Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

Feb 4, 2019

Allen ForgetBy Blake Marchand

Allen Forget, Branch Manager at Ideal Supply’s Midland, Ontario location, has over 35 years of experience in the electrical supply and manufacturing industry. Recently, Al visited the Canadian Electrical Wholesaler office to discuss his career in the industry.

As often happens, Al began his career in the electrical industry through happenstance. He came out of school with a background in electronics, “which meant something totally different back then,” he noted. He got a job with Ideal Supply through a friend as a truck driver making deliveries, “and then just worked my way up through the company,” he explained.

He then began working at a branch in the warehouse, before moving to inside sales. He took an opportunity for a transfer to a newly opened Collingwood branch as an inside salesperson, where he worked for two more years in that position before transitioning into an outside sales role.

Forget explained he worked the next eight years in industrial sales on the road. In 1995 he got a call from Eaton and accepted a sales and marketing position with them at a time when the company was amalgamating several companies and entering different areas of the industry.

Al spent the next 18 years with Eaton and then in 2014 found himself having to make an unscheduled career change due to “corporate right-sizing.” Just like that “I was without a job.”

Fortunately, he explained, his unemployment only lasted a few days when he took a job back with Ideal Supply as a branch manager at its newly opened second Barrie, Ontario location. He spent a year and a half there, moved to the original Barrie location for another two and a half years, and in August of 2018 he was asked to take the reins of the Ideal Supply Midland branch, his current position.

Ideal Supply handles electrical, industrial, and automotive supplies, but the Midland branch uniquely handles strictly electrical products, explained Forget. The move to the Midland location, where he has resided for the past 25 years or so, was a bit of a change as Ideal Supply’s other branches are either automotive or full-line branches.

“On a day-to-day basis our challenge is to be able to consistently provide the level of service our customers have come to expect from Ideal Supply,” explained Forget.

“There are so many factors involved in that goal such as human resources, logistics, inventory and knowledge. Of those, the challenge of finding young people who are interested in the industry and developing them is by far the toughest.”

Forget explained that it can be difficult to find young people to bring through the ranks, particularly getting young people interested in the industry when they may not know much about it.  

Forget related that although their customers generally know what they need when it comes to products, they rely on the Ideal Supply staff to be subject matter experts on those products and assist with their applications.

“For us that means we develop specialists particularly in the high-tech areas such as industrial automation, power quality, and lighting.”

When asked how the industry has changed throughout the course of his career Al explained, “Its evolved a lot, when I started we did paper invoices and managed inventory manually.”

“You’re getting so much more data at different points, any second of the day, and that information can be used to significantly improve inventory and serviceability,” he added.

About two years ago Ideal Supply fully automated its inventory system, Al explained. “Our inventory management almost runs itself, with oversight from management.”

“If you sell a bunch of stuff, it will tell you how much inventory you need. What it doesn’t tell you is if the market is growing in that area. It’s not forecasting that, so that’s where the human element comes in,” he elaborated.

Forget noted that, “as with all industries, computerization has changed many things over the years especially in the supply and distribution sector. The constantly evolving computing power that we have to utilize to communicate, manage inventory, develop e-commerce for our customers and improve efficiencies and our service has been by far the biggest change over the years.”

He continued, “if you are not utilizing these new technologies you are not maximizing your opportunities in the marketplace.”

Data are crucial to maximize any companies return on investment, whatever that investment may be, he added, “today we have incredible data that assist us in ensuring we have the right products at the right time for our customers. The challenge is to utilize the data effectively and consistently and combine that with the knowledge we have of products and market demands to then create a supply chain that is efficient and effective.”

Ideal Supply is one of Canada’s largest privately-owned wholesale suppliers of electrical, automotive, and industrial products. One that has established its success by continually adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the marketplace. It began as Ideal Manufacturing Company in 1926 making bread-moulding machines. The company evolved several times, assembling and distributing console radios, before transforming into a hardware, automotive parts, paint, and appliance store.

Eventually they transitioned into the wholesale supplier they are today, continuing to service local markets with prominent automotive, industrial, automation, and electrical divisions. They have 32 locations throughout southwestern Ontario.

One of their main priorities, and challenges, as Mr. Forget explained, is maintaining the level of service their customers have come to expect. Working hard to develop quality relationships with local manufacturers, contractors, and automotive OEMs, and working hard to maintain those relationships is crucial to the success of the business, while continuing to evolve with the marketplace and utilizing new technologies to maximize their opportunities for growth.

Blake Marchand is Assistant Editor, Panel Builder & Systems Integrator.

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