EW's Andrea Herbert produces the industry's most valuable tool for market planning.

Electrical Wholesaling has published its Regional Factbook and Market Planning Guide for so long that many people in the electrical industry take it for granted. These articles and our annual listing of the 250 largest electrical distributors are the crown jewels of EW's editorial efforts. They are an investment in time and editorial talent that no other publication covering the electrical industry makes.

Editorial Director Andrea Herbert is the keeper of the keys to these articles. For over 20 years, she has conducted an annual survey of over 3,000 electrical distributors, analyzed the thousands of data points that come in, factored in U.S. Census Bureau figures on the sales of electrical distributors and then developed sales forecasts for hundreds of local markets throughout the U.S. It's an effort that has won her wide acclaim throughout this industry. Corporate CEOs and senior marketing executives use the numbers to set sales goals for their electrical distributors and independent manufacturers' reps. Electrical distributors value the forecasts as an indispensable tool to size up the sales potential in their own backyard, as well as new markets they are considering for expansion.

For her work on the Market Planning Guide and Regional Factbook, Electrical Wholesaling has received several Jesse H. Neal Awards, the highest honor in business journalism. Andrea is not the type of person to blow her own horn on the importance of these awards, so I will do it for her. Any business journalist would consider winning one Jesse H. Neal Award to be a career milestone; winning as many of them as she has puts her in very select company in the entire publishing field.

This industry has come a long way in its market planning. Not long ago, what passed for strategic market planning for many distributors was a hurried forecast the day before a major vendor came to town to discuss the following year's sales goals.

We like to think that Andrea has played a big part in helping electrical distributors, manufacturers and independent representatives attack this sometimes confounding subject more professionally. Many electrical manufacturers, as well as the industry's buying/marketing groups, now demand that their distributors come to joint-planning meetings armed with exactly the type of statistical analyses that Andrea's market-planning information provides.

Yet, all that electrical distributors have learned about market planning in the past serves only as a foundation for what they will need to succeed in the future. With the easy availability of tons of Internet-based demographic data, they can piece together a snapshot of potential growth markets. Even more valuable is the point-of-sale (POS) data that sophisticated business software can now capture. POS information shows who bought what product where, can track customer buying habits and can be massaged to break out sales by virtually any category, including customer type, time-of-year, sales territory and zip code.

But as you will see in this month's cover story "POS: Cause for Pause" (page 20), by Contributing Writer Douglas Chandler, until electrical distributors believe that their manufacturers will not misuse this information or give it to competing supply houses, they are very reluctant to part with it.

With POS data, as with all business relationships, trust must be the cornerstone. With it, business partners can work together and aim the resources of both companies at a common goal; without it, the relationship disintegrates.