Start With Service

When Chris Chastain took time out to talk with us, he revealed two facts about himself that we highlighted and circled in our notes in preparation to write this column. The first is a special part of his personal work history. The second is a surprise that we divulge at the end of this column.

Like many owner/managers in electrical construction, Chastain is a 
second-generation member of his firm as well as a graduate of an apprenticeship training program. After becoming a journeyman electrician, he progressed through field supervisory and management positions before becoming a company officer. What sets him apart from most of his peers is that, for several years, he was the company’s service manager.

It’s so nice to meet the president of an electrical contracting firm who once ran the company’s service department.

I did not merely run the company’s 
service department. In fact, I started the service department.

As you may know, we dedicate this column exclusively to promoting the virtues of having a good, strong field service organization. We believe that every electrical contractor (EC) ought to strive to have a well-run service operation.

At Miller-Eads, our whole company is like a service department. The virtues that you have attributed to a service department represent the principles that we have worked very hard to instill throughout our entire organization.

You have probably heard us talk about the importance of developing recurring revenues.

“Recurring revenues” is an essential part of the way we do business. At Miller-Eads, fully 90 percent of what we do can be categorized as “repeat business.” Most of our work is negotiated with customers who have grown to rely upon us and depend upon us over many, many years. Because of their confidence in us, a significant number of them opt out of a bidding process in favor of coming right to us to solve their electrical system requirements whenever needs arise.

It sounds as though your company’s reputation has permitted a very enviable style of service.

That’s true. We do not run a so-called “24/7” operation. Except to cater to our established customers, we do not respond to emergency call-outs.

A brief stroll through your facilities indicates that you have given some serious attention to preconstruction activities—notably, kitting.

Absolutely, we are investing more and more effort into kitting. With each new job we are increasing our focus on prefab. Where does it make more sense to do the work, if you have a choice—ankle-deep in mud out on the job site, or in the orderly environment of the shop? Of course, getting to the point of truly benefitting from preconstruction activities and shop work requires a change of mindset by some people. It requires planning. It forces you to have to look ahead.

We have pointed out in earlier columns that what you are describing all falls under the general heading of “material management.”

We agree. One important initiative that we have undertaken has involved negotiating blanket contracts with preselected vendors to provide about 1,700 day-to-day commodities on a sole-source basis. We issue RFQs [request for quotes] in a well-defined selection process to pick those vendors. It works. While we still will go out for quotations for materials for certain bid-work projects, the lion’s share of our purchasing goes through our blanket contracts.

We have reached the point at which we can reveal to our readers the second fact that we discovered in our “coffee break” conversation with you.

Sure. Much as it has been a pleasure to visit, I don’t drink coffee.

About the Author

Andrew McCoy

Service and Maintenance Contributor

Andrew McCoy is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and Department Head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech. Contact him at

About the Author

Fred Sargent

Service and Maintenance Contributor

Fred Sargent is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at

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