I love hearing war stories about the emergency service that electrical distributors provide for electrical contractors. One New York distributor once told me that his next delivery truck was going to be an ambulance because of all the rush deliveries his customers expected from him.

I recently heard a really great war story from a former Chicago electrical contractor: The Tale of the Frozen Fish.

Not too many years ago, a Friday-night fire on Chicago's west side knocked out the power in an ancient cold storage warehouse that was storing thousands of pounds of fish for diners at the Windy City's finest seafood restaurants.

The electrical contractor had the home phone number of his favorite electrical distributor in town, and he asked the distributor to meet at the scene of the potential disaster. The electrical distributor drove right over, and saw what would be a very smelly situation if the power was not restored very quickly. Complicating matters was the fact that the electrical distribution system powering the refrigeration system in the ancient warehouse was knob-and-tube wiring and knife switches.

The electrical distributor drove the contractor over to his shop, opened the warehouse doors and told him, “Take what you need. You owe me one.” With this classic example of emergency service, the electrical contractor's crews worked through the night to install a new electrical system, and the catch of the day was saved.

Salvaging a warehouse full of fresh fish may seem like an unusual accomplishment for an electrical distributor. But sometimes that's what it takes for an electrical distributor to win everlasting respect from an electrical contractor.

Electrical distributors and electrical contractors often have a love-hate relationship, but they are too important to each other to feud forever. According to Electrical Wholesaling magazine's November 2000 Regional Factbook, electrical contractors account for 37 percent of the average distributor's sales. And despite attempts from other sources of supply to take electrical contractors' business away from electrical distributors, electrical distributors are still overwhelmingly the electrical contractor's first choice of supply.

That doesn't mean electrical contractors aren't looking at alternative purchasing strategies. For instance, some of the very largest companies in the listing of the Top 50 electrical contractors on page 36 want to consolidate the purchasing of the many electrical contracting firms that they have purchased over the last few years and buy some “A” item bulk supplies in mass quantities from the large electrical distributors who can service them on a national basis.

But size really doesn't matter when it comes to what most electrical contractors want from electrical distributors: Stick to your word, save their butts on a few jobs, provide your service at reasonable prices and you will get your share of the business.

There's another important service element that you can't overlook — keeping them posted about the new products that can make their lives easier by helping them do their jobs faster, more efficiently, with less sweat and frustration or more safely. New products are the lifeblood of the electrical industry. They are also some of the best tools that electrical distributors have in their bags of tricks to help strengthen their relationships with electrical contractors.

If you want to see some of the most innovative products to hit the market in the past year, check out EW's 10th Annual Hot Products listing on page 20. These products were selected by a panel of end users for EW's sister publication CEE News magazine in its Product of the Year competition, or chosen by that magazine's editors for its “Product of the Month” feature. All of these products have unique features that differentiate them from other products in the market.

Connecting with electrical contractors is really a pretty simple equation. Most of the time you don't even have to save a warehouse full of fresh fish, as long as you stick to the basics of good customer service.