Does this sound familiar? You’ve won the bid to provide light fixtures or switching gear on a major project. Components have been arriving at the job site in anticipation of a specific start date. Your crew is assembled and ready to hit the ground running.


But one box of widgets hasn’t arrived, and your supplier can’t tell you where it is.

“I’ll get back to you,” he tells you, while your insides churn. You experience an uncomfortable feeling of helplessness and imagine dollar bills evaporating into thin air.

Until now, little progress has been made in the three decades since the introduction of personal computers and networking systems, fax machines and e-commerce, to provide contractors with real-time status reports of equipment orders.

Enter Graybar, which recently introduced its Project Management and Interactive Quote service. A people- and computer-driven program, the service allows contractors to track orders for entire projects from the cradle to the grave.

“The key to the system is the organization of a staff into teams dedicated to assisting contractor clients in the efficient ordering, tracking, delivery and billing of the thousands of components that make up a typical electrical contract,” said Arnold Kelly, Graybar’s director of the construction market.

An important characteristic of the management program is the establishment of teams that assume a proactive, rather than passive, role from the day a contract is awarded.

Depending upon the scope of the project, teams may include a sales representative, the primary interface between the customer and team; switchgear specialist; lighting specialist; commodity specialist and project specialist. All report to a construction sales manager.

As soon as drawings are approved and orders placed with suppliers, the project specialist assumes responsibility for tracking the availability of parts, scheduling delivery dates, communicating status reports to contractors via fax or e-mail and billing.

“We have used the program since last summer on several projects, the smallest of which had more than 2,000 different items,” one contractor told us. “A key is that they alert us to release dates by the manufacturer. In one case we had a narrow window to install because we were putting equipment in a basement. If we caused a delay a crane operator would have had a lot of wasted time. Our project specialist provided information about delivery dates before we requested it so we were right on time.

“They also reminded me of fixtures that were on hold pending approval of the drawings by the architects. We were able to alert them to the potential for delay if we didn’t get approved drawings. I may have five to eight projects going on at a time, and they track all of them,” he added.

A contractor in Dallas who has been using the program on a year-long lighting project said, “I had $1 million in special architectural light fixtures, and thousands of components shipped from multiple locations. We received a fax every two weeks that told us the status of orders with the projected shipping date, target date and actual date. The only errors we’ve seen have been human errors that occur when a wrong part number is entered into the order.

“The bad news is that the system tells the truth. If I need a part right now that’s on back order, the system doesn’t beat around the bush.”

The system may have a positive effect on the bottom line by accelerating cash flow and reducing the amount of time spent monitoring orders internally.

“From a budgetary standpoint, I now know when I’ve completed part of a project. I know when to anticipate a bill from the supplier, and when I can invoice the general contractor,” he added.

One project manager said he was convinced following completion of an eight-month-long project in Missouri that involved a $3 million contract for installation of 450 light fixtures, a substation and thousands of feet of ducting. “They got me what I needed when I needed it so we didn’t have any self-inflicted wounds. The program definitely gives them a competitive edge because it will prevent the loss of man-hours, and that’s money in the bank.”

Interestingly, the company does not require that Graybar is the sole provider of equipment on a job. “We will provide the service at no cost for whatever equipment is ordered from us,” Kelly said. EC

LAWRENCE is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bozeman, Mont. He can be reached at hrscrk@mcn.net.