When small companies promote their businesses, they often mention that their size makes them more efficient. One electrical contractor that would take exception to that claim is Santa Clara, Calif.-based Redwood City Electric. While it has more than 1,500 employees in five Northern California offices, it sees itself as the epitome of efficiency and works hard to stay that way.
Founded in 1974, Redwood City Electric got involved in low-voltage work when it found itself doing a lot of traditional electrical projects and some fire alarm projects, but it had to sub out other types of low-voltage work.
Group leader Richard Yeadon started the technology division about six years ago. He had been in the telecommunications industry for about 20 years before that.
Currently, low-voltage projects represent about 15 percent of the work for the company, which consists of two divisions. One deals with fire alarm systems/installations, and the other handles teledata cabling, some security, audiovisual, paging, distributed antenna systems for cellular enhancement, and first-responder systems for emergency radio coverage.
To gain such a competitive edge on efficiency, the company uses several strategies. The first is hiring and keeping high-quality, well-trained employees.
“Selling work is easy, but finding the talent to fulfill those commitments can be more difficult,” Yeadon said.
Besides hiring employees who have been through the Electrical Training ALLIANCE program, the company ensures employees attend different manufacturers’ certification training program to stay as current as possible. However, not all training programs are equal, so the variety of choices ensures employees get what they need from each program.
“A lot of the manufacturer training on the teledata side is more of a sales pitch,” Yeadon said. “However, when you get to more specialized systems, such as security systems, CCTV, etc., the training is more in-depth, and the guys actually learn something.”
"The last thing you want to do is fail after you’ve made a commitment to a customer." —Richard Yeadon
In addition, the company’s superintendents, who handle quality control and field monitoring, also do on-the-job training.
Redwood City Electric’s low-voltage divisions also stay abreast of the latest technology that fosters efficiency.
“Being part of a large electrical contractor, we have access to the latest construction tools and technologies, such as building information modeling,” Yeadon said. “I even have some 3-D modelers on my staff.”
Whenever possible, the company works on projects where it can handle all, or at least most, of the low-voltage work. That way, it can coordinate these activities itself, rather than having to accommodate other contractors doing other segments of the work.
For example, a current project involves doing virtually all of the low-voltage installations for a 500,000-square-foot children’s hospital at Stanford University.
“We are doing the teledata cabling, distributed antenna systems, paging systems, audiovisual systems, security systems, nurse call systems, and more,” he said.
To ensure it doesn’t overcommit itself, the company is extremely diligent about its business plan.
“The last thing you want to do is fail after you’ve made a commitment to a customer,” he said.
One way to ensure it will meet its commitment is to focus on larger projects and, whenever possible, not take on smaller projects that could get in the way. While the company has some maintenance contracts with certain end-users, it is not something it considers a niche.
“We’re really good at building things,” Yeadon said. “When you’re doing a $25-million technology project, it’s difficult to find time for a $500 service call.”
Redwood City Electric works hard to coordinate with other contractors on the job.
“On the low-voltage side, specialized systems are sometimes contracted directly to the owner, and there is a GC [general contractor] managing all of the other MEP [mechanical, electrical and plumbing] subs,” he said. “Ultimately, though, these other contractors and subs have an effect on our bottom line as well. Just because the end-user may be paying us, if the GC and its subs aren’t meeting their deadlines, it can impact us and lead to inefficiencies. The more we can cut that off up front, the better off we are in the end.”
As a result, representatives from Redwood City Electric attend GC meetings, coordinate with their schedules, and keep them in the loop as much as possible.
The company’s commitment to efficiency dictates the kinds of customers it prefers to work with. While it serves customers in almost all industries, it tends to do the lion’s share of its work for tech companies, data centers and healthcare facilities, given the options located in Silicon Valley.
However, in many cases, it avoids public projects, especially K–12 schools. Part of the reason is that the work generally needs to be performed in the summer, which would lead to a big spike in the company’s summer activity and throw its annual project schedule off course.
Yeadon credited the company’s diligence as a factor of its success. He said relationships matter in the private sector.
“This is what gives us the repeat business,” he said. “In the public sector, it’s based on ‘low bid wins.’ As such, our added value doesn’t have any effect on that market.”
About 80 percent of the company’s business is from repeat customers.
“We have an excellent track record on projects of all sizes and durations, and we don’t miss deadlines,” Yeadon said.