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Being the Best

Cannon & Wendt Electric Co., Phoenix, has been in business since 1945. It launched the Cannon & Wendt Technologies division about a decade ago, according to Kerry Engmark, operations manager for the division.

The vast majority of the division’s low-voltage work these days focuses on voice and data cabling, specifically copper, fiber and coaxial.

Growing the business over the last decade hasn’t been a cakewalk, though, largely because of competition.

“Prospects are being approached by so many of us for work,” he said.

Not only are low-voltage contractors approaching prospects, but the distribution centers that Cannon & Wendt buys products from also are talking to prospects, as are the cabling manufacturers.

The solution has been to carve a clean path between what the client needs and what Cannon & Wendt can do to satisfy those needs, Engmark said. To do this, the division introduced some specific, effective strategies.

“We get a lot of business from word of mouth,” he said, adding that the company doesn’t have designated salespeople.

“Everyone here in the company is a sales and business development professional,” he said. “The majority of our people are 20-plus-year veterans.”

As such, when they are doing traditional work for customers, they will mention that the company also performs low-voltage work.

Another important strategy has been to hire the right people for the division. Engmark has been very patient in building the division’s team.

“I want people who are honest and forthright and can talk with equal enthusiasm about their mistakes and their successes,” he said. “I have been in the structured cabling industry since the late 1970s, so I can teach just about any discipline within the industry. However, I can’t teach character, and I can’t teach ethics.”

Engmark holds a registered communications distribution designer (RCDD) designation, so he can produce design documents if the division is looking at a design/build opportunity.

“Even if an electrical opportunity comes through the door without telecommunications, if I have enough design knowledge, I can put together a conceptual budget based on a conceptual design,” he said. “Then, we can say, ‘We notice that you didn’t have telecom in here. Here is a courtesy number in case it is helpful to you.’”

Even if the division doesn’t end up being awarded the business, it has at least planted the seed and shown the prospect how it presents numbers and proposals.

“This seems to stick in their minds, which leads to more opportunities in the future,” he said.

The division also is committed to ensuring all of its proposals highlight the level of detail it is committed to.

“We also show prospects the kind of work we have done,” Engmark said.

In most cases, Engmark will show them photographs of the division’s past work. In some cases, he may even tour a prospect through a completed project in person.

“I would also have no problem setting up meetings between existing clients and potential clients,” he said.

As Engmark sees it, the most important thing he does is listen.

“There is an old saying that I have one mouth and two ears for a reason, so I do my best to use them proportionally,” he said.

Doing warranty and maintenance work also helps build new business.

“We try to get maintenance contracts after we do work,” Engmark said. “We don’t pursue it hard right out of the gate. However, during the warranty period, we are going to be present.”

The division has some properties where the structured cabling has been in place for three to four years, and it is still going out and doing warranty walks and maintaining a presence.

“Because we maintain this presence, I find that we earn a lot of other new opportunities as they come along,” he said. “In this business, so much of success is the result of the value of the personal presence, the value of the word, and the value of the handshake.”

According to Engmark, there is no value in overpromising and underdelivering.

“We allow our quality to speak for itself,” he said. “And we focus on two types of quality. One is the basic construction quality, and the other is visual quality.”

Overall, the division just tries to find ways to stay in front of clients and prospects.

“Since coming here, we have been able to grow [the division] from about half a dozen technical employees to three dozen,” Engmark said. Certainly, he admitted, the division doesn’t generate the majority of what the company is producing revenue-wise. “However, the work we are delivering provides a respectable margin and is clearly profitable to the house.”

Two areas of future growth
There are a couple other areas of low-voltage work that Engmark considers to be very exciting and that he would like to add to the division’s core offerings. Both relate to Internet protocol (IP).

“In terms of IP telephony, I have identified a local telephone system manufacturer, and I want to bring our technologies division to a place where we can sell, service and maintain telephone systems, either digital phone systems or IP-based phone systems,” he said.

He also is looking at IP-based camera security, CCTV and related technologies.

ATKINSON has been a full-time business magazine writer since 1976. Contact him at w.atkinson@mchsi.com.

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