A group of surplus dealers is making a play for the respect of the industry by setting higher standards for their products and their businesses.

Electrical surplus dealers from across the country gathered in Denver last month with revolution on their minds. Their mission: Overthrow years of bad publicity and earn the industry's respect.

The occasion was the first national membership meeting of the Professional Electrical Apparatus Recyclers League (PEARL). The organization, established last year, has set out "to create a marketable distinction in quality, safety and integrity for PEARL members in the eyes of their customers."

The 38 attendees, representing 20 electrical surplus dealers, spoke openly of their market segment's poor reputation in the electrical industry at large. They also spoke about their pride in the businesses they had built--some inherited the business from their fathers; others had started from scratch, or in some cases from scrap--and they spoke of how they hoped one day the industry would give them credit for the services they provide. Then they rolled up their sleeves and set out to make it happen.

The companies represented at the meeting came from most of the major surplus product categories, including fittings, circuit breakers, motors, transformers and wire (one notable exception was the lack of surplus fuse dealers, but PEARL's leaders say they hope to bring them into the fold soon). By the end of the meeting, 12 companies had paid the $2,000 entry fee to become charter members of the association. PEARL President Greg Womble of D&F Liquidators, Hayward, Calif., said he expected to have 20 by the end of the month.

The cornerstone of PEARL's strategy to change the industry rests on standards. PEARL intends to establish unassailable guidelines for testing, repair, reconditioning, rebuilding and remanufacturing electrical products of all kinds--18 different categories in all, from circuit breakers to fittings. The guidelines are intended for use by all organizations as a reference for evaluating the suitability of a product for service. Committees already have begun work on the standards, with guidance from Jim Rooney, senior training specialist, Technical Diagnostic Services, Inc., Arlington, Texas.

The PEARL standards will be built on a foundation of standards drawn from organizations such as the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the National Electrical Testing Association (NETA). The standards will be selected and refined by PEARL's members, based on their experience in reconditioning and remanufacturing, to create a "bulletproof" document so purchasers would know that products bought from PEARL members would perform to a stringent safety standard.

Rooney told attendees that if they do the hard work of making the PEARL standards truly substantive, one day cities may be persuaded to rewrite their building codes to require that installed products bear the mark of a nationally recognized testing laboratory or the mark of a PEARL remanufacturing operation. Before such change comes, PEARL members and their standards will be subjected to trial by fire, Rooney predicts. The standards are critical to defend the surplus industry against critics, he told attendees, "because that's where they'll attack you." And no matter how good the standard, turmoil will be unavoidable, he adds. "New products from the manufacturers do fail. Products tested to your standard, no matter what it is, will fail. That's why you have the requirement of warranties."

But Rooney urged PEARL's members to take the challenge of building new standards seriously, because the issue of surplus equipment is reaching a turning point at which somebody will decide what's suitable and what's not. "You're going to control your destiny, or the manufacturers will, or the government will. The decision is yours."

PEARL leaders, such as David Rosenfield, president of ROMAC Supply Co., Commerce, Calif., and vice president of PEARL, believe the environmental benefits of remanufacturing and recycling will drive demand for PEARL members' services, and the group plans to focus attention on this issue. Among the speakers at the February meeting was Scott Parker, president of the Remanufacturing Industries Council International (RICI), Washington, D.C. Parker touted the rising clout of the remanufacturing movement, including endorsements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which reported in a recent study that remanufacturing products presented considerable savings in energy and resources over both new and recycled materials with no loss in product quality.

Not only do members hope to gain respect and admiration from an industry that has blamed them for many evils, they also hope to win back the business of customers--particularly national wholesale chains--lost to them ever since the investigations of the electrical surplus market by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1988 cast a shadow on their entire industry.

ROMAC Supply Co., Commerce, Calif. Voyten Electric, Franklin, Pa. Western Enterprises, Riverside, Calif. D&F Liquidators, Inc., Hayward, Calif. Seattle Circuit Breaker, Inc., Seattle, Wash. All Current Electrical Sales, Camden, N.J. EEL Eastern Electrical Liquidators, Philadelphia, Pa. Pacific Coast Breaker, Sacramento, Calif. RMS Lighting, Inc., Houston, Texas Electric Motor Supply, Minneapolis, Minn. R.L. Cook Sales & Supply Co., Seattle, Wash. Group CBS, Denton, Texas Astro Power Systems, Inc., Dallas, Texas PM Sales Co., Inc., Chicago, Ill. U.S. Electric Supply Co., Inc., Atlanta, Ga. Rosen's Electrical Equipment Co., Pico Rivera, Calif.