“When members save customers time and money, it results in a competitive advantage.” Quick! Who said that?

If you think you read it in this magazine or possibly heard it from some National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) leader, you’ve demonstrated fine deductive logic. It sounds like something we’d say and, indeed, have said many times.

But those words come from the “About” page at www.naed.org, the online home of the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED). That the associations for electrical contractors and electrical distributors both have this outlook is no surprise. We share a kinship.

We contractors are the direct customers of the distributors and, through them, of the electrical manufacturers. But all three points of this supply-side triad are dependent on the satisfaction of the end-customer, the client whom the contractor serves. Thus, we all benefit by working with integrity, ensuring our products and services live up to our quality claims and are offered at a fair price, and by helping each other out whenever we can.

NECA has a formal program for recognizing organizations and individuals that help our industry. The NECA Industry Partner Award has been presented 15 times since its 1996 inauguration. More than a third of those presentations were to organizations that either make the products we need or enable us to get them when we need them—AMP Inc. (1997), Square D (1999) Graybar (2004), the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (2005), NAED (2009), and Milwaukee Electric Tools (2010).

NECA honored these entities for surpassing the scope of their role in the electrical industry. They’ve gone the extra distance by serving as training partners for our work force; by introducing processes that enable us to work more efficiently, more profitably, and safer; and by joining NECA in major initiatives, such as developing better codes and standards, combating the counterfeiting of electrical products or assisting in our legislative efforts. We appreciate their help and are also grateful for their ongoing support and that of the many other distributors and manufacturers that sponsor and participate in NECA programs, advertise in this magazine or contribute to industry research through ELECTRI International.

Now, I realize that the majority of distributors are family- or privately owned operations and may not be in a position to contribute in these ways, but all distributors—big and small—can be good partners for electrical contractors. Beyond warehousing and selling electrical products, distributors can provide extensive product knowledge, technical assistance, on-time delivery to facilitate productivity, and market information. Some outstanding distributors even help contractors find new work, market their services, and collect what is due from slow-paying general contractors and project owners.

Routinely, a knowledgeable distributor can look at contract documents or specifications and figure out the big picture concerning product needs and compatibility. The most valuable of the breed offers us options. Thereby, the distributor helps the contractor estimate accurately and win bids.

After the job is secured, a good distributor makes it easy for the contractor to purchase and track the required materials. The best distributors deliver it on-site when it is needed. And the best of the best stay in contact with the contractor throughout the project so that restocking issues, change orders and potential problems can be addressed without delay. Such services make it possible for the contractor to complete the project on time.

A good distributor keeps up with the introduction of new products—not just their function and cost, but also how they work with other products and how they are installed. For example, prefab work is gaining in popularity right now, and many contractors buy components to preassemble before going to the project site. Other contractors purchase complete packages of box assemblies or prelamped lighting fixtures with whips, cords and connectors. A knowledgeable distributor can point the contractor in the right direction regarding product choices and may even assist with setup.

Successful distributors also keep up with changes in the marketplace. Right now, demand is high for energy-efficiency retrofits and sustainable new construction. We contractors appreciate distributors who keep us informed about products that can help us meet the demand. Of course, that requires some education, so I recommend that distributors look into some of the fine programs NAED and other organizations offer.

In fact, education and communicating with customers to determine their needs is key to succeeding in this business. And that’s another bit of common-sense advice that applies to electrical distributors and electrical contractors alike!