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More Than Warm and Fuzzy: Why American-made Material Is Critical to Your Project

A lot has been said recently in the marketplace and in the news about the need for products to be MADE IN THE USA. After all, 2012 is an election year, and American-made products are a hot button when people are out of work. Just look at all the websites and organizations promoting the need to “BUY AMERICA.” But again, to many people this is just a feel-good issue to feed on the “crisis of the moment.” The real issue is WHY?

The bottom line is that many project owners, contractors, inspectors and users simply WANT products that are made in America. Why? Because of QUALITY and RISK MANAGEMENT. You may try and argue that most homeowners or office tenants could care less – that they have too many other things to worry about, simply aren’t aware of country of origin issues, or are only concerned with price and appearance. I would argue otherwise.

I suspect that most people today will not accept Chinese drywall after all of the issues that have arisen with homes contaminated by the product. And what about those contractors or distributors who purchased Chinese EMT, only to have UL pull the UL listing when it was found that the product did not meet corrosion testing requirements? How were they going to be able to recover their costs once they realized they could no longer sell or install this material – much less address the concerns of those building owners or homeowners who had this material installed? This is a SAFETY issue as well as a COST issue.

The bottom line is this: Why take the risk of buying foreign products?

As a distributor, do you really know that the products on your shelf are not going to a state or federally funded project that requires only Made in the USA or Made in America products? As a contractor, do you want the risk of installing foreign products, only to find later that the products do not meet certain standards? It simply doesn’t make sense to take these kinds of risks.

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Cutting Out ‘The Middleman’ is a Fantasy: Why Distributors Matter

It continues to happen on a regular basis. 

The contractor contacts me and wants to discuss putting together a deal that cuts out the distributor. Or the large oil company gets a new VP Purchasing and sends out "feelers" about Request For Proposals (RFP) for direct quotations from the manufacturer to them, the installer/end user. Funny thing is, they also want all of the "value proposition" that distribution offers (special handling/stocking services, terms and conditions, local hand holding etc.) but for some reason feel that by "dealing directly" they can get a better price AND KEEP ALL THE THINGS DISTRIBUTORS DO FOR THEM.

I have yet to see this work. It is a fantasy.

When it really comes down to the nuts and bolts of serving the contractor or industrial account, no one can do it better than distributors. The really savvy contractors have recognized this and are now willing to pay distributors to do things like storeroom/inventory management because they came to realize that distributors can do it better and cheaper than they can do it on their own.

Contractors also recognize that distributors do a lot of the work for them today that they are not set up to do themselves any longer. These services include submittals, managing the lighting and gear on projects, expediting material, staging product for multiple drops on the job-site, kitting different products together based on room templates/requirements, etc. Sure, the contractors pay for these services. Some of it is factored into the costs of the material. In some cases, the distributors negotiate a separate line charge for monthly storage fees, etc. But those contractors or industrial customers that really understand the cost of running a business figure out pretty quickly that paying the distributor, the masters of logistics, is cheaper, more accurate and overall more efficient than doing it on their own.

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How the Electrical Industry Should Invest in the Next Generation

In the last year or so, our industry has taken a reflective approach—recognizing changing workplace trends and harnessing opportunities to better ourselves and our companies. Conference agendas and industry associations alike remind us that the next generation doesn’t “get” electrical distribution; much less why they would want to work in our industry (it certainly isn’t as sexy compared to Apple or Google).

And yet, there is no easy way to fill this skills gap. If we want to continue to be the innovative and successful industry we are today, we need recruit from the largest available pool of candidates. And when we do attract qualified candidates, we must then retain them, as the younger generation is quick to change jobs.

This topic, of next generation leadership and attracting a young workforce, was voted on by the Electrical Distributor magazine readers for the second live Twitter chat. As always, it was a lively and honest discussion about the critical need to invest in the changing workforce. It’s clear that all participants understand that young men and women look for companies who invest in them and offer new challenges.

Here are some key takeaways from tED’s second twitter chat on how the industry can be better and do more to recruit and retain young talent:

Make sure seasoned employees know they are part of the solution—they need to help just as their mentors helped them many years ago"Coach" older employees to show more interest in younger employees because new hires look for guidanceOffer opportunities for "special projects" that challenge creativity, give them a chance to stand outSocial media is a great start, but Millenials will disconnect if your business and brand don't back up your messageProduct development teams are great to let younger gen's show their out of the box thinking and it takes off the older guys "blinders"Worry less about how long they will stay and more about performance and keeping them engaged

Finding the right candidate with the necessary skills to perform a specific job is not a unique circumstance to the distribution and manufacturing industries. While at the tail-end of the conversation, self-described “20-something electrical distributor manager” Nick Arb said it best,

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Twitter Chat Brings Light to Electrical Industry

Just a few months ago, top leaders in the industry gathered at the National Association of Electrical Distributors National Meeting, giving us the opportunity to meet with distributor partners. We had over 25 of these meetings to harvest our customers’ intelligence and insights to become a more effective part of their success. Ultimately, we were able to ask the tough questions—about ourselves and where we can improve. I left with a sense of accomplishment knowing that I had learned a lot about our customers’ needs and what we need to do to be a better partner.

Yesterday, the Electrical Distributor Magazine and the NAED continued to push the envelope by hosting a live Twitter chat around the critical role of electrical distributors, their strengths and values as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

With a handful of industry folks ready to dive in, the conversation took off with a bold statement, “Manufacturers must get access to market.”


While we all should recognize there are more options than ever for buying and selling electrical supplies, I believe more is involved than personal relationships and financial risk. Distributors have a real opportunity to drive new products and plenty of options. Here’s a snapshot of the conversation that ensued:

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Wheatland Tube Introduces Free App That Calculates Savings from 20' EMT

With our recent announcement of a free mobile and tablet application that enables electrical contractors to calculate the monetary difference when using 20' rather than 10' EMT, I wanted to provide you a little background on steel rigid conduit and why a few extra feet can save you and ourcustomer money. 

A Brief HistorySteel Rigid and EMT has been a "mature product" for as long as anyone can remember. The first rigid conduit system was probably the system installed by Greenfield in 1888; zinc tubes with copper elbows were used. Once people recognized the merits of electrical raceway systems, conduits were offered and installed made of insulating paper tubes, woven fabrics, fiber and even "flexible glass" as the insulating and sheathing material. Eventually paper tubes encased in steel armor or thin sheet brass were offered to provide greater physical protection.By 1890, wires were being installed in plain unlined gas pipe as the simplicity and low cost combined with the added strength made this a preferred wiring method. The next twenty five years saw further developments in steel rigid conduit with hot-dipped galvanized rigid product finally being available around 1912.As early as December of 1928, "Electrical World" mentioned a reduced wall raceway, "Electrical Metallic Tubing", which was approved by the National Electric Code in limited applications.It appears that during this period of product development, rigid and EMT was always sold with a maximum length of ten feet.With the harmonization of the North American codes and standards, the restrictive language limiting the conduit length to 10 feet was removed. This opened up the possibilities for the conduit producers to offer longer lengths. Now, 20 Foot EMT is available in all Trade Sizes (1/2 – 4) and 20 Foot Hot Dipped Rigid Steel Conduit is available in Trade Sizes 2-6.Simple MathTwenty Foot EMT and Rigid Steel Conduit offers immediate and obvious labor savings for the electrical contractor without requiring an investment in equipment, training or time. Every electrical installation offers different challenges. While not suitable for every job (Manhattan jobsites cometo mind, for example), 20 Foot EMT and Rigid may be a simple way to reduce the installed costs of steel EMT or Rigid.One of the first jobs that used 20 Foot Rigid was a prison in Upstate New York, where 20 foot lengths of 4 inch Steel Rigid, direct buried on a gravel bed, were used to connect all the manhole access points. The DFW Airport People- Mover has 6 inch Rigid installed as high as 30 feet off theground. Both jobs were perfect installations for 20 Foot Rigid. Some recent 20 Foot EMT jobs have included off-site Data Centers, Distribution Centers, Hospitals, and Shopping Centers. Some contractors that pre-fabricate stub-ups etc. have standardized on 20 Foot EMT to reduce waste.Less Handling, Less Labor and Fewer CouplingsThis free calculator app — Wheatland Tube's first — is easy to download and use. It is available at wheatland.com/worksmarter, as well as the App Store and Google Play as "EMT Calc."

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Are YOU Using Color Coded EMT on Your Projects? An Overview of Advantages and Applications

Building owners and architects are continually looking for more value from their investments. 

Either they want to be able to show value to their future tenants, or they are looking more and more towards the life-cycle cost of maintaining the building through office change-outs, workstation relocations, etc. In fact, some studies have shown the churn rate (movement of desks/offices) to be as high as 30+ percent.

Therefore, it is important for the facility managers of these properties to be able to identify what is in each of the raceways to help keep the cost and replacement of a new wire pull as inexpensive and quick as possible. Over time, those building owners and architects asked Wheatland to make conduit in different colors to help satisfy certain requirements for the identification of runs of conduit and the wires that they contain, e.g., fire alarm circuits, critical power circuits, etc. Hence, Wheatland’s Color Check™ Color-Coded EMT was launched as a more consistent and sophisticated way for quick circuit identification.

Prior to Wheatland offering colored conduit, contractors used spray paint for electrical systems identification. They would either spray the fittings every 10’ (some inspectors thought this was good enough), or they would just spray the conduit after it was installed. There was very little effort into making the paint job look good or worrying about where the overspray went.

Here at Wheatland, we decided to change all that. We employ specialists to produce quality EMT and apply color coatings in accordance with the product listing. No concern about voiding the manufacturer's warranty, questioning the proper application of a coating, or wondering if the coating will be approved by the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). Forget the call to the manufacturer for advice on how to do the surface preparation and what type of paint should be used. Forget looking for a paint source, cutting and tracking a purchase order, and worrying if it will arrive when needed. Forget prepping and painting. Instead, select your color and call Wheatland.

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Relieving Your Domestic Content Headaches

As I discussed in a recent post, the concept of Made in America is not always as simple as it seems. Buyers need to be vigilant to ensure every element of a product they buy is made in the U.S. When it comes to pipe and tubing, it’s not uncommon for a product to be sold as “made in America” — but the elbows, couplings and nipples used could have been manufactured elsewhere.

Deception and uncertainty can create a major problem for engineers and contractors who have enough to worry about when it comes to ensuring compliance with domestic content laws.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), passed in 2009, has raised the issue of domestic content to a new level over the past few years, as industries have scrambled to ensure they are in compliance. The law includes a Buy American provision that requires any public project funded by the act to use only iron, steel and other manufactured goods produced in the United States. But ARRA is just part of the picture.

The Buy American Act and The Buy America Act have been part of the government purchasing landscape for years. These acts favor U.S.-made products for government purchases. New regulations will continue be added. A recent federal transportation bill also includes a Buy American amendment.

Additionally, there are multiple state regulations, including Pennsylvania’s Steel Products Procurement Act. States continue to push for Buy American laws, so regional complexity is likely to grow. The Pennsylvania law was recently upheld by the 3rd District Court of Appeals — another clear sign that we’ll continue to have a combination of state and federal regulations.

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NAED Recap Part 2: NAED Encourages Industry to Recruit New Talent

After attending what I believe is my 21st consecutive NAED Annual Meeting, I noticed much has changed over the years. For example, the consolidation of both distributors and manufacturers has made this conference a constantly changing landscape. But one very specific (positive) change stood out in my mind during this conference: our industry has finally recognized that we must put a greater focus on attracting and retaining young talent. This was a topic that came up in many presentations and almost every discussion.

Bob Reynolds, Chairman, President and CEO of Graybar, spoke convincingly about the need to embrace the concept of attracting young people to our industry. He made a very compelling argument that it is critical to our industry’s future that we must all do a better job developing talent to fill the leadership pipeline. Further, Bob pointed out that we must recognize changing workplace trends and harness those opportunities to better ourselves and our companies (Facebook? /Twitter?/Flexible Hours?/etc.). He reminded us that we need to understand that the next generation doesn’t even understand electrical distribution; much less whether they would want to work in this industry (it certainly isn’t as romantic as working at Apple or Google).

Eli Lustgarten, senior vice president of Longbow Securities gave a good long-term guesstimate of where our market opportunities are headed. With a PowerPoint of over 100 slides, there was much more economic data than any one person could consume. He told a very humorous story about someone trying to get a loan from the FHA. Too long a story to tell here, but it showed that regardless of who is in power in Washington, bureaucracy takes on a life of its own.

Charlie Cook, the political analyst who spoke next, gave a wonderful presentation on the upcoming election and politics in general. It was balanced and not partisan. His discussion was entertaining and avoided the easy, cheap shots towards either party or candidate. It was a lively discussion that illustrated and explained in a humorous way our current political landscape, without taking sides.  


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NAED Recap Part 1: Harvesting Our Customers’ Intelligence

Every year, top leaders in the industry gather at the National Association of Electrical Distributors National Meeting examine important trends and analysis of the electrical distribution channel issues. Part 1 of this 2-part series will summarize the NAED national meeting and forecast what the next year will look like for both manufacturers and distributors.  In Part 2, I’ll look at why the industry must place a greater emphasis on attracting and retaining young talent.

Let’s start off this discussion first by saying that the Annual NAED Meeting in Washington, D.C. was a roaring success.

The annual meeting offers the opportunity to meet one-on- one with distributors without the local sales agent. Wheatland Tube had over 25 one–on–one meetings with key distributor partners where we discussed a wide range of topics and harvested our customer’s intelligence and insights to become a more effective part of their success.

While we are committed to the independent sales agent model for most markets, not all sales agents are equal – reps are a fluid bunch in that the best reps may start to wither and the weaker reps improve and fill that void; it is my job to identify these shifts and move quickly to capitalize on them so that we can stay one step ahead of our competition. The meetings give us the opportunity to ask the tough questions – and I thank our distributors for offering candid answers about our rep network, both positive and negative.

We received very good feedback from our distributor partners. Some of the feedback was very positive as distributors recognized the recent improvements we have made in improving our service. We had one distributor go out of his way to tell us “I don’t know exactly what you are doing but keep doing it, as you are taking share” – the best part is it looked like another distributor overheard the conversation—I cannot help but wonder what he was thinking. Maybe, just maybe, he is scratching his head and wondering if he is missing an opportunity to grow his business by not shifting more tons our way.

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Does “Made in America” Mean Made in America?

We all think we know what Made in America means. The concept is simple enough. And the implications are certainly clear. American manufacturing has always suggested a high standard of quality along with patriotic pride and the support of the economy.

The importance of supporting the domestic economy has become an increasingly critical issue as America continues to work its way out of the deep recession that has engulfed the world over the past few years.

For engineers and contractors, Made in America isn’t just a rallying cry. Meeting the requirements of domestic content laws is a fundamental challenge for the design and construction business.

Long standing federal legislation, such as the Buy America Act as well as more recent laws such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), create a series of (often confusing) mandates about the use of American-made products in federally-funded projects. State laws such as Pennsylvania’s Steel Products Procurement Act add an additional layer of complexity.

And the legal landscape is only going to get more complex.

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