Elliott Electric sparks impressive growth
Posted 09 - 19 - 2008
Bill Elliott, left, and Billy Elliott, right, visit with construction manager Danny Mora about the next of their 90 locations.
(Photo by Bruce R. Partain)
Elliott Electric sparks impressive growth
By Bruce Partain
Nacogdoches County Chamber
Set among churches and collision repair shops in northwest Nacogdoches, Elliott Electric Supply’s headquarters only hints at the size of the company.
Elliott employs 811 people in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma at 90-plus locations. There are 77 workers in the Nacogdoches headquarters. Compare that to just five years ago, when there were 500 people working in three states in 51 locations.
With a new store popping up every month, one manager is kept busy just designing new structures.
“We added 12 stores in 2007 and will add 15 in 2008,” said president and founder Bill Elliott.
Business has more than doubled in the past five years.
Sales for 2007 were $320 million and are expected to be $350 million for 2008, with a $7.5 million gross profit.
The Nacogdoches County Chamber has named Elliott Electric its 2008 Large Business of the Year. “Because of its impressive growth and importance to the community, Elliott is a role model for other businesses,” said Kim Luna Snyder, Chamber chair.
With the company footprint stretching out to locations such as Amarillo and Little Rock, the company recently bought a plane and Vice President Billy Elliott and Computer Services Director Phillip Hale learned to fly.
Elliott Electric is now the 24nd largest of the more than 4,000 electrical supply wholesalers in the U.S.
“Our goal is to grow at least 15 percent a year,” Elliott said. The goal now is to become a billion dollar company.
Elliott sells a wide variety of electrical parts, connectors and related products to electrical contractors, industrial accounts, and original equipment manufacturers such as Nacogdoches manufacturers Cooper Power Systems and Parker Hannifin.
They also sell to commercial accounts, such as Academy sporting goods and Lowe’s when those retailers build new stores.
Like many family businesses, Elliott Electric started small.
Before he moved to Nacogdoches in 1972, Bill Elliott worked for his father’s company, Powerline Supply Co. in Bossier City, Louisiana, while studying music at Louisiana Technical College. He eventually worked full-time for his dad, and branched off in a separate venture with his brother. The urge to run his own company led him to Nacogdoches.
He had scouted the area and noticed there wasn’t an electrical supply house in town.
“I liked the area, and thought with my limited resources, it would be a good place to build a small organization and a great place to raise a family,” he said.
With $20,000 of his own money and an $80,000 SBA-backed loan from Commercial Bank, Elliott and his wife Micky built a small facility on Shawnee Street. “We used chicken-house construction methods,” he chuckled.
About $60,000 of the loan went to operating expenses. First year sales were promising, topping half a million dollars.
“We weren’t sure the supply business would support us completely at first, so we added the lighting showroom,” on South Street, he said. Interestingly, Nacogdoches is the only Elliott store with such a feature.
Most of Elliott’s current activity is not obvious to customers and the general public.
“Many Nacogdoches residents think we just have a lighting showroom,” said Elliott. “They’re not even aware of the supply store and the warehouse” at the South Street location.
More and more of the business is running on the web through powerful software.
Phillip Hale supervises ten fulltime programmers and eight systems analysts.
“We started using computers early on, writing programs that allowed real time processing instead of batch processing,” Elliott said.
The Internet has only expanded the company’s ability to integrate its locations and serve clients directly.
Elliott also uses computers for forecasting, as well as sales and accounting. “The computer keeps a 24-month history,” Elliott said. “We use 14 different models based on the past two years to predict what might happen in the next 12 months,” Elliott said. Like a conductor interpreting a musical score, Elliott attempts to chart out sporadic and seasonal sales patterns. The goal is to have a dynamic inventory that never gathers dust. “We have to consider the cost of ownership versus the cost of acquisition.”
Elliott’s sophisticated system tracks orders, reconciles accounts, replenishes inventories, pays bills and collects revenue in real time for all Elliott stores.
If a warehouse worker in Round Rock scans a barcode, the readings are instantly logged in a computer server in Elliott’s Nacogdoches headquarters.
When a satellite facility in North Texas sells a certain quantity of product, it triggers an order through Nacogdoches to an Elliott host warehouse in Arlington, and a replacement shipment is trucked in overnight.
Elliott jumped on the interactive web page band wagon in the mid-1990s, giving customers and sales reps quick access to products and specs via the Internet.
The company’s intranet allows a store manager in one location to check inventories in another store, purchase an item and re-sell it.
Most of the database and other software are written by in-house computer programmers such as Phil Hale and his associates. The high level of automation and open, instant communication has helped the company grow.
Why has the company been so successful?
“We try to be a good partner to both the manufacturers who supply us and the customers we supply,” Elliott said. “We stock products that serve the customer best, instead of stocking everything a person could buy.”
Customer service shows up in interesting ways, too.
Out in the field, Elliott has a tradition of providing free popcorn, iced tea and even ice for coolers for electrical contractors and other customers at their stores.
Other practices keep Elliott ahead.
“Our outside sales representatives provide lots of consulting for our customers,” Elliott said. “We automated early, and that reduced our costs while giving our customers better service. And we’ve stressed building personal relationships. We add value beyond taking order and delivering. Our people try to know our customers’ business and help them improve their business.”
Elliott Electric’s combination of old-fashioned customer relationships and innovative business practices has made a healthy, growing company that’s proud to call Nacogdoches home for 36 years.
“We’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to live here,” Elliott said. “We have loyal employees who help us succeed. And we particularly appreciate the support we had early on in our venture in Nacogdoches.”
The company has shown its appreciation in supporting many local causes, especially the fine arts department and horticulture departments of SFA.
After Micky’s death seven years ago, Bill’s friend Wyndell Westmoreland encouraged him to honor Micky with a project at SFA. The bridge over Lanana Creek to the Azalea Garden is his tribute.
It is a fitting symbol for a company that has bridged from humble beginnings to an ever-expanding, successful corporation.
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The Chamber will honor Elliott Electric at the 87th Annual Meeting and Membership Banquet on Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the Hotel Fredonia. The event begins at 6 p.m. with a raffle and social hour. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m.
An event registration form is posted on www.nacogdoches.org or contact the Chamber office, 560-5533, for tickets and table sponsorships. Contact Chamber Vice Chair Michelle Smith, 569-1947, to donate items for the raffle and online auction.
Other award recipients will also be recognized at the event, including Small Business of the Year Shannons Pools, Medium Business of the Year Cotton Patch Café, and Citizen of the Year Dr. Francis “Ab” Abernethy.