Sturgeon Electric Co. Inc. in Henderson, Colo., has been in business since 1912. It expanded into low-voltage work in 1984, when private bank exchange companies asked if it would be interested in performing their installations.
“As a result, we put together a team and began doing installations for them,” said Gary Westbrook, project executive for the low-voltage side of the business. These days, approximately 10 percent of the company’s commercial and industrial (C&I) total revenue comes from the low-voltage division.
The low-voltage division works with customers in most industries but specializes in healthcare, high tech, data centers, government, oil and gas, and telecom and cell tower companies.
The company occasionally faces challenges in terms of differentiating itself from some new, smaller companies.
“These cottage-industry startups try to compete with us, but they can’t offer what we do,” Westbrook said.
While the company itself knows why it is a better option, customers aren’t always aware. The company works hard to emphasize its competitive advantages to customers and prospects. Four in particular stand out: emphasizing strong internal communications, offering a comprehensive range of technologies and services, staying abreast of the latest training and technologies, and being able to predict and meet new customer demands.
Sturgeon Electric Co. has eight offices in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah. It employs approximately 700 people, with about 150 in the low-voltage division.
Effective internal communications
As some companies grow larger, their services expand, but communications can sometimes suffer. However, Sturgeon Electric Co. places an emphasis on ensuring everyone in the division communicates closely, frequently and effectively with each other, so that everyone knows what everyone else on a project is doing.
“We do a lot of face-to-face,” said Matt Smith, project manager.
The company recently completed a comprehensive fiber optic backhaul project for a ski resort in Colorado, including 61,000 feet of underground and 36,000 feet of aerial cable.
“We needed to get everything done within six weeks, and we were not allowed a lot of time on the slopes because of the skiers’ needs to use the lifts,” said Lee Stephens, senior project manager.
The primary key to success was a lot of planning and coordination, with everyone on the project working closely together.
Range of technologies and services
The company’s low-voltage division offers more than a dozen different types of services, including voice/data/video structured cabling systems, Wi-Fi systems, CATV systems, CCTV/video surveillance systems, distributed antenna systems (DAS), security systems and fire alarm systems.
The company also offers long-haul services, which include underground long-haul copper and fiber optic cable installations and overhead long haul copper and fiber optic cable installations.
“There aren’t many firms that offer all of these services,” Westbrook said.
This experience came in handy on a recent data center building automation project.
“We needed to update the pressure controls on 160 air handlers,” Smith said. “The building’s static pressure was off, causing inefficiencies in the cooling process. The upgrade solved the problem.”
The latest training and technologies
The division offers a comprehensive three-year, in-house training curriculum, with on-the-job and manufacturer training that focuses on special products, such as Wi-Fi and fiber optics.
The division works closely with manufacturers so it can continue to offer the very latest products and services to its customers.
Sturgeon Electric Co. recently worked on the first DAS project in Colorado—and the third in the United States—to use an unshielded twisted-pair technology rather than traditional hard-line coaxial cable.
“We were able to install this because we were able to work with a manufacturer that could offer this brand-new product,” Westbrook said.
The division works to identify new trends in customer demands and then focuses more of its resources on these types of projects. These days, it finds demand for building automation and Wi-Fi are growing rapidly.
“We see a lot of future growth opportunities in these areas,” Smith said.
More customers and prospects are starting to see the long-term value in energy savings that building automation can provide.
The company’s low-voltage division continues to separate itself from its competitors. However, it has found that its own customers can sometimes be competitors.
It’s no secret that demand for qualified engineers and technicians in the low-voltage field continues to grow, and Sturgeon Electric Co., like most firms, is always looking for new talent. It has such a good reputation that, on several occasions, customers have hired employees directly from Sturgeon Electric Co. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
“We like to see our employees succeed,” Westbrook said. “In fact, nine of our employees have accepted job offers with our clients. We have such a good reputation that our clients want to hire our people.”
Besides running ads and offering bonuses for referrals, the company occasionally finds qualified talent in a third way.
“We have found that we can occasionally hire some employees from clients that are downsizing,” Westbrook said.