Installing power distribution systems is an important role of the electrical contractor, but it’s not as easy as it used to be.
General contractors, architects and building owners have traditionally relied on the knowledge and experience of on-staff electrical engineers to oversee the plans and specifications for power distribution systems. These electrical engineers build complex systems, analyze project specifications and maintain relationships with manufacturers.
There has been a recent shift in the industry, however, and the cost of keeping these engineering experts on staff became unsustainable for most, often resulting in downsizing. This trend has led to a shortage of knowledgeable internal advisors, putting more pressure on electrical contractors than ever before.
Today electrical contractors are routinely forced to prepare and approve switchgear (aka gear) quotes without complete plans and line drawings or the quality support that existed in years past. As a result, some significant challenges have become evident.
Contractor Challenge No. 1: Being able to identify if the bill of material is correct.
Contractors are under constant pressure to complete projects on time and under budget. On top of that, they face an ever-evolving construction industry where speed is of the essence, yet they continue to receive line drawings and plans that may be as little as 40 percent complete.
“Contractors have been forced to accurately prepare, estimate and approve switchgear quotes without the complete set of plans. They’re also being handed incomplete plans and line drawings, but they don’t have the time or engineering talent to finish them. It’s very costly,” said Graybar Product Category Manager Mike Carroll, who has worked for Graybar for over 24 years in sales, sales management and marketing.
The line drawing is important because it sets the expectation of what is going to be included in the bill of material. Without the support of on-staff electrical engineers, contractors aren’t always able to recognize if they have an accurate line drawing and things are left open to interpretation, which can lead to an over- or underpriced bill of material.
There are also times when the general contractor could ask the electrical contractor to do something outside the original scope of the project. Without experienced resources to recommend cost-effective solutions that support the timeline of the project, it’s difficult for electrical contractors to manage these changes and opportunities with greater flexibility.
Getting the wrong gear can critically impact completing a job on time and can leave money on the table as the electrical contractor will likely need to reorder material and fix mistakes. Although this is one of the biggest hurdles that today’s electrical contractors must face, it’s not their only challenge.
Contractor Challenge No. 2: Switchgear is becoming more complex.
Smart building applications can increasingly be found in apartment buildings, commercial spaces and industrial facilities as building owners race to satisfy their tenants and customers with the most up-to-date amenities and high-speed connectivity.
While a breadth of technical knowledge may not have been expected of electrical contractors in years past, it is becoming necessary to understand connectivity systems like Bluetooth and LEED as these solutions are becoming more widely adopted.
The construction industry is also embracing switchgear, like “smart” panel boards, which make it easier to automate lighting controls and monitor energy consumption.
This changing landscape means contractors need to remain up-to-speed on new technology – a daunting task to say the least.
Contractor Challenge No. 3: Manufacturers are no longer able to provide quick, efficient advice on switchgear.
As technology continues to advance, contractors often struggle to find quick answers to their everyday gear questions. Those who don’t have a robust technical staff to engineer and estimate their project bids often seek support through power distribution manufacturers.
Unfortunately, manufacturers have also downsized their product support staff in recent years as they face the same competitive pressures. As a result, most manufacturers simply don’t have enough switchgear specialists on staff to support all of their contractors and end users.
This lack of gear specialists often leaves electrical contractors with no choice but to search for guidance elsewhere or attempt to fill in the gaps themselves.
Where there are challenges, there are opportunities.
Electrical contractors are looking for more technical support now than ever before. As a result, electrical distributors have an opportunity to adapt accordingly by specializing in power distribution.
Instead of coming in at the bidding stage, successful electrical distributors will need to provide value in the design phase to support contractors.
One way Graybar has prepared for this transition is by training its customer-facing staff as well as developing business development managers (BDMs), or gear specialists, to assist in consultative design, value engineering, pricing strategy, estimating lead times and more. They follow up on quotes and work with estimating teams to analyze what has worked well on similar projects with respect to design and pricing strategy.
Graybar’s BDMs want to be involved early in the process so that they understand the lifecycle of the project at hand and can take the proper steps to ensure the bill of material is correct.
“BDMs can get in there and sniff stuff out to determine, ‘Is it really needed?’” explains Graybar Business Development Manager Johnathan Bartsch.
“A really good example that we deal with on a regular basis is spares and spaces. Sometimes the end customer, the contractor or specifying engineer, will put a bunch of spares and spaces in. The value we provide from a BDM perspective is to go back through and review those bills of material and make sure that you are getting what you want, what’s intended and what adds value to the project.”
BDMs like Johnathan aren’t solely designated as resources for electrical contractors, “If the gear opportunity is there, we have the flexibility within Graybar to cross those lines to work with the contractor, industrial user and end customer, whoever that is,” adds Johnathan.
A lack of electrical engineers, incomplete plans and constantly changing technology has undoubtedly added a new level of complexity to gear projects, but it’s also opening new doors for contractors to access the support they need or expand their skillset.
To learn more about common gear challenges and how Graybar BDMs can assist with your next project, check out our recent webinar, where Graybar Product Category Manager Mike Carroll and Graybar Business Development Manager Johnathan Bartsch share insights, including discussing the evolving construction industry and providing real-world examples of BDMs in action.