Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

Feb 3, 2020

Katrina OlsonBy Katrina Olson

Over the past nearly 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with marketing people, CEOs, presidents, VPs and directors from various electrical manufacturers, distributors, associations, and buying groups. And I’ve had the benefit of consulting with both upper management and marketing practitioners.

More recently, I’ve been working in a more hands-on capacity with an east coast distributor with 11 locations and three lighting showrooms. So far, it’s been the most challenging and rewarding position I’ve held in my industry career. I have no complaints.

But now that I’m in the trenches, all the comments I’ve heard over the years from marketing practitioners make even more sense.

Marketing in the electrical distribution supply chain is complicated. Why? In addition to marketing strategy, planning, tactics, and project management, marketers must understand:

• categories and products the company manufactures or sells
• diverse markets and audiences the company serves
• coop programs (and they’re all different)
• sales and pricing strategy
• sales and marketing technology (that keeps evolving and changing)
• website development, including e-commerce principles and technology
• different sales channels and processes (e.g. counter versus large commercial sales)
• media, customer, market, and marketing research
• social and digital media channels, tools and analytics
• promotional campaigns
• event planning and execution
• informational and journalistic writing (e.g. blogs and public relations)
• art direction and design
• retail merchandizing (for counters)
• media buying
• basic accounting and bookkeeping principles
• relationship-building and communication skills
• business concepts and terminology

It’s a tall order, and one that can’t be filled by just one or two people. As technology advances at breakneck speed, the learning curve gets steeper, and marketing departments can’t keep up while maintaining their day-to-day activities. They need help from others.

But most importantly, marketers need the support of CEOs, presidents and vice presidents who empower them to do their best work. How can the executive team ensure they give the marketing department what they need to succeed?

I feel I’ve been in the industry long enough and talked to enough marketers to speak on their behalf. I hope I do their concerns justice. Following is an electrical distributor marketer’s wish list — the things we all want from our companies, bosses, and coworkers.

1. Realize we can’t do it all ourselves. Don’t expect one or two people to be proficient or even practised in all of the skills listed previously. It’s not possible.

2. Invest in technology tools and platforms. To keep pace with the industry and online competitors, the company must acquire an appropriate CRM, a lead management and marketing automation platform, analytics and reporting tools, content management system, and more.

3. Invest in education and training for marketing people. Marketers should have some understanding of marketing planning and strategy; if not, that’s the foundation. They may also need training on various technology platforms, graphic design, research methods, products, and more. Again, refer to the previous list.

4. Get us help. Sometimes, training and education are enough. For example, some people have a gift for writing or design; some never will. Some people “get” technology; for others it’s a struggle. Get marketing staff’s input on how best to fill these roles.

5. Trust us to know marketing. Someone had enough confidence to hire us, so give us the opportunity to do our job.

6. Let us take calculated risks. It’s the only way to pull ahead of the competition. If marketing is expected to do what everyone else is doing, they’ll get similar results. To overtake our competitors, we must do it differently.

7. Give us creative freedom. This will be my sixteenth year judging an annual marketing competition among electrical distributors and manufacturers. I’ve seen everything from the mundane to the outstanding. I only remember the truly innovative and imaginative ones.

8. Respond when we have questions. We may be waiting on your approval, corrections, or information to send out an email, plan an event, or coordinate a campaign. We count on others’ experience, market knowledge, and product knowledge to ensure we’re using the right verbiage.

9. Don’t micromanage us. Give us a goal, a little direction, and your best advice, then let us do our job.

10. Do your job. The C-Suite should set company goals, have a growth plan, and devise a business strategy. That will inform how we market. Otherwise, we’re just doing what we think is best.

11. Similarly, don’t make marketing solely responsible for success. A successful marketing program requires coordination with and support from counter staff, inside and outside sales, purchasing, and often IT. Marketing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

12. Send us to conferences and association meetings. In addition to attending marketing conferences, we need to know what’s new in the industry and what’s coming so we can ask questions and plan ahead.

13. Invite us to executive-level meetings. We need to understand the bigger picture of how we make money. If we suggest discounting a product for a promotion, we need to know how that affects margins. We can move a ton of product with a discount, but if the company doesn’t make money, what’s the point?

14. Give us a reasonable budget. We can’t do everything with cooperative (co-op) funds. And co-op advertising limits our ability to build and promote the company’s brand.

15. Give us the option of saying no. People come up with some pretty wacky ideas. Often they’re inconsistent with our brand, not aligned with our target audiences, and don’t address a real problem.

16. Let us be consultants, not just order-takers. People often come to us for tactics when what they really need is a solution. A flyer is not always the answer. It might be a better website, an email program, a sales promotion, or an entire campaign. Bring us a problem and let us help you solve it.

17. Allow us to make mistakes without serious consequences. We’ll do the research, get input from key people including our “internal clients,” and test our ideas when possible. But even when we’re making the best decisions, with the information we have and the best intentions, something may go wrong. It may be something out of our control like an unforeseen scheduling conflict. We’ll take responsibility, but we ask you to also remember our successes.

Sure, it would be nice for our “internal clients” to simply delegate the entire marketing function; but that’s not how it works. We need support from most every department. Accounting can help set up and monitor budgets and expenditures. Sales can clarify our customers’ wants and needs. Purchasing can let us know when we get a special deal tied to a promotion. But most importantly, the executive team can give us the resources, authority, freedom, training, and support to do the best possible job of generating revenue for the company.

I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I have pretty much everything on this wish list. And I want this for all my marketing friends and associates as well.

So, if you’re a president or CEO, take this article to your marketing team and ask them to circle the items that they’re lacking (if you dare). If you’re a marketer, leave this article on someone’s chair and see if they take the hint.

Katrina Olson is a marketing consultant, trainer, and writer, and principal of Katrina Olson Marketing + Training. She works with distributors, manufacturers, associations, and other B2B clients, as well as writing for several industry trade publications. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via her website at



Carol McGloganBy Carol McGlogan

We are on the cusp of a major tidal wave hitting our industry; the onslaught of 10,000 new employees are set to replace the current base who are over 55 years of age and are on the horizon of retirement. This talent refresh brings on many opportunities for progress to address evolving customer needs, new product solutions and supply chain digitization. New skills and new ways of thinking will propel us forward. However, the challenge this talent pool will have is to understand the industry that they have settled in. This challenge is further magnified as the time required to absorb industry knowledge is compressed due to the accelerated exit of industry knowledge.

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Swati Vora-PatelBy Swati Vora-Patel

The Electrical industry is facing a runway of crossroads — and digital innovation intersects each one of the crossroads. Digital advancements in technology are transforming everything from product development and manufacturing to supply chain management and customer purchasing behaviours. While all of these changes have digitization at the core, there’s another factor that our industry needs to bring front and centre: People.




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Value of Building Permits - DecemberThe total value of building permits issued by Canadian municipalities increased 7.4% to $8.7 billion in December. Increases were reported in five provinces, led by Ontario (+10.5% to $3.4 billion) and Quebec (+15.8% to $2.2 billion). For 2019 overall, municipalities issued $102.4 billion worth of permits, up 2.6% compared with 2018.

Value of residential permits up

The total value of permits for multi-family dwellings was up 15.9% to $2.9 billion in December, mostly due to large projects in the census metropolitan areas (CMAs) of Montreal and Vancouver.

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Changing Scene

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IDEA Connector LaunchOn January 31,2020, the new IDEA Connector will go live to over 6500 distributor locations with updates being fed daily by the IDW. Distributors will gain access to IDEA Connector’s Production Environment on February 14, 2020 to verify their migrated extracts and custom maps before they are fully cutover in a phased approach from the IDW to IDEA Connector beginning March 22, 2020.

The IDEA Team is working to ensure a smooth launch. If you are a distributor customer, you’ll receive communications on your cutover date and what you’ll need to do to prepare.

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SouthwireSouthwire has appointed Rahila Dhansi to the position of Manager, Human Resources. In her role, Rahila will be responsible for overseeing Southwire Canada’s HR plans in ways that support our mission and strategy.

Rahila holds a Bachelor’s degree in Employment and Industrial Relations from the University of Toronto and is a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL) under the Human Resources Association.



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Graybar TaylorGraybar Canada announced the retirement of Executive Vice President and General Manager, Brian Thomas, effective March 1, 2020. Upon his retirement, Jason Taylor will be appointed Executive Vice President and General Manager, assuming leadership of Graybar Canada.

Thomas started his career with Graybar Canada, and its predecessor Harris & Roome Supply, in 1987. Throughout his 39-year career in the electrical industry, Thomas held a variety of sales and senior management positions before being promoted to Executive Vice President and General Manager in 2016. 

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Peers & Profiles

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Sean Bernard is the Intelligent Controls Manager, Canada for Ideal Industries. Sean resides in ...
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Sean BernardBy Blake Marchand

Sean Bernard is the Intelligent Controls Manager, Canada for Ideal Industries. Sean resides in Whitby with his wife, Melissa and their daughter, Everleigh.

Sean joined Ideal Industries mid-2019 after 13-years in lighting, working for companies like Phillips, Franklin Empire, and Standard Products. Throughout that time, he made his way from inside sales, to outside sales and up into management.



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Looking Back

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