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30 Years of Service

 

Q&A with President Robert Koren

With National Switchgear celebrating 30+ years in the electrical equipment arena, we take this occasion to ask President Robert Koren about the industry’s past, present and future.

Q: Congratulations on National Switchgear's 30 years in the industry. How many of those years have you been with the company?
A: Thank you! We are grateful for the past success and are excited about what the future holds for our company. I’ve been with the company since 1990, so 26 years. I started in the industry in 1986.

Q: Was the industry much different 30 years ago?
A: Absolutely. In the early days, there weren’t any governing bodies around to ensure or promote consistent quality standards for the product being resold back into the install base and the way we acquired the surplus equipment was less structured. A lot of demolition companies or individual scrappers were involved. There were many quality problems within the industry. A handful of companies, including National Switchgear, tried to differentiate themselves by adding value to the product through internally developed standards. That could mean anything from cleaning and testing, to upgrading with modern solid state technology. Or doing a complete rebuild or remanufacturing of the product.

Q: So National Switchgear was able to establish itself as a professional, reliable firm?
A: Yes. We helped develop the professional standards of the industry. We joined up with other like-minded companies to become a charter member of PEARL – the Professional Electrical Apparatus Recyclers League.

Q: What attribute would you say has most helped National Switchgear thrive for 30 years and counting?
A: Our commitment to customer service. It’s the single biggest thing we emphasize throughout the organization. Everybody talks about it, but what does it really mean? For us, it means providing what the client wants before they ask for it, and finding out what they really need as opposed to just giving them a price for a part number. This plays itself out in many ways. From something as simple as automatically providing tracking information and pictures of a shipment, to solving a problem that might mean we only sell a $200 part instead of replacing an entire breaker that could cost $10,000.

Q: How does that commitment manifest itself day to day?
A: If you’re calling up a traditional electrical distributor or even some of the competitors in the aftermarket, you’ve got a representative on the other end of the phone who needs part numbers to be able to get you a proposal. They’re really just reacting to a phone call and processing a request. That’s not what we do. Supplying equipment is a big part of what we do, but we’re actually a solutions provider. And the equipment we inventory and sell just allows us to provide a solution.

Q: Can you give us an example?
A: A customer might call up and say, “Hey, I’m looking for this specific circuit breaker.” It could be a $10,000 circuit breaker. Through a series of questions, trying to identify why he’s looking for that circuit breaker to begin with, we find out he’s having some mechanical problem with his current breaker. There might simply be some adjustments that we can walk him through to fix his existing issue. In this example we are essentially stepping away from selling a $10,000 circuit breaker to a client that doesn’t really need one.

That’'s what I mean by trying to identify what the customer needs and helping to provide a solution or solve the problem for them. We feel like we will earn a customer for life if we go that extra step as opposed to just responding to a part number request.

Q: What are some of the biggest shifts you’ve seen in the industry?
A: When I started, all the Original Equipment Manufactures (OEMs) had a regional service presence throughout the U.S. That was the biggest pool of clients we served back then. As those OEMs started to pull out of the service business and close down shops, a lot of the talent and knowledge base started to retire from the industry. Some of these experts started their own independent service organizations. A lot of them became NETA accredited companies like National Field Services. That was a big shift.

Q: How did National Switchgear respond?
A: By learning and innovating. We trained and immersed ourselves in the legacy products. Growing a true “technical” sales force was essential. This gave us a distinct advantage and filled a huge void left after the OEM service groups started shutting down. We innovated by developing solid state retrofit kits for low voltage breakers. By developing roll-in replacement circuit breakers utilizing a newly manufactured product to replace an obsolete product. By doing vacuum retrofit upgrades for medium voltage equipment. Essentially, we differentiated ourselves by facilitating technology advancements faster than the OEMs. Eventually the OEMs catch up and take over, but we continue to identify and address new needs in the market.

Q: Any major shifts happening currently in the industry?
A: Well, circuit breakers used to be made of metal and copper. Now they’re more plastic in construction design. Circuit breakers that were manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s have a 40-plus year life expectancy. We are currently still remanufacturing those breakers and adding new technology to them that could give them another 40 years of life. We often find ourselves knowing more about the OEMs' legacy products than the OEMs themselves because they are focused on the newest product lines being marketed. That’s true for all the major OEMs. Now all the manufacturers are building these plastic replacement products and what we have experienced is they have at best a five-to-10 year life expectancy before major operational concerns start surfacing.

Q: How are you responding to the challenges that come with this shift?
A: Our plan for staying ahead of the shift from metal frame circuit breakers to plastic type circuit breakers is to proactively train our people on the new technology and acquire more of the product as it becomes available, so that we can become knowledgeable about the design. We are studying the literature and really becoming immersed in the product. I think our ability to do that is where we’ve had a distinct advantage over the years and it prepares us to be leaders in the future maintenance needs this new product design brings.

Q: What is your vision for the future?
A: One of our primary areas of focus today is thinking about how clients in the future will make transactions and identify their product needs. We’re addressing that with our website by developing a lot of content to give people the information they require to identify what they need, a live technical person to instantly chat with, and an easy to use ecommerce platform to complete an online purchase. We continue to develop an online storefront with tons of product, functionality and resources.

Essentially, our vision is to become the Amazon of the power distribution equipment business. We want to be a marketplace for our clients and the entire industry.

 

ABOUT NATIONAL SWITCHGEAR

National Switchgear is an industry-leader in power distribution equipment and services, offering a broad line of new and repurposed electrical equipment from our extensive inventory and network of suppliers. National Switchgear also provides shop, engineering, and on-site services for all power systems, including remanufacturing of circuit breakers, switchgear and related components.

Contact:
Holly Filewood
(469) 312-1203 
[email protected]

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