“We’ll go out on an emergency call. The call could be after hours on a facility that needs to be up and running,” said Ed Santos, service manager, Morrow Meadows Corp., a company based in the Los Angeles area, whose clients include data centers and banks. “A hundred employees are there, but the facility can’t operate. While we’re working on the repair, we tend to ask them when the last preventive maintenance was done on the equipment. Usually, they are pretty puzzled by what it is.”

Maintenance, especially preventive maintenance, can include anything from cleaning, torquing and calibrating, to infrared, power quality or ultrasonic testing. Some contractors can sell preventative maintenance as an added service to their regular customers. Some contractors can use it as the base for their entire business.

“We try to present maintenance as a return on investment,” said Santos. “If a customer has to be down for four to six hours or wait a day for a part, the amount lost usually outweighs the cost of preventive maintenance.”

Being in position can pay off for the contractor as well.

“We find that once we’re doing maintenance for a client, they’ll call us for adds, moves or changes and that leads to call-backs for remodels, and to jobs in new locations and on larger construction projects.” said Santos.

While any size contractor can sell maintenance as a value-added service, it is usually an attractive avenue only to the larger firms.

“It doesn’t appeal to most small electrical firms because they don’t have enough business to keep a group of guys active or to pay for the equipment that is required to do maintenance on a continued basis,” said Henry Turner, project manager, Dynalectric, Los Angeles. “You have to have a truck that’s completely set up with every tool you can possibly think of and you have to have personnel who are fairly intelligent because most facilities only want you to maintain their ‘critical systems.’ Their regular staff will do the routine maintenance.”

Since maintenance contractors are only monitoring certain equipment, they visit their clients only periodically.

“We’ll go in for an annual maintenance call and do an infrared scan on switchgear, distribution boards and transformers,” said Rick Salerno, service manager for Dynalectric. “We’ll give them a survey of what we’ve found and tell them if they’ll have a potential problem. We might find overheating or a loose wire on a breaker. It’s easy to repair and the maintenance pays off for the building owner.”

Selling maintenance as a value-added service is a good strategy. Repair cost of a wire or breaker can pale in comparison to the cost for temporary generators and loss of operating time, yet, sometimes, it is the relationship with the equipment itself that is the value-added service that seals maintenance contracts.

One company for which this holds true is HMT Inc., an electrical contracting firm in Cicero, N.Y., that specializes in the maintenance of electrical equipment, particular distribution equipment, substations and switchgear. For long-term customers, HMT keeps maintenance records of equipment.

“As personnel change at a facility, we can retain some of the institutional knowledge that they lose as far as the history of different pieces of equipment,” said HMT’s Jon Pertgen. “Because of our knowledge of their particular facility, we are able to quickly troubleshoot a problem. We keep track of records for our customers. [It] is a valued-added service that we bring.”

HMT can also provide a history of maintenance when all the personnel and businesses have changed but the equipment remains.

“It is fairly common in our area to have a large industrial complex where the original industry has been replaced by an industrial park with multiple smaller industries that is operated by a realtor or landlord,” said Pertgen. “In that situation, no one has the overview of the full electrical system. We may have worked there when it was in its original form, so we have an opportunity to continue with the maintenance.”

And, the company takes advantage of downsizing.

“In our area, there’s a paper mill that 20 years ago had 12 electricians and now has three or four,” said Pertgen. “Besides trying to hire the electricians who left that firm so that they can work for us and contribute their expertise, we offer a service to the remaining electricians. Usually, they are busy with day-to-day tasks and often, they don’t have the exposure to or experience to be comfortable working with certain kinds of equipment which we specialize in, equipment that each facility might have one or two of, such as a circuit breaker or a transformer. We have the exposure so we provide the maintenance.”

That adds up to a value-added service.

“A company can devote themselves to maintenance, but they do have to have the equipment and the personnel,” said Turner.

And, some ingenuity.    EC

CASEY, author of "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors" and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at scbooks@aol.com or www.susancaseybooks.com.