Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

Mar 3, 2019

Peter DaltonBy Blake Marchand

When Peter Dalton decided to join Daltco Electric, many people thought he was crazy. “Everyone told me not to do it,” he said. That was in 1997, when at the age of 29 Peter moved to Kingston to join his father in the family business, Daltco Electric. At the time, Peter had already established a career in the packaged goods industry, working for companies like Scott Paper. But he took a risk, leaving a good job and good friends to move back to his hometown of Kingston to join the family business.

Today, Daltco Electric is the largest independent family-owned electrical distributor in Eastern Ontario, serving the residential, commercial and industrial markets with electrical solutions. While Daltco has been operating since 1977, the origins of the family business go back much further. In the mid 1800s, WB Dalton & Son operated as a wholesale distributer of hardware products. Peter’s father John Dalton grew up working in the business, which had spanned seven generations. He branched off in 1977 to start Daltco Electric. The company’s current incarnation services the electrical, energy management, lighting, control and automation industries, while also providing general services like technical and sales support, store room and inventory management, and sourcing and customization.

Peter attended Queen’s University, where he earned a degree in politics and followed that up with a Commerce degree for university graduates from the University of Windsor. Since joining the industry, he has continued his education, particularly with industry related courses such as the Certificate of Industrial Distribution from Texas A&M. This ongoing learning provides him with a deeper understanding with respect to data analysis, giving him insight into discerning the metrics that contribute to a successful business, as well as a framework for broader market analysis.

“I feel I’m a student of the market, as much as one can be,” he said, something that is both difficult and crucial for the success of any business, but particularly when it comes to the wholesale marketplace in Canada.

Peter told CEW that running his College Pro Painting business during the summers while attending university provided him with a solid base of experience. “Fundamentally that was the most helpful thing I’ve done,” he said. More than anything, that experience taught him running a business had a lot to do with establishing quality relationships.

“When you run your own business, whether in a large or small town, it’s all about the people,” he explained. And it is no different with Daltco, which despite growing its business significantly has maintained a commitment to supporting the local economy and community as core tenants of its business. And as Peter explained, that has been critical to their business model.

 “Coming to work here you have to know everything [about the business],” Peter explained when asked how the job compared to his past experiences, “so there was a steep learning curve.” But Peter’s father trusted he would be able to learn the job and the business quickly.

“With College Pro we connected on a business level,” said Peter of him and his father, “He saw I could come back and do this.”

And Peter has done just that, growing the business five times its size since he took over, without expanding beyond Eastern Ontario. “That’s all organic growth,” he said.

When discussing how Daltco has been able to separate itself from often much larger competitors, he responded “How we connect is different. We take a more personal approach with all stakeholders, whether it’s employees, vendors, or customers.”

“The market needs a Daltco,” Peter continued. “There aren’t many independents, and there are a number of customers and vendors that rely on us. It hasn’t been easy but we’re proud of it.”

Dalton added that many of their competitors are not Canadian-owned companies. More than that, Daltco provides local solutions directly from Eastern Ontario. “It’s not in a warehouse somewhere in Toronto or Montreal,” he said of their inventory. “It’s in Eastern Ontario.

“When we invest in our business we are investing in Eastern Ontario.”

As such, they have managed to develop a family business culture that has established them as market and community leaders, supporting local communities by contributing to the local economy as well as contributing to community groups.

Key contributors to Daltco’s success have been developing staff from within, communications, and building long-term relationships with customers and vendors, as well as their own employees. “We have a lot of really great long-term employees,” said Peter, “which is an invaluable resource for any company.” Replacing and developing those long-term employees is also one of the challenges for Daltco.

Finding skilled workers is a challenge for every industry, which is why an ability to develop and promote from within can be a huge success factor. Dalton said they spend a lot of time developing and finding new talent, as well as investing quality time and energy into the wider market.

“We want to be a market leader,” he said, “and you need people and resources” to do that.

Their service levels, maintaining multiple touch points and customer engagement, have been crucial in separating them from their competitors, many of which are large multi-national companies.

“That’s one reason we’ve grown so much. We’ve defined ourselves with this model,” Dalton noted. As an independent company, competing with large corporations can be difficult, although Daltco has been able to recognize their strengths as a company and operating within those means has allowed them to excel. Partnerships like the one they have established with AD Canada — a buying and marketing member owned group for local and independent companies — gives them the purchasing power they need to compete at a high level, while still maintaining the flexibility and service that have defined their success.

“We’re big enough that we have a lot of resources, but still small enough to be flexible,” he said. Their success has been finding a balance between being able to offer the complete range of services and products of their competitors while not losing the presence of an independent company.

With such a long history, Daltco has had to adapt and change with the industry and the markets they serve. One of the more significant changes is their customer base. “Twenty-years ago, 70% of our total business was industry, today 60% is contractors,” explained Dalton. In recent years they have lost some long-standing customers due to closures. To remain viable and grow their business, they had to grow and change with the market and find new areas of profitability.

The success of Daltco Electrical throughout Peter’s 20-years at the helm confirms that Peter has established an impressive wholesale acumen. To go along with running a successful wholesale business, Peter has served on industry boards such as the boards of Electro-Federation Canada and AD Canada (Affiliated Distributors), as well as a number of community boards, including Kingston’s Economic Development Committee. Last year, Peter and Daltco Electric’s commitment to community involvement was recognized by Peter’s induction into the Kingston Business Hall of Fame. Daltco is also proud of being a Best Managed Company for three years in a row.

Going forward, Dalton said, their focus will be on continuing to build their team, invest in growth, and do what they have been doing — growing organically and keeping up with the market. In addition, implementing warehouse automation and barcode systems has been an ongoing project, as well as implementing a new data analytics software, which will allow them to gain more insight into the back end of the business. All this will help the company make more strategic decisions on the direction of their business.

After 21 years, the decision to move back to Kingston seems long ago, and Peter laughs at the thought that people told him not to do it. “It all worked out well,” he said. Given Peter’s success, and the success and prominence Daltco has established in the Electrical community, it seems it certainly has.

Blake Marchand is Assistant Editor, Drives & Controls Solutions.

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