A little innovation goes a long way

More than 25 years ago, Rexel’s Upper Marlboro (Md.) Regional Distribution Center came up with a value-add to improve service to contractor customers. Among the first to take advantage of Rexel’s wire cutting and paralleling service was Dynalectric Co. of Washington, D.C.

When first introduced, cut and paralleled wires were delivered on wooden reels. “Because the individual conductors overlapped each other during the spooling operation,” said Donnell Kelley, assistant vice president at Dynalectric, “we experienced problems unreeling the cable, causing difficulties pulling the cable into the conduit.” So while the service augmented on-site operations for contractors, it still needed some refinements.

“About 1995, we decided to take the service one step further and we bought steel reels that have four or five compartments,” said Anthony Fleming, director of logistics at Rexel. “Originally we’d use the steel reels in-house to complete the parallels and run the lengths back onto the wood reels for the customers—they were used to the wooden reels.”

The transition to the improved process with the steel reels has been a matter of customer education. Fleming remembers customers in the Northeast being especially reluctant to move to the steel reels. “Because so many were unfamiliar with the steel reels, one of our sales managers carried an empty reel in the back of his pickup truck,” said Fleming. “As he’d make sales calls, he’d show them the reel and explain the concept. Now we have customers who won’t take a wooden reel any more.” Once customers actually used the compartmentalized reels, they would experience first-hand the advantages over wooden reels and become converts.

Prior to Rexel offering the service, many local contractors paralleled their own wire, usually on the job site. “We find Rexel’s service to be a significant labor saver,” said Kelley. “On a job site, you often have space constraints that don’t allow you to lay the wire out on the floor and cut it yourselves.” And the steel reels, virtually indestructible, are picked up by Rexel and used again. With wooden reels, once emptied, they usually became one more piece of job-site debris requiring disposal. Being able to recycle the steel reels is another advantage.

Yet the manpower savings continues to be the primary customer benefit. “The wires don’t tangle and twist, ending up in a mess,” said John Papadopoulous, another Rexel customer. Papadopoulous, who is vice president of purchasing and warehouse operations for Truland Systems, said, “We started paralleling and shipping on metal reels about 30 years ago. Five or six years ago, we began outsourcing our cutting and paralleling, and Rexel has been doing an excellent job for us.”

Like a true win-win value add, it’s been good for Rexel as well. “Instead of cutting, say, 20 parallels a day,” said Fleming, “we can do 40 to 50 a day. Before 1995, we had 11 workers in the wire room. Since going to the steel reels, we’ve been able to trim that to nine, but with the increased demand for the service and greater volume, we’re up to 10 today.” Thus, the delivery timeline of orders for cut-and-paralleled wire has been chopped on Rexel’s end, adding additional value to the customer.

Still, quick turnaround time on orders is secondary to some contractors working on large jobs. “Sometimes our orders, in terms of quantity of wire, are fairly huge,” said Papadopoulous. “Rexel has been able to handle the quantities that we need in a timely manner.”

Today, Fleming reports, 100 percent of Rexel’s commercial contractor customer base is taking advantage of the service. “The best thing about it? There’s nearly no waste of material,” said Kelley. EC

CHICHESTER is a freelance writer based in Meadows of Dan, Va. She can be contacted at falconer@swva.net.