Business View Magazine interviews representatives from Buckles-Smith, as part of our focus on top U.S. electrical distributors.
In 1939, two Westinghouse salesmen decided they wanted to make a difference in the electrical distribution arena, so Bob Buckles and Gene Smith formed Buckles-Smith Electric in a two-story, wooden building in San Jose, California. To this day, it remains true to its original vision: supplying consolidated, on-time delivery of electrical power, automation, and control products.
Now based in Santa Clara, Buckles-Smith is the oldest and most experienced distributor in Northern California and a leading independent supplier, with eight locations in Northern California and nearly $9 million in local inventory. In a nod to their success, Electrical Wholesaling magazine ranks the company in the top 200 electrical distributors by revenue.
Business View recently spoke with Buckles-Smith representatives Art Cook (President & CEO), Eric Peschke (VP of Operations), and Thea Copeland (Director of Marketing) about the firm’s long-time commitment and success in the electrical distribution market. The following is an edited version of that conversation:
BVM: What types of services do you offer?
Copeland: “Services and solutions is a major part of our operations group and a big differentiator in the market. Originally, we were working with large OEMs and sophisticated end-users in the industry, meeting their requests as they were brought to us. We developed that into a core competency which we leveraged throughout the market. Ultimately, the services we provide result in different valuable business outcomes for our customers, who include OEMs, industrial end-users, institutional end-users, utilities, and contractors.”
Peschke: “We help customers through assemblies, and design componentry into their systems; our technical support team works with them to provide the right manufactured product and the right solutions and services. It could be product design, proof of concept, and we do actual prototype builds and assemblies ourselves in our facilities. We also have enclosure modification capabilities, where we take standard, stock-manufactured enclosures and do a turn-key modification to the design using the customer’s prints. We do kitting, so customers have a whole kit of products available when they need it. We offer Managed Inventory programs, and we’re constantly looking to add services and capabilities to our team and the portfolio we offer.”
Cook: “Our footprint runs all through central and northern California. We’re fortunate that the customer base is spread across several industries, from food processing and beverage, to semi-conductor and high-tech manufacturers, bio-tech life sciences, pharmaceuticals, and petrochemical. We have five refineries in the immediate San Francisco Bay area. We have a lot of water, wastewater, and infrastructure build out. This is a very diverse market, so we have domain experts assigned to each of those specific customer industries to help us provide greater insights into their industry productivity.”
BVM: Why is it essential to maintain a connected network of manufacturers and distributors?
Peschke: “On any given job, multiple manufacturers are required. One manufacturer can’t produce enough product to build a complete machine or do a complete job. We have the expertise in-house to represent dozens of different manufacturers on a jobsite or machine and coordinate different manufacturer brands that provide the right solution for the contractor on a commercial build or the OEM who’s designing and building the machine.”
Cook: “We not only work with end-users and machinery builders, but with contractors and system integrators that have very specific industry knowledge. We are a distributor, we don’t manufacture product. What we’ve seen more and more with the ecosystem of the end-user is that contractors are interested in applying our assembly capabilities to pre-fabricated assemblies. This reduces time on a jobsite, increases the contractor’s efficiencies, and helps make them more profitable.”
BVM: How is technology impacting your operations?
Peschke: “Internally, we’re putting in warehouse management systems to increase efficiency and accuracy of our distribution systems. We’re using technology to help maximize the delivery system to customers using GPS and routing guides. Bay area traffic is not fun to deal with, so we’re constantly trying to improve our logistics model.”
Cook: “We’ve done quite a bit of investment in digital journeys. We’re a pioneer in the electrical distribution industry (EDI) – aiding customers with platforms for conducting transactions electronically and providing services to scrub and normalize their data, which helps them utilize electronic technologies for purchasing and production needs.”
BVM: We understand you have a new sustainable state-of-the-art building.
Cook: “Yes. It’s a three-acre campus with two buildings. We’re just in the process of moving into the second building. It used to house the largest tortilla manufacturer in North America. We converted it and we’re now the largest electrical distribution company in the Bay area under this campus, serving both industrial and commercial customers. We designed it around work flow that would encourage collaboration and be attractive to Millennials, and Generations X and Y, by having soaring open spaces, lots of natural light, and built-in collaboration spaces. We think we got it right. Thanks to our designers and architects it’s quite a showpiece – even for Silicon Valley standards. Across the company there are about 150 employees, 80 of which call this location home.”
Peschke: “We also designed it to be energy conscious, meeting all the California Title 24 energy consumption requirements. We put in high efficiency lighting, occupancy centers, controlled outlets, as well as hydration stations. In the three months we’ve been in the building, we’ve eliminated the use of almost 20,000 water bottles just by including those stations.”
BVM: What sets you apart from the competition?
Copeland: “Our culture really differentiates us. Having a clear vision of what is most important to our business strategy and building on that with our four pillars: being vital to our customers’ operations; being the preferred channel to market for manufacturers; being involved in the communities where we live and work; and creating an engaging workplace for our employees.”
Cook: “Being a regional independent of scale is probably the best position you can be in for serving your customer base and that applies to any market throughout North America. Regional of scale means we have the money to invest in our business to provide career opportunities for our employees and provide better solutions for our customers. Being independent allows us to be flexible and adaptable. We understand the business climate, the employment challenges that they face, so we really understand our customers’ business.
“The other thing that sets Buckles-Smith apart is our focus on industrial markets. Our engineers know their technology and are very good at helping find the right solutions for our customers. That expertise is hard to come by – with almost 80 years of industry experience in this organization we are the #1 industrial supplier in northern California.”
BVM: What’s your forecast for Buckles-Smith five years from now?
Peschke: “We’re in a very tight labor market. Unemployment on the peninsula is just short of three percent, which means we’ve got to do everything in our power to help customers be more efficient. That’s what our whole services focus is about. In terms of product technology, I believe lighting controls is one of the biggest areas where we’re going to see growth. It’s a very interesting area for us. We come from the world of industrial automation, where we’re helping our customers run factories and smart machines in production facilities all over the world. We’re now moving into building automation and lighting controls, which will help our commercial customers operate their buildings more efficiently.”
Cook: “The turnover rate at Buckles-Smith is one-third of that for the industry and, as we expand, we continue to attract employees. Part of our ‘Give Back’ initiative has recently included matching funds that our employees raised on their own to help customers who lost their homes in the Napa Valley fires. We support the March of Dimes Walk, help coach local sports teams – if it’s important to employees, it’s important to us.”
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: A supplier of industrial automation and electrical supplies
WHERE: Northern California
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