Rising to IBS Installations' Challenges

The arena of voice/data/video installations for electrical contractors can be both challenging and rewarding. The market is flowing into combining the traditional with the new in what is now being called integrated building systems (IBS) installations.

“The low-hanging fruit of re-wiring office buildings for data has been picked,” said Andrew L. Jones, director of electrical contractor sales at Accu-Tech Corporation (www.accu-tech.com). “As we move forward, the more established elements of the electrical industry have a lot to gain as this market becomes more sophisticated. It’s going to continue to require more expertise in not only the technical side, but also the sales and the installation sides.”

Accu-Tech, which specializes in low-voltage equipment, including everything from data networking and closed-circuit video, to access control and security systems (nowadays called “premise wiring componetry”), began concentrating on electrical contractors in 1999. This focus was market driven: Accu-Tech’s core networking product sales to electrical contracting firms have nearly doubled each year for the last three running.

They don’t sell traditional electrical supplies. They don’t have locations in everyone’s backyard. “We’ve made a reputation on strong but narrow feet,” said Jones regarding AccuTech’s specialist orientation. And Jason Scheimreif, division manager for Mona Electric Group Inc. in Clinton, Md., expresses some frustration with Accu-Tech’s size (which includes 300 employees and 16 stocking locations): “There are fewer than [the] average [number of] locations,” he said. “We work around that to get the high-end products and materials we need for the demands of, for example, hospital installations. And they deliver when they say they will.” Still, for an electrical contractor just entering the field, reliance on a specialist’s expertise could be the difference between making it in the IBS marketplace or not.

“Accu-Tech views electrical firms performing this kind of work to continue as one of the highest-growing groups in our company,” said Jones. “Our growth with electrical contractors has exceeded the growth forecasts for our company overall, by double.”

Likewise, IBS installations can be quite lucrative for the electrical contractor. Scheimreif reported that, while Mona Electric’s datacommunications division is the smallest in the group, it offers the highest margins, overall. But don’t be fooled: IBS is a unique field with specialized challenges.

“Contractors tell me that the problems they encounter in datacom installations are different from those they’re used to handling,” said Jones. “At the same time, data cabling infrastructure has been the least-specified part of many construction projects, leaving it up to the installing contractor to design the cabling systems from specs provided by the owner or architect. This is a design/build vein of gold waiting for ECs to mine.”

The experts at Accu-Tech have the skill set to enhance the electrical contractor’s ability to tackle such design/build challenges. Eric Brummel, vice president of Capital Electric DataCom (a division of Capital Electric Construction Company, Inc. in Kansas City, Mo.) said, “In the past, we found that getting datacom supplies from a regular electrical products distributor was sometimes problematic. Accu-Tech’s specialization helps critically in getting us past challenges unique to this field.”

Another big difference between Accu-Tech and what an electrical contractor might be familiar with is their inside salesperson marketing model. “We have a very limited outside sales force,” said Jones. “This ‘backward’ arrangement has been a challenge for us to sell to contractors used to having outside salespeople visit them.”

“We actually prefer the inside sales rep model,” said Brummel. “We have a single point of contact who’s consistently available.”

Jones would counsel electrical contractors to take advantage of the value that can be added to any electrical installation through being able to offer total IBS installations: networking, CCTV, access control and security all in one package. The successful way to do this is to align the division with experts already in the field, and to allow those experts to do their jobs.

“Number one, contractors need to commit the resources,” he said. “Number two, they need to leave the resources they commit unencumbered by their busy electrical business. Too often, I find that companies who’ve charged a couple of employees to lead their datacom effort will pull them back when the business on the electrical side gets going fast. The most successful companies have developed a separate department, hired some people that come with credentials from the datacom side, empowered them to do business and then left them alone.” EC

CHICHESTER is a freelance writer based in Meadows of Dan, Va. She can be contacted at falconer@swva.net.

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