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Pearls of Wisdom From a Thriving 57-Year-Old Integration Company

A Midwest staple since the late 1950s, Electronic Contracting Company shares customer service, vendor partner, organizational and other values.

When salespeople come to them wanting to sell products from a supplier that Electronic has not done business with, it’s the management team that goes into action doing thorough due diligence to ensure that the potential vendor partner is worthy of the relationship and won’t just disappear after the honeymoon.

Just as the reflection of its own history, Electronic does look at longevity as a major attribute in a manufacturer. After all, another key to Electronic’s success is superior customer service, which can take a hit anytime a supplier’s instability leads to the integrator’s inability to support or service those products.

“The three of us will investigate the company, not only investigate their financial status but also — believe it or not — I have still have some friends in the industry who haven’t died and I find out what their thoughts are and so on,” says Karavas. “I go [calling] from Virginia to Indiana to Seattle to California to Arizona and a couple of guys in Texas to see what they think about the product of the manufacturer; if they all say it’s a good product then we pursue it and tell our salespeople, ‘OK, it’s a sound company, a good product, go sell it.'”

That type of honest and direct communication is just one of the reasons Electronic has been able to hold onto employees despite, according to Karavas, persistent efforts by the competition to wrangle them. One advantage, Petersen points out, is that organizationally Electronic is what he describes as a very flat company, without several middle management layers.

Salespeople basically have a direct line to management, but field technicians essentially are only two degrees of separation from there, those being an installation supervisor and the branch manager (Electronic has branches in Kansas City, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; and Wichita, Kan., along with its Lincoln headquarters). Such structure and transparency among the company’s groups benefits the employee as well as Electronic on the whole.

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“That allows us to be very nimble, decisions tend to not get bogged down with layers of bureaucracy and we can be competitive in the marketplace by being able to react to things that are changing at a rapid pace,” says Petersen.

Related, Electronic allows its personnel to grow with the company and encourages promotion from within as well as for employees to “put on different hats,” he says.

Dodds worked through several different positions on his way to management and Petersen’s role has afforded him influence in areas beyond accounting such as those purchasing decisions as well as marketing. Of Electronic’s top salespeople, one started with the company as a secretary and two were hired on as installers.

“We have a lot of people that have started in one position and moved through two or three additional positions within the company,” Petersen says, “and so as they gain experience and become more valuable there’s a place for them to migrate within Electronic Contracting Company, and I think that’s valuable to an employee. It certainly is to me.”

Additionally, the company offers “outstanding” 401(k) and health insurance benefits, plus the individual offices have at least a couple of holiday parties per year, Karavas notes. “We take care of our employees,” he says. “We have the competition trying to hire our people on a daily basis and they are unsuccessful.”

Steady As She Goes, Even Through Recession

Being so well-established in its home bases, another big selling point that Electronic has in the industry, particularly in Nebraska, is consistent and fruitful work.

With a couple of noteworthy nationwide end-user exceptions (one being security and surveillance at truck terminals for a trucking company owned by the Acklies; another, outfitting a firm’s high-end retirement communities), an employer philosophy around trying to keep its people close to home and family has maintained most projects be relatively regionalized to the four offices.

Karavas says each branch does its share of school, hospital and nursing home installations; Lincoln, Kansas City and Omaha tend to integrate more audiovisual technologies for clients, while Wichita does more in the education market than the others.

Meanwhile, there’s a reason Nebraska is known as the Cornhusker State and being at the center (and located in the capital, no less) of an agrarian economy has had its advantages too. It’s part of why Electronic managed to get through the Recession unscathed relative to the national and industry impact, according to Petersen and Karavas.

“Companies around here are involved in agriculture, and people still have to eat so that’s apparently one of the things that was not affected to a dramatic extent. [Those clients] still had business they needed to attend to, and that creates demand for the services that we offer,” Petersen says.

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