Strategizing for Success: Zeller Electric

0719 MTI

Zeller Electric, Goodfield, Ill., takes low-voltage projects seriously. The company employs almost 50 people—10 on the low-voltage side of the business, which makes up about 15 percent of its work. “We have decided that, if we are going to do this kind of work, we are going to do it well,” said Joe Carey, systems team leader.

The company ensures this professionalism using a number of strategies.

1. Years ago, the company had a low-voltage division that “spun off” and became its own company. Zeller Electric then subcontracted low-voltage work with the separate company.

“However, we decided to bring it back in-house about seven years ago,” Carey said.

The company realized it made more sense to have this good talent in-house, especially as low-voltage projects were becoming more complex and technologically advanced.

2. The company takes certifications seriously, and as a result, it is able to provide BICSI Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) services. With these qualifications, it can work on access control systems, CATV systems, CCTV/surveillance systems, data communications services, programmable logic controls, security systems, VoIP cabling, wireless technologies and distributed antenna systems.

3. While some contractors have to turn down business because they don’t have the required equipment or have to rent it, Zeller Electric owns most of its own technical equipment.

“Sometimes, not having the equipment is a barrier of entry to projects, so those contractors have to subcontract the work,” Carey said. “Another option is to take a job and rent the equipment. However, we don’t want to rent equipment that we don’t know and would not be efficient with.” For these reasons, Zeller Electric invests in a lot of the technology that is required for the work it does.

For example, fiber is becoming more important as data speeds increase.

“We fusion-splice most of our fiber, so the splicer is important to us,” he said.

“There are other ways to connectorize fiber, and we have this equipment, too.” These include UniCam fiber optic connectors, OptiCam connectors, and crimp-on prepolished fiber connectors. The company has its own fusion splicer for the cable and also invests heavily in the latest and most accurate test equipment. It owns another piece of equipment that enables it to remotely focus and aim cameras from a computer, so technicians can set them up without having to have someone back at the head end.

4. While all low-voltage contractors provide training for their low-voltage technicians, Zeller Electric also provides some low-voltage training to its electricians.

“This helps them understand what we do on the low-voltage side. And, since they understand it, they realize that every project is one whole piece of business for our company,” he said.

In other words, since the electricians are on board with the data initiatives, everyone in the company is able to work together.

5. Finally, the company works closely with its general contractors, especially early in projects.

“We set expectations early in the project,” Carey said. “For example, we identify gaps and obstacles on the prints and on contract documents early.”

As a result, the company was able to handle a very large, complex basketball arena project with almost no problems.

“There was a lot of copper, a lot of UTP fiber, and a lot of different technologies. We had a good general contractor to work for, communication lines were good, we had a good mix of our guys on it, and as a result, the project came together well and in a timely manner,” Carey said.

The company performs a combination of new construction and retrofit.

“New construction is easier, of course,” he said. “These days, though, we are doing quite a bit of combined remodel and addition work, which includes new construction and retrofit.”

And, to ensure a steady stream of business, the company’s customer base is primarily healthcare, schools, tech companies and manufacturing companies. Healthcare almost always tends to be strong, as the population continues to age. However, even that can be cyclical.

“We might go six to 12 months with a lot of it, and then it might drop off for awhile,” Carey said. “It is important to have a variety.” When business is slow in one sector, it generally increases in another one. For example, if manufacturing drops off, we often find that there is more work with schools, because the government is still spending money.”

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