Let Your Supplier Make You a Hero

Company tailors service model for each customer Creating a company culture where the mantra is “Nothing’s Impossible” takes the buy-in of every worker, top-to-bottom. That’s what Shepherd Electric Supply, with two branches in the Washington, D.C. area, has achieved, and its contractor customers are reaping the benefits.

With the right relationship, what a two-branch, locally-owned supplier can do for your business is to make you a hero in your customers’ eyes. “One of our factory customers in Frederick, Md., had spent $200,000 on two pieces of equipment,” recalled Joseph Herbert, of Herbert Electric Company Inc. in Baltimore.

“But he needed some work done to operate them. Every minute the machines sat there, he was losing money, so he called us.

“I took a look, called Shepherd, and told them we needed a 400A subpanel, which is not a stock item. Shepherd looked into their archives to see what type would match, called Cutler-Hammer, and had it ready by the time I drove the hour back to Baltimore,” Herbert continued. “Our field personnel were in the factory installing the branch circuitry while Shepherd was acquiring the equipment. My customer thought I was terrific.”

“We’ve come up with a service model tailored to each specific customer,” said Jim Shearer, VP and General Manager at Shepherd. “We literally asked each customer, ‘What do you need that we aren’t providing?’ We developed specific guidelines that we guarantee in writing, unique for each contractor.”

Some of their clientele with school, hospital and factory maintenance contracts required evening and night deliveries. Shepherd responded by dedicating some of their trucks to perform nothing but after-hours deliveries.

“We do hospitals,” said Jim Cornelius, President of Brown & Heim Inc. in Baltimore. “We do a lot of off-hours work for clients like the University of Maryland Hospital and Johns Hopkins. Shepherd is very good about delivering to us when we need them.”

Shepherd has turned delivery challenges into a company asset. A recent test for the privately held supply house was a job at the Pentagon building. “As you might guess, security is a big issue around here these days,” said Shearer. “The customer required very specific delivery times—we sometimes had only a window of an hour when we were allowed to drive up to the site. If we missed that window, the rest of the day was dedicated to different suppliers, so our client would simply have had to do without his materials that day.

“We’d guaranteed we’d be available 24/7, and we met that goal. Because of being able to service that customer during this very difficult job, he’s called us back for another large, delivery-sensitive project.”

“You build up a relationship with people,” Herbert pointed out. “That, far and away, goes beyond just the dollars and cents of business. My customers aren’t so much interested in the upfront costs as they are interested in the service I can afford to give them. I can deliver that service, in large part, because of my relationship with Shepherd.”

Internally, Shepherd Electric has streamlined its communications systems with instant messaging via the Internet; a T1 line between the two service locations; communications radios and cell phones among the employees; and by giving every inside and outside sales person a “road map” of who to call in emergencies.

“We’ve not only spoken to our customers about their needs,” said Shearer. “We’ve gone to specific manufacturers and told them what we need from them. So we’ve customized the channel from the manufacturer straight to our contractors. We list names and phone numbers, and received a commitment that if we call in an emergency, they’ll respond.

“We’ve had a factory go down at 11 p.m. because a part’s burned out or some wiring needs fixing. Our customer calls his Shepherd person. Our employee knows exactly who he’s got to call at Shepherd to reach the manufacturer or the manufacturer’s rep,” said Shearer. “That phone call is made, and we’ve had warehouses across the country open up at midnight and they’re paralleling wire or whatever needs doing so we can make good on our guarantee to that customer—that we would have the material he needs en route to his site within an hour of our having received his original call.”

“I would rate Shepherd very high,” said Cornelius. “Especially their service—being there when we call.”

“It’s a big deal for us, as a locally owned company to work with other locally owned companies,” said Herbert. “If my customer has a problem, he picks up the phone and gets a Herbert. If I have a problem, I can call Shepherd and get a Vogel [one of the owners]. Quite honestly, though, I’ve never had to make that phone call.” EC

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


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