company's decisions as to which product lines to take on and drop. That's a fact not lost upon the magazine's advertisers, who place advertisements in the magazine to gain more mind share for their products or to convince Electrical Wholesaling's readers to stock their product lines.

Job titles

Most of Electrical Wholesaling's readers are managers at their companies, with 59 percent having the following titles: chairman of the board, president, vice president or secretary. The magazine also reaches deep into the mid management ranks, with 22 percent of the survey respondents working as sales managers, branch managers, district managers, customer service managers, department managers or materials managers.

It's interesting to note that while the overwhelming majority of the survey respondents are managers, more than half of them are involved in some sales activities. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents said they were involved in field sales. Other sales activities included telephone sales (56 percent), counter sales (43 percent) and showroom sales (18 percent). Only 15 percent of respondents were not involved in any direct sales activities. Although many electrical distributors offer subscriptions to their salespeople, of the respondents about 8 percent were inside salespeople, outside salespeople, specialists or engineers.

Education and experience

You might be surprised at the experience level of Electrical Wholesaling's readers. More than four in ten (44 percent) of all respondents have been working in the electrical wholesaling industry for 25 years or more. The average respondent has 19 years of industry experience. Approximately 25 percent of respondents have been in their current position for 20 years or more.

The estimated mean age was 49 years — with half the respondents younger than that age, and half being older. Most respondents (39 percent) are between the ages of 45 and 54, and one quarter (25 percent) are between the ages of 35 and 54.

Another interesting finding in the reader profile is the level of education of the electrical distributor surveyed for the EW Reader Profile. Thirty-seven percent of the respondents are college graduates, and 9 percent have either earned a postgraduate degree or have done some postgraduate work.

Size of company

The survey respondents work at distributors of all sizes, but a higher percentage of them are with smaller distributors. Most of them worked at companies with less than $10 million in sales. Other respondents worked at companies with sales of $10 million to $49 million range, $50 million to $99 million and $100 million or more.

Key industry concerns

No surprises when it comes to electrical distributors' main concerns. As in past years, the biggest concerns were low profit margins, hiring and keeping good employees, price cutting, competition from home centers and competition from national or regional chains.

STOCKING LINES

One of the more interesting facts of life in the electrical wholesaling industry is just how many product lines electrical distributors stock. In this EW Reader Profile, the average electrical distributor stocks and sells 89 manufacturers, compared with 93 manufacturers two years ago. An electrical distributor's salespeople are intimately familiar with only a handful of those product lines, quite often the 12 to 20 product lines with which the company has developed exceptionally close working relationships. These relationships may be grounded in personal bonds the company's executives have developed over the years, a corporate decree to support specific vendors in the company's buying/marketing group, exceptional salesmanship on the part of vendors' reps in the local markets that distributor covers, or a combination of these factors.

As the electrical industry consolidates, the decision on which lines to stock may be moving more slowly than people may think from branch managers in the field to the company headquarters. Respondents to this survey said branch managers still have an awful lot to say about the products they stock on their shelves.

Nearly half (48 percent) of the companies with branch locations said the branch location determines which suppliers to stock. However, one-third of these respondents indicated that either the headquarters determines the brands for the branch to stock (37 percent) or that the headquarters provides an “approved” supplier list (33 percent). These findings did not vary significantly from the 1998 Electrical Wholesaling Reader Profile, when 51 percent of respondents said the branch location determines the suppliers to stock.

While some industry observers may believe electrical distributors seldom change the product lines they stock, their vendor mix is actually constantly changing. The average company added 4.8 product lines and dropped 3.2 product lines during the past year.

When adding a new product line, the major deciding factor is customer need, acceptance or demand, followed by quality of product and price competitiveness.

CUSTOMER SPECIFICATION TRENDS

Distributors' salespeople in the field, on the telephone and at the counter have tremendous influence on which brands customers ultimately purchase. Survey respondents said more than half of the time (54 percent) customers simply provide a product description when ordering a product. One third of the time (29 percent), they specify a single brand while ordering; 16 percent of the time they specify two brands or more.

Distributors also have a lot of clout when a customer asks for a brand that a distributor doesn't carry. The EW Reader Profile's respondents usually can successfully substitute another vendor's products. In fact, 44 percent of the respondents said they were successful in doing this 74 percent to 99 percent of the time.

Summary

The editors of Electrical Wholesaling hope this information offers you new insight into the electrical distributor of today. It provides some of the demographic, vendor selection and customer-purchasing trends now shaping the electrical wholesaling industry.

We thought the information would be of interest because it paints a different portrait of the electrical wholesaling industry than one might expect. The data seems to indicate that despite the perception smaller distributors are being pushed out of the picture by larger regional and national chains and that industry consolidation is quickly moving purchasing decisions from the local branches to the company headquarters, much of the electrical business is still local.