Electrical contractors have had their appetites whet. They see promise in a host of voice/data/video and integrated systems and are approaching the market with a newfound sense of excitement regarding turnkey solution contracting.

In business and commercial settings, contractors are piggybacking their cabling expertise with video surveillance, access control and other data management functions. To meet fire codes, they are installing sophisticated controls with zoning and supervisory capabilities. Outside the facility, where all good security protection begins, contractors are deploying perimeter devices and products to further harden the premises. Continued refinements of computer technologies, microprocessors and hardware and software are allowing these systems to work smarter together, with labor savings for the contractor another plus.

The current trend in security and low voltage is not in new product development (there are always some new technologies, however few come to market each year). Rather, it is in the refinement of current technologies, software to integrate a host of building functions, the use of existing infrastructures such as the Ethernet to transmit video and data and a presentation and packaging of equipment in solutions to meet the needs of both new construction and the burgeoning retrofit markets.

The power of distribution

It is in this scenario that distribution continues to take a vital role and, in fact, has become a critical component for electrical contractors searching for application diversity. Contractors are looking for products that work well, and applications that sell, and distributors and manufacturers deliver.

A distributor in the traditional security systems installer/integrator market for decades, ADI of Melville, N.Y., continues to reinvent its approach to contractors, reaffirming its belief that the technologically maturing industry holds much potential, especially in integrated applications. With insight into its contractor-customers, ADI presents and packages products for new and emerging applications so contractors can take full advantage of the offerings and achieve success, said Ralph Maniscalco, director of marketing communications.

“The role of a good distributor is to provide the right mix of products, local availability and value-added services that allow contractors to maximize their sales potential and grow their businesses,” Maniscalco continued. Added Ed Constantine, ADI’s Wire and Cable product manager, “In addition, ADI sells product from manufacturers such as OnQ Technologies, Middletown, Pa.; Greyfox Systems, Pittsburgh; Genesis Cable Systems, Pleasant Prairie, Wis.; and Belden’s HomeChoice division. These systems, and others, provide contractors ‘future-poof’ platforms for low-voltage residential and light commercial structured cabling applications.”

“Direct support is an important ingredient in a contractor’s success, and ADI’s System Sales and Support Group can help an installer/contractor design jobs that win bids,” Maniscalco continued. “At ADI, we’ve begun to re-merchandise our branches with colorful, bold new signage that helps our customers find the products they want faster. It also showcases some of the many new products we sell that installers/contractors may not be aware of. We show them what to offer their customers. And our new merchandising program will help introduce those new products to the installing professional every time they walk into a branch,” he said.

ADI offers multiple services and support that can aid the low-voltage contractor, Maniscalco added. In addition to its 100-plus locations and extensive warehousing network, it also has one of the “most comprehensive product catalog offerings in the business.”

Being able to anticipate market demand and move in the right direction is a cognitive strength of the communications/security distribution network. Graybar, Clayton, Mo., recently migrated beyond traditional electrical contracting supply to fulfill new needs in the low-voltage and integrated systems markets, said Karl Griffith, director of reseller markets.

Graybar began selling a Security and Notification Systems line in January 2004. The line includes products from manufacturers in the following disciplines: access control, fire alarms, closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV), communications/signaling, disaster recovery, lighting, tools and test equipment and power. Graybar is best known in the industry as one of the leading communications and electrical products distributors, and Griffith said the company was definitely drawn into this market by heightened contractor interest and growing inquiries.

Tuning into markets

“The expansion of Graybar’s traditional portfolio is designed to directly address contractor’s growing demands for this type of equipment,” said Griffith.

“The convergence of security and notification is occurring very rapidly,” he continued. “Security and notification is part of the IP world. Ultimately, IP will be the infrastructure and all systems will be talking to each other. It’s the direction we’re headed,” he added.

It’s a natural evolution, said Griffith, because in reality, all subsystems are communications systems. “Distributors are getting more involved in the building industry and we see the opportunity in the electrical contractor community. The entire electrical contracting discipline will continue to migrate to IP during the next 5 to 10 years. They cut their teeth on Ethernet and are ready to take the next step,” he said.

In addition to market-specific equipment, distributors continue to add to the package an array of value-added services that assist in the design specification and installation process.

At ADI, customer support services include specification assistance and training. ADI’s System Sales and Support Group is well known in the industry for its hands-on approach to assisting contractors plan, design and purchase systems-oriented products. ADI also works closely with its manufacturer-partners to provide product training, hands-on seminars, counter days and other special events, said ADI’s Maniscalco.

Added Graybar’s Karl Griffith: “Our sales network creates demand for products by being knowledgeable. We are experts at construction and can provide helpful information to contractors about the nuances of the installation.”

Trendsetters

Packaging products for current applications and anticipating future trends is a large part of what distributors do. Distributors also work closely with manufacturers, who keep close tabs on the security and low-voltage industries and spend considerable capital on research and development. Belden Electronics Division, Richmond, Ind., went directly to systems integrators in the field to get input in the development of a composite access control cable—Banana Peel—it released late last year. Designed to meet the growing demand for access control applications—where multiwire runs can be time and labor intensive—it consists of a jacketless product that affixes the individual cable to a center spline. Individual cable components are color-coded and application printed for easy identification and termination. For example, the gray cable is for lock power; orange for card reader; white for door contact; and blue for request exit.

“An integrator can pull the same cable for all the devices on an access control door application, rather than run four separate spools,” said Juan Gudino, market manager, Belden. “In addition to less time on set up and installation, troubleshooting/terminating is simple with the color-coded system,” he added.

Distribution, installing and manufacturing come full circle in the low-voltage and integrated systems industries. Backed by quality and cutting edge products and the right lines to meet application demands, success is certainly in the offing for everyone.

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.